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House of Commons Hansard #145 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was price.

Topics

Commission of Inquiry ReportRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Hamilton East—Stoney Creek Ontario

Liberal

Tony Valeri LiberalLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to table, in both official languages, a copy of the first report of the Commission of Inquiry into the sponsorship program and advertising activities.

Copies of the report are available in the government and opposition lobbies. Copies are also being provided to all members' offices by the House of Commons distribution office. The report is also available on the Internet at www.gomery.ca.

Government Response to PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

November 1st, 2005 / 10:05 a.m.

Saint Boniface Manitoba

Liberal

Raymond Simard LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Internal Trade

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36(8) I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the government's response to 12 petitions.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Gary Schellenberger Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I stand this morning to present to the government a petition by concerned constituents in my riding concerning the CBC and its future.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Cheryl Gallant Conservative Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have a petition from constituents of the riding of Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke with respect to Justin Schwieg, a student in his final year at Queen's University and a member of the football team, who was murdered at the age of 22.

On March 24, Justin was stabbed to death during an unprovoked attack by a perpetrator who had a previous history of crime and a reputation for always carrying a knife. The petitioners would like the Government of Canada to have the House of Commons enact legislation that enforces more severe penalties for people who commit violent crimes.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Saint Boniface Manitoba

Liberal

Raymond Simard LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Internal Trade

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all question be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed from October 26 consideration of the motion that Bill C-66, An Act to authorize payments to provide assistance in relation to energy costs, housing energy consumption and public transit infrastructure, and to make consequential amendments to certain Acts, be now read the second time and referred to a committee.

Energy Costs Assistance Measures ActGovernment Orders

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

David Anderson Liberal Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, during my remarks on this bill the other day, I referred to the three objectives the ministers have for this bill: first, to provide financial assistance to low income seniors and low income families with children; second, to help Canadian families reduce their heating costs by making their homes more energy efficient; and, third, to make the market more transparent and increase accountability.

Let me quickly say that there has been much discussion of whether the government ministers chose the right target group. We have to recognize that energy is so pervasive in the economy that essentially we come to a certain point of trying to help people affected by high costs where the government is trying to pull itself up by its bootstraps. In other words, the government is taking tax revenue from the same people it is giving the benefit to, so it makes sense to focus the attention on low income Canadians in particular circumstances as outlined by the government. I certainly agree with that approach.

The second point, however, is more difficult for us to get our minds around fully. Certainly there is a substantial increase in the amount of money being put into assisting people to be more efficient in the use of energy in their homes and of course we all applaud that. The trouble we face is that we keep hearing that the government intends to increase energy efficiency in Canada because of climate change reasons, high cost of energy reasons, and many reasons, but it only does a very small amount.

For instance, with respect to the houses that are to be assisted in this bill, not a large percentage of the Canadian stock of homes will be affected. In terms of homes in Canada, we are talking about 11.5 million and with respect to single-family dwellings or detached housing probably somewhere in the neighbourhood of 8 million; I do not have the exact figure. Here we are dealing with only a small percentage of that number, probably less than 5%. The question is simply this: if it desirable to do, why are we doing so little? That is the question I would put to the parliamentary secretary of the minister who will be handling this bill in the House.

We certainly agree with these issues such as energy efficiency, but that clearly is not being done on anything approaching a major scale and is clearly not a national objective, as outlined in this bill, despite a great deal of talk about a national objective in this area and also in the area of climate change.

The second point related to that is of course the increase in money for public transit. It is a very good thing to do. It is very desirable. I believe that our bus fleets in Canada are about four years older than the bus fleets of United States cities. A lot more can be done. This is just one indicator of many that we can do more to make sure public transit is efficient, quick, clean and of course more attractive for the public to use than the private automobile.

We must do that right across Canada. The companies attempting to provide public transit are doing so. They are doing a great job and I admire the work they do, but we certainly need to have a much more substantial system. The municipal governments, let us face it, must do much more in their field to give the advantage to public transit, such as one way streets for buses or public vehicles only or changing parking regulations to encourage the use of transit. This is the type of thing that can be done.

It is not just a question of putting money into buses. If we put money into buses that run on roads and the buses are empty, they are worse than useless. In those circumstances, of course, we would be blocking the roads for other vehicles and using a lot of diesel fuel for the buses, or natural gas in some cases, or whatever the fuel might be, but we would not be achieving the objectives of the bill.

I think there is a question that really has to be answered here. Why is so little being done here? Why, when it comes to the private dwellings, is so little done? Why, when it comes to transit, is so little done?

With respect to commercial buildings, I believe the number in the background information suggests that there will be a little over 2,500 assisted with this program and yet that is probably less than 2% of the total number of commercial buildings in Canada. Why are we only dealing with such a small fraction? Why are we not trying to deal in a comprehensive way with what we and this bill recognize is a serious issue?

My time is limited. I have already had a few minutes in the previous discussion of the bill, but now I would like to turn to the third aspect of the bill: where does the money come from?

If we look at the papers provided with this bill, we will realize that of the $2.3 billion or $2.4 billion, more or less, that this is going to cost, about $1.3 billion is from new sources, new revenues, new moneys, and the remainder comes from other programs. Of this total package, a large amount is recycled moneys. We must not get away from that. It really is a much smaller package than it looks at first.

Of the new money, the more than $1 billion that needs to come into this, it is coming from general tax revenue. It is coming out of money that would otherwise be used for health, education, paying down the debt and the many things that public funds go to in Canada. There are of course many benefits to the public that come from the use of their tax dollars. That is what is happening here.

What really worries me is the fact that there has been such a massive increase in the price of energy, with a corresponding massive increase in the profits of the producers and the refiners of crude oil, and indeed of the distributors, and yet we have done nothing to have that massive bubble of money, and it was in the billions, diverted to pay the costs for these low income Canadians. In fact, what has happened is that instead of that unearned increase, that windfall profit of dramatic proportions, going to help the poor, we are having to take this out of the moneys that normally would be used for other public purposes. That is the worst problem we face in this area.

Let me give members a few examples. We all know that at somewhere between $10 and $20 per barrel even the oil sands break even and make money, yet we have seen the price of oil go up to over $65 a barrel, to virtually $70 U.S. a barrel. We are seeing really dramatic increases in profits.

Let us say there has been an increase from $20 to $60. Then $40 is profit for producers of crude oil. Of course the argument is made by the industry that nothing can be done about this, that it is a world market and so on. Nevertheless, it is a massive increase in profit and nothing was done to recoup that profit to help the low income people who had to pay the dollars that made those profits for the companies.

That, I think, is a very important issue that has to be answered for by the government. Why was nothing done to increase the taxation level so that we would in fact have a transfer from those who made the money, these enormous profits, to those who had to pay them and therefore are suffering financially? That is point one.

Point two is about the refiners. The refiners happily said it was the price of crude going up that caused this massive spike in the price of gasoline when it went up to $1.35. If we were to take the $10 increase in crude between the beginning of the summer and September and work it through the system, we would find that the maximum the refineries and distributors should have charged by reason of that increase in crude oil would have taken the price of gasoline to 90¢. Yet it went to $1.35.

That is another massive increase in profits. That is okay. That is the way the system works. I am not questioning that. I am simply asking why some of that was not transferred to the people who actually paid out those profits, the people who bought the fuel. I do not know why that was not done. Again, that question relates to both the production side and the crude side.

Let me quickly deal with the third part of the legislation about how we are going to have a new agency set up to deal with this problem of whether the oil companies are on the straight and narrow. As far as I can see, this agency is going to be useless, useless because we already have the Competition Bureau, which time after time correctly says there is no collusion among the companies. It says the prices go up because of competitive factors, not collusion.

I believe that, because it is the system causes the prices to go up. The companies do not have to collude. They do not need to have a few people sitting in a room dishonestly trying to say what the price will be. It does not happen that way. That is why we are trying to set up our organizations like the Competition Bureau and this new agency to look at petroleum prices. That is what they will focus their attention on: the system means that the price goes up. Then we see in the bill that there is going to be a $25 million fine if it happens that the organization finds anything wrong.

On the Labour Day weekend when the spike occurred in gasoline prices, in regard to the extra made by the companies--and not the producers of the crude, but the companies that refined and distributed the crude and gave us the gasoline--the extra profits they made per day over what they were otherwise legitimately entitled to make and in accordance with the price of crude was $49 million to $50 million a day. Yet under the bill, we are going to have 12 hours of that profit as the maximum fine. It would make sense to collude under those circumstances if the fines are going to be so trivial.

I would like to know from the parliamentary secretary to the minister shepherding this bill through the House or some other parliamentary secretary, particularly the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources, why is it that we are setting up this new organization?

I have another point on this same issue. I have on my desk a series of documents from Statistics Canada dealing with what are called fuel facts. I cannot wave them around because that would be a prop and that is not allowed, but day after day, week after week, month after month, Statistics Canada gives out extraordinarily detailed information on the industry, which we can use. All members can use it and all Canadians can acquire this information from Statistics Canada.

Why are we setting up yet another organization to look into this? We seem to set up organization after organization in the House. They all overlap, they get in one another's way, and they do not necessarily do a great job.

I would like to know why we would not continue with Statistics Canada, which has a phenomenal reputation for accuracy and precision. Why do we not continue with its work rather than setting up a new agency? If we are going to set up a new agency other than the Competition Bureau and Statistics Canada, what, really, is it going to do? Is it just that the people who drafted the bill did not know about the good work done by Statistics Canada? I do not know. We have that as another factor.

Going over the bill as a whole, we can see a number of issues that I think are really important for us.

First, with respect to who gets the money being allocated, we could argue until the cows come home about whether to add a group such as truckers or another group, but ultimately we reach a point where we are just taking money out of one pocket and putting it into another. We are taking tax revenue from ordinary Canadians and passing it back to them as a so-called rebate for high fuel prices. We really have to concentrate on low income Canadians.

The second point that I think is really important, which we must stress and recognize, is that in the whole area of trying to be more energy efficient, this bill will do very little. Furthermore, it will do it on the basis of money that was already allocated in other speeches by ministers, basically for climate change and eco-efficiency measures.

The third point I want to stress is that we have not actually touched at all on these unearned windfall profits of the oil companies. We should have. I actually wrote a letter to the Prime Minister--and if anyone wishes to have a copy, I will provide one--asking him back in September to call in the heads of the companies and say to them that we would not tax those windfall profits, but that they should be using that money to help people in distress from hurricane Katrina, the people whose misery led to these windfall profits. Of course I received a reply, which was less than satisfactory, I unfortunately have to admit.

Nevertheless, what I am saying is that if we are not going to do it through taxation, it is about time that the oil industry itself stepped forward and started dealing with some of these issues on their own, using their own enormous windfall profits to assist. ExxonMobil, which in Canada we call Imperial Oil, has never had such profits as it did in the last quarter. Company after company, with the exception of EnCana or Enbridge, I think, which gambled wrong on futures, have had these enormous profits.

We have a tremendous amount of money sloshing through the system. There has been a tremendous amount of money. It is not all needed for increasing supply. Some of it should be devoted to some of the purposes of this bill, namely, achieving eco-efficiency and helping people who are in need to meet their bills.

Energy Costs Assistance Measures ActGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

David Anderson Conservative Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Mr. Speaker, I would like to address a couple of issues. I hope there will be time to do so.

The member has expressed a concern about who is getting the money and where the money will be going. It is a valid concern, especially given the previous program and some of the places where the money ended up. He also said that this is basically taking tax revenue from ordinary Canadians and then passing it back to them. Because of that, I guess, he concluded that middle class Canadians should not be getting this money. He said we should concentrate on low income Canadians.

I have a question. I am wondering why he does not think that those hit hardest by energy prices should get some relief as well. I am thinking particularly of farmers and truckers. He mentioned truckers, but I come from a farming area and the situation right now is that things are as bad as they have ever been. Prices are very low and obviously the farmers are hit almost ahead of anyone else by high energy prices, spikes in fuel costs and those kinds of things.

Why does the member not seem to be concerned at all about those who are hit hardest by those energy prices, truckers and farmers in particular, especially when the farming community is in the emergency situation that it is in right now?

Energy Costs Assistance Measures ActGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

David Anderson Liberal Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member has just honestly admitted that he is speaking on behalf of the constituents in his own riding. I am sure members on all sides of the House would like to ensure the constituents in their ridings are given cheques by the government.

However the fact is that middle class Canadians, who again are singled out as a group, pay the basic tax burden in Canada. Therefore if we start handing out regular tax money to middle class Canadians we are simply taking from one hand and giving with the other. It is like taking from Peter to pay Paul or, in this case, it is taking from Paul to pay Paul and taking from Peter to pay Peter.

The issue is quite straightforward. We reach a certain point in these rebate schemes where it becomes self-defeating because of the very people who are paying. My hon. friend has perhaps missed the point of the enormous importance of getting the oil industry, both the production side and the refining side, to cough up the money to assist his farmers perhaps, if we had a bigger pool, and not to take it out of the normal money that is used to help farmers, that is used for education, for health care or for the many other things that people get.

I am in no way unsympathetic to the concerns of anyone or any group affected by these high energy prices but I think the member will have to admit that where the incomes are lower the impact is worse.

The increase in the consumer price index was 4.3%. Half of that is due to energy cost increases, a full 50% of the increase in the CPI.

Therefore it is not a question of us disagreeing. We would all like to hand out cheques to everyone, but it is a question of where the money comes from.

Energy Costs Assistance Measures ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

Bloc

Marc Boulianne Bloc Mégantic—L'Érable, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the member. The Bloc Québécois supports the principle of this bill. It is important to say so. However, it contains some fundamental flaws.

I want to come back to a subject he mentioned: making housing more energy efficient. This is good, but there are always problems or surprises when it comes to program eligibility. I think that we must point out one of these problems, and I want to hear what the member has to say about it.

Families must make significant investments up front without knowing if they will qualify for government assistance. Assistance is granted in accordance with the resulting energy efficiency. This means that an individual may undertake extensive renovations without knowing for sure if a refund will be forthcoming.

Would it not be possible to amend the rules so that homeowners can obtain financial assistance from the government when renovations start instead of when they are completed, so there are no nasty surprises?

Energy Costs Assistance Measures ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

David Anderson Liberal Victoria, BC

Yes, Mr. Speaker. What the hon. member has stated so clearly most definitely applies to any government program. There are areas that the programs do not reach, and so some people, some citizens, are not helped.

In his speech he has proposed changes, or perhaps he will do so later. I am in favour of a good discussion on points of contention, but in the time I have allocated to me I cannot say that we can settle this to the satisfaction of the 307 or so members. Each one has something different to propose, as the hon. Conservative member who has just spoken did. Each one of us needs to propose something. I hope the government will listen carefully to the comments from all parts of this House.

Energy Costs Assistance Measures ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, in our region there has been a great deal of concern about where we are going in terms of energy policy.

People who leave Toronto, fill up their gas tanks, drive six hours up the road to Englehart and pay 20¢ to 30¢ more and then when they go into towns like Kirkland Lake and Iroquois Falls they pay even more. They have a sense that they are being ripped off.

We have families and widows on fixed incomes who do not believe they will be able to actually heat their houses this winter. Where are the teeth in any government policy to ensure that the oil companies are not ripping the public off and gouging the public continually? Every time we turn around it seems that our working families in the north and our farming families are paying through the nose while these companies profiteer off their backs.

It is well and good to give a rebate but where is the commitment from the government to actually hold these companies to account so they stop ripping off our people?

Energy Costs Assistance Measures ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

David Anderson Liberal Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to hear the hon. member agree with me on the basic point of my speech, which is that we are taking moneys, normal tax revenues contributed by every Canadian who pays taxes, that could be used for education, environmental purposes, health or to pay down this terrible debt we are leaving our children, and we are helping poorer Canadians to meet the energy increases.

We are not taking it from those whose very profits have come from those poor Canadians as well as other middle class Canadians. That is the point. The oil industry has made a substantial profit. One senior executive told me that in his entire lifetime in the industry there has never been a year like it. He would not comment any further than that, and he was right. This has been a remarkable windfall year but we made no effort to take the excess profits, the windfall profits, which came, let us face it, largely out of the misery of hurricane Katrina. To profit from misery and disasters of that kind raises a major moral issue, and I think my hon. friend agrees with me.

In any event, if we are not going to do it from the government side, and I certainly have urged them to do so but I have failed to do that, I suggest we ask them to voluntarily to do it. They should make their own funds available for the impact of those dramatic spikes that have led to these enormous profits. It is ridiculous to say that they will use it up creating more energy sources, discovering more, expanding refineries, et cetera.

They have so much money. If we look at the Imperial Oil quarterly results and the results in the United States, which again, for the same company were astronomical, I think it was $8 billion. If we look at that kind of money we have to wonder why some of that has not been diverted to the people who need it. The government needs to answer that question. Why did it not do it through the tax system or why did it not call in the people, as I recommended to the Prime Minister, and tell them that this should be done?

I told the Prime Minister that this issue was about the unjust enrichment of the industry through the totally unearned price increases. The issue is the immorality of allowing the industry to benefit from the natural disaster of hurricane Katrina, from the misery of those affected and from the financial exploitation by the industry of gasoline consumers everywhere. That is the nub of what happened and that is why something should be done about it.

Energy Costs Assistance Measures ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Carol Skelton Conservative Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-66, which is intended to help some Canadians with high and rising energy prices. As I have just said, some Canadians.

While I support the government in its intention to assist those who need it, the legislation really misses the mark. The Conservative Party of Canada believes that tax relief at the source would ensure that all Canadians who pay for energy receive assistance. This bill, by targeting it to a select few, ensures that many who need assistance will get none. In fact, a few who do not need assistance could end up with government help anyway.

It was not too long ago that we heard stories of the dead and the imprisoned receiving special government payments. Also, many Canadians do not know that the rebate program the government ran last time took over four years to get a cheque into the hands of those in need. Canadians cannot afford to wait four years for help. Many are already struggling with rising gas and utility costs.

My main concern with the legislation is the people who need it and who are in need but who will not receive a dime of help. The only ones who will receive help are those receiving the national child benefit or the guaranteed income supplement. Therefore anyone who is not a low income parent with dependent children or one of the few low income seniors, they will get nothing. In fact, 300,000 seniors who are eligible do not receive the GIS.

My main concern is for disabled Canadians on fixed incomes. This group is 3.6 million strong. Most disabled Canadians, employed or not, have many expenses that other fellow Canadians do not. They do not have extra money. In fact, quite often we find them the poorest of the poor, something we Canadians should be very ashamed of. This Liberal plan does nothing for the disabled. Those on a Canada pension plan disability do not qualify automatically. These are people who are hard-working Canadians who now find themselves in need of extra assistance. They too will not get any help under this plan.

There are many other Canadians who will not get help either. They include those with a high dependency on fuel to do their jobs and run their businesses.

There will be no help for taxi drivers. Most are self-employed and already face skyrocketing repair and maintenance costs. They will not receive a cent of help from the government. Their extra gas money will have to come out of their salaries.

There will be no help for couriers. While we all know the large companies, most couriers are local independent operators. They are the ones who deliver our flowers, our pizzas and other local deliveries. They face a huge increase in their single largest expenditure category.

There will be no help for bus services. Most of the extra costs for fuel for the buses will be passed on directly to the consumer. Unfortunately, the consumer of bus travel is often too poor to afford anything else. These travellers cannot afford a price increase of any significance at all.

There will be no help for truck drivers. Truckers are constantly having to absorb extra costs that did not exist 10 years ago. First it was all the extra repair costs as the provincial and federal governments let the highways deteriorate. Next it was all the extra paperwork and delays associated with tougher border standards. Now it is the crushing cost of fuel. Some truckers can pass on these costs but many are in long term contracts. Even if the costs are passed on, it will only make their products more expensive. I can only imagine what fresh groceries will cost next February. The bill would not help the truckers or their consumers. In fact, I recently saw one hitchhiker with a sign offering to help pay for the gas.

The bill would not help cities meet the rising costs of transit, emergency services, public works or any other department. While the federal government rolls around in more and more budgetary surpluses, the local governments are desperate to continue their existing services. The cost of providing transit alone has increased significantly. At a time when the federal government is expecting everybody else to reduce pollution, it is making it more expensive for cities to provide an environmental alternative.

The bill would do nothing to help cities.The bill also would do nothing to help rural Canadians. Rural seniors are especially hard hit because of the expense of travel and the rise in cost of heating fuel and general necessities.

Those living in rural areas usually have lower incomes than those in the cities to begin with because of the types of jobs available. Compounding the problem is the fact that their fuel costs are often much higher as they have to drive long distances, driving their kids to school, shopping for groceries, travelling to work or appointments with doctors. Rural Canadians will not be getting any help with Bill C-66.

Rural Canadians who definitely will feel the gas crunch but who will be unable to afford it are our farmers. Farm input costs have skyrocketed in the last several years. At the same time, commodity prices have dropped. Fuel increases for farm equipment will remove any chance for farmers to make a profit. We have just come through the harvest season and it has cost farmers $1,500 to $2,000 a day to fuel combines. That is just combines and not trucks, tractors and all the other necessities of taking off the harvest.

Making a profit is a very relative term as most of these farmers are heavily in debt from years of struggle and inaction by the government. In 1948 a farmer could fill up his truck for $5 and wheat's final price was $4.50. In 2005 the same tank of gas has cost $80 plus and the price of wheat has dropped to $2.50.

Some farmers will be able to pass along the increased fuel cost to the local consumers. Our exporting farmers already are competing with heavily subsidized foreign competitors. Many of the countries that our farmers compete with do not rely on fuel as much as we do. Cheap labour is their constant competitive advantage. Our farmers will feel rising fuel costs more than any other nation's farmers. Unfortunately, our farmers will not get a single dime of assistance under Bill C-66.

As we can see, millions of Canadians will not get the assistance for which they were expecting or hoping. Furthermore, those who rely on fuel the most, those that are the hardest hit, will get nothing.

If the government had taken the advice of many Canadians and the Conservative Party, it would have cut taxes at the pumps. If taxes had been cut at the pumps, it would have ensured that those who used fuel the most would benefit the most. The relief would have been instant. Canadians could have been pumping cheaper gas and buying cheaper home heating fuels for over a month now.

Instead, the payment system proposed in the bill will ensure that nobody gets help in the near future. This will be the paper pushing project designed to employ Liberals for years to come.

I urge the Liberals to take a moment and seriously ask themselves who needs the help and if they will get any under the bill? I then urge them to look at their constant budgetary surpluses and ask if they need to keep overtaxing Canadians like this. Canadians are not looking for free fuel. They do not want to be paying so much in taxes when the Liberal government gets such a boost and such a surplus. It is time for fairness.

Energy Costs Assistance Measures ActGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

Yukon Yukon

Liberal

Larry Bagnell LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources

Mr. Speaker, why did the member not comment on the price monitoring agency as set out in the bill? The member mentioned a number of groups. In many of those cases the prices were passed on to the consumer. Therefore, it hurts consumers, especially low income consumers who may need help. That is why the bill is directed at helping those ultimate payers of the increase.

The reason I ask her about the monitoring agency is the previous speaker asked why we were establishing it. There are a number of reasons.

The Conference Board and the Competition Bureau showed that in all the previous big price increases there was no collusion. However, Canadians are not aware of that. Many Canadians are not aware that the taxes in Europe are more than ours. We have some of the lowest prices in the world. Canadians also are not aware that the other times, when the price of crude went up, the government did not have a choice. However, this time crude did not go up. We must get the information out to Canadians about that.

Canadians and some members of the House are not aware of the many investments we are making in renewable energy. The government has to get all this information out to Canadians.

The price monitoring agency is in the bill because it was unanimously recommended by a parliamentary committee, which I happened to be a member of in a previous life. All parties wanted it.

I am curious about the member's comment on that part of the bill.

Energy Costs Assistance Measures ActGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

Conservative

Carol Skelton Conservative Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Mr. Speaker, before I answer the hon. member's question, I am splitting my time with the hon. member for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, which I forgot to mention in my speech.

The hon. member has put forward the Liberal statement on the whole issue of the monitoring agency. He said that people would be given money, that the rebate would help all those people to whom the price was passed on and that truckers would have to pass on their price increase to consumers. The member has not gone into his riding or spoken to the people I have over the last while. He has not heard what they feel about the bill.

An 82-year-old gentleman was in my office the other day. He and his wife depend on their very old car to take them around the city for medical appointments. He said that he could not afford to fill his car with gas. He cannot heat his home.

When an 82-year-old man tearfully tells me that he and his wife cannot afford to live in a home which they have struggled to live in all their lives, or cannot afford to drive to the doctor or the dentist for the minimal amount of services, the member does not understand what Canadians feel and what the Liberal government has done to them. The gentleman said that he was too proud to apply for any assistance. He does not want assistance. He wants to be able to carry on his life. He has been overtaxed and the bill will not help the people who need the help.

Energy Costs Assistance Measures ActGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Unfortunately, the member for Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar did not tell me that she would be splitting her time, so we started the question and comment period assuming there was a 10 minute period of questions and comments. If the time is split, then that is not possible and there are only five minutes. That five minutes have expired and we must go on now to the next speech from the member for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke.

Energy Costs Assistance Measures ActGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

Conservative

Cheryl Gallant Conservative Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Mr. Speaker, as the member of Parliament for Renfrew--Nipissing--Pembroke, I am pleased to participate in this debate on Bill C-66, an act to make a special payment to some voters in time for the next election.

The crisis many Canadian families will face this winter with the cost to heat their homes is a made in Canada crisis of the government's making.

While the Prime Minister would like to blame external events, the energy crisis in Canada is a direct result of the Prime Minister's dithering on the environment. That dithering resulted in Canada signing onto the Kyoto accord without any plan on how to live up to the obligations of that international treaty. Anything to deflect attention from the Gomery inquiry into Liberal Party corruption is the only priority of this scandal ridden government.

The absence of any plan to deal with the economic fall out from the Kyoto accord means that Canadians who heat their homes this winter with natural gas could see the cost rise by as much as 50%. In time for a federal election, the Liberal Party response is a special bribe or payment.

For the benefit of Canadians who are following this debate, I want to clear up any confusion regarding the Liberal Party and the term “special payments”. The special payment being proposed is not the same as the special payment that is paid to non-registered Liberal lobbyists who lobby for special favours. It is not a special payment that is made to Liberal Party ad men.

This also is not the same special payment that was collected by the Prime Minister's company, Canada Steamship Lines, in the form of grants from taxpayers to the tune of $161 million. This is not a special payment in the form of registering company assets in a foreign tax shelter to avoid paying over $100 million in Canadian taxes, similar to what the Prime Minister did with his personal family company, Canada Steamship Lines, when the Prime Minister, as finance minister, used the Barbados tax shelter so it would be there when he needed it. That special payment is better known in the boardrooms of Liberal Party supporters as a corporate dividend paid out to the principal shareholders, in this case the Prime Minister's family after he was caught and forced to transfer ownership to other family members.

This special payment is designed to get the current government through the next election in the face of voter fury over the high cost of energy, including the cost to heat their homes, and to deflect attention from the Gomery inquiry into Liberal Party corruption.

The bill has three main parts.

Part 1 of the bill outlines who would receive a payment and how much. The payment would be sent to the following groups: $250 to families entitled to receive the national child benefit supplement, NCB, in January 2006; $250 to senior couples where both spouses are entitled to receive the guaranteed income supplement, the GIS, in January 2006; and, $125 to single seniors entitled to receive the guaranteed income supplement in 2006.

Part 2 of the bill would increase and expand federal assistance and programs for houses and housing projects that make heating system upgrades, improve windows, engage in draft proofing, et cetera. All this assistance would be delivered over five years.

Part 3 of the bill addresses public infrastructure specifically. It states that $400 million, previously provided for under Bill C-48, will be freed up by Bill C-66 in each of the next two fiscal years for municipalities to boost investments in urban transit infrastructure.

Parts 4 and 5 of the bill are housekeeping measures.

I acknowledge that there is a problem with perception in Canada. Consumers believe there is price fixing in the oil and gas industry, no matter how many investigations are conducted. The industry can and should do more to explain price setting and price fluctuations.

Since apparently the federal government has not had the time to monitor or publish an energy policy or reports on gas prices, private companies such as MJ Ervin & Associates have stepped in to fill the void. Now that the government is collecting this information, some could argue that it will be subsidizing the oil and gas industry, the main users of such information.

MJ Ervin & Associates has estimated that the average price of home heating oil has jumped to its highest level on record, 93¢ a litre. The best guess is that homes heated with oil can expect to pay 32% more this year, while homes heated with natural gas can expect to pay 48% more. Electricity bills will also rise, but not as drastically.

In Ontario the Ontario Energy Board approved a rate increase for Enbridge gas that will increase natural gas bills by about $123 a year. Union Gas also sought and received a rate increase. Sixty per cent of Ontario residents rely on natural gas for heating. Bill C-66 provides payment to some Canadians if they are lucky enough to qualify.

The Conservative Party supports measures providing relief for low income families. Parliament has an obligation to represent and support those who have much less than the average Canadian. The government estimates that 3.1 million low income families, or 10% of Canadians, will receive these rebate cheques. I am pleased some effort is being made to try to assist low income Canadians. These Canadians should not be left to struggle against rising energy costs on their own.

The problem is that the delivery method chosen by the Liberals will miss a great many Canadians who need help in paying for their heating and paying for gasoline for their cars that ferry them to and from work. Persons with disabilities who claim a disability benefit will not receive a payment. Seniors who qualify for the GIS but do not claim it will not receive a payment.

A Statistics Canada study released on Friday, October 21, 2005 found that 206,800 eligible individuals missed out because they do not claim the GIS. Students will not receive a payment. It will not help poor Canadians who are childless.

Research from Statistics Canada indicates that nearly two million individuals under 65 who fall below the income threshold have no children. These individuals will receive no help.

If anything represents the callous disregard for children and families, it has to be the government's record when it comes to child poverty. I listened very intently to the speeches from the government side regarding the legislation before us today, Bill C-66. While Canadians hear all the usual statements from the party that is campaigning for re-election, let us look at the actual record of the Prime Minister when it comes to children.

Poverty among children in Canada is rising. The government may talk in the billions of dollars it says are being spent, but when questioned directly about the plight of children, the same inability to provide a public accounting for how the dollars are actually being spent, which created the sponsorship fraud, applies to funds that the government says are earmarked for children but end up being siphoned off to other Liberal priorities like bogus ad campaigns.

As finance minister the Prime Minister oversaw a deal in 1997 that resulted in the clawback of the national child benefit supplement from the pockets of some of our neediest children. Set up in 1997 to assist Canadian families with children, it replaced what many Canadians grew up calling the baby bonus. It was introduced as the Canada child tax benefit, the CCTB. It included a basic benefit and a supplement, the national child benefit supplement, the NCBS.

The NCBS program was supposed to be designed to reduce poverty among low income families and children. Negotiations between the federal and provincial governments around implementation of the NCBS resulted in some provinces, Ontario included, deducting the NCBS amount from the benefits received by families on social assistance. This is what is commonly known as the NCBS clawback. In the province of Ontario families who are entitled to receive the national child benefit who are receiving social benefits are subject to the clawback. What that means is social assistance recipients have the amount of the national child benefit supplement they are entitled to receive deducted from their social assistance cheques.

In the absence of any special agreement, the $250 payment that is intended to benefit families with children on welfare will become a financial windfall for the government of Ontario. So much for the federal commitment to assist low income families with children.

This is being done with the full knowledge of the Prime Minister who designed the clawback system when he was Jean Chrétien's finance minister. The Prime Minister was the most senior minister in the Chrétien regime and was the senior minister in Quebec. No decisions involving money could be made without the present Prime Minister knowing. After all, he was the finance minister and he saw all the figures.

The current finance minister is fully aware of the clawback. When questioned in committee the best he could offer Canadians is that the government would encourage the Liberal Party at Queen's Park in Ontario not to claw back this particular payment.

The Minister of Social Development has once again dropped the puck on this issue as well. If the minister spent less time making campaign stops in other members' ridings and concentrated on the issue of child poverty in Canada, maybe child poverty rates in this country would drop.

Energy Costs Assistance Measures ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Bloc

Guy André Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to express my surprise at the speech by the Conservative member, who appears suddenly to have developed sensitivity to family and social policy. I am surprised. Good for her. I recognize that sensitivity.

As people know, I come from the riding of Berthier—Maskinongé, a rural region where most people are employed in the furniture sector. They earn between $7 and $10 an hour and so have a limited income. In addition, as it is a sizeable region, they often have to travel long distances—from 10 kms to 50 kms—to get to work. These workers are very brave. They are not all married and do not all have children. Some are single, others are in a relationship but have no children. They too should have some help from the government, which appears to be neglecting them.

Also living in the region are farmers, who are facing a major crisis in agriculture. This bill ignores them entirely as it does seasonal workers, who are also prevalent in my riding. They work five or six months a year in forestry or tourism. They too have to travel considerable distances, a fact that creates major costs and obstacles to their doing work that pays between $7 and $10 an hour. A car and special clothing are often required. There are therefore costs inherent in the labour market.

Some people collecting EI or social assistance would like to return to the labour market, as well. They need help. The bill, however, makes no provision for them.

I am rather disappointed, although it is clear some effort has been made. We support the bill, except we would like it to be more generous toward the layers of society not included in it.

What does the Conservative member think of this phenomenon? She mentioned it briefly. What could we do, however, to increase the Liberals' sensitivity to regional development and to society's most disadvantaged?

Energy Costs Assistance Measures ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Conservative

Cheryl Gallant Conservative Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Mr. Speaker, I concur with the hon. member. The special bribe or payment will miss most farmers who have been hit very hard by the energy price spike because they not only have to heat their homes but their barns as well. It will also miss many Canadians who are poor but not quite poor enough to qualify for a payment. Of course, it must be noted that this plan does not in any way, shape or form offer relief at the pump or compensate for the high prices of gasoline.

I caution Canadians not to be fooled by gas prices that have dropped in some areas recently. The Kyoto price of gas is $1.40 a litre. By experience, Canadians know that the price of fuel will jump if the Liberals get re-elected.

In the 1980 election the Liberals campaigned against the 18% increase in the price of fuel. Once re-elected, they promptly increased the price by 56¢. That is the same party that made the solemn pledge to eliminate the GST. That is another broken promise.

Clearly a great many Canadians will be missed by this plan. Other than having the ability to say the government is doing something, thoughtful Canadians question why such a flawed program is being proposed.

The Conservative Party has a plan that will aid all Canadians. If the Liberals axed the tax on the tax at the pumps, it would give a tax break to all Canadians. Forty-two per cent of the cost of a litre of gasoline pays federal, provincial and municipal taxes, including the GST, compared to 27% on average in the United States. Certainly the 7% goods and services tax, the GST, and the HST, the harmonized sales tax in the Atlantic provinces are charged on gasoline after federal and provincial and in some cases municipal governments have added their excise taxes.

The Liberal government continues to overtax Canadians. The government should not profit when people are feeling the effects of these increased prices in their pocketbooks and at the dinner table. For every one cent increase in gasoline prices, the federal government receives about $32 million in extra revenue.

In addition, the Conservative Party will reduce personal taxes. A Conservative government will provide immediate and long term, broad based tax relief starting with reducing personal income tax rates and substantially raising both the basic personal exemption and the spousal exemption under the Income Tax Act. Reducing personal income taxes will hike the take home pay and raise--

Energy Costs Assistance Measures ActGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

We are out of time. The hon. member for York West.

Energy Costs Assistance Measures ActGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I was not sure whether you were going to be able to get a word in edgewise in order to continue the debate.

I am very pleased to speak in favour Bill C-66 and how important it is. When oil prices were rising, a lot of our constituents, especially those who earn minimum incomes, were really alarmed. They wondered how they were going to manage during the coming winter with the high cost of fuel. They wondered how they were going to heat their homes. I applaud the government and the fast action of our Prime Minister in coming forward with this bill. It is hoped that with the support of members in the opposition we can get this legislation passed as quickly as possible in order to help those people who most clearly are going to find themselves in a very difficult situation this winter.

I would like to speak for a few minutes on behalf of my constituents in the riding of York West and on behalf of a lot of Canadians who are concerned about this very issue.

Canadians clearly are concerned about the recent increases in energy costs and they have looked to their governments to take concrete action. They understand that we do not control the price of the crude oil or the price of gas, but when they are in need they still look to find a way to resolve the issue and offset some of the expenses.

Bill C-66 proposes a comprehensive package of short term and also longer term measures to help Canadians deal with the high energy costs. Thank goodness that energy costs have now come back down to a more reasonable level, but we have to be very aware that there could be a spike at any time.

The energy cost relief plan consists of a three-pronged approach starting with short term relief in the form of direct payments to millions of low income Canadians who were very worried about how they were going to heat their homes this winter. It is another opportunity for redistribution of our tax dollars to those most in need.

Longer term relief consists of measures to reduce energy costs for Canadians by improving energy efficiency which will bring lasting environmental benefits. Clearly, that has been a long time target for us beginning with the Kyoto plan. We want to work with homeowners and business owners to ensure that everybody takes advantage of the opportunity to get more energy efficient windows and doors to prevent the escape of that very expensive heat.

The government's approach consists of actions to improve energy market transparency and accountability. Our party has talked about that for a very long time, how to make sure there is transparency and that games are not being played. Canada continues to have one of the lowest costs when it comes to gas in and around the world. When I was in Europe recently, a litre of gas cost $3. That is very expensive. We have to be very aware of what is happening around the world, and not just what is happening in Canada.

This inclusive and very effective plan will provide direct financial assistance called an energy cost benefit to more than three million low income seniors and low income families with children. We will also pledge to help families lower their future household heating costs in a variety of areas. We will make more and better pricing information available to consumers while taking legislative steps to deter anti-competitive practices. I believe it was about 10 years ago that the current Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the committee produced a report on competitive pricing and the whole issue of gas prices.

We will also fast track money to municipalities for public transit. We all know how important public transit is when we talk about the smog, quality of life, and the traffic gridlock that is happening in our major cities. It is important for us to invest in public transit. Freeing up that money much faster and investing in our cities is critically important for everyone.

This comprehensive approach provides timely, short term relief to millions of low income Canadians while also setting the stage for meaningful and lasting benefits through greater efficiency and conservation. Again, helping us to meet our obligations to the environment and the Kyoto commitments. Making our homes and buildings more energy efficient is a key way for Canadians to offset higher energy prices.

The incentives we are providing will help Canadians save energy and money, as well as reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. These measures also support project green, the Government of Canada's action plan to build a more sustainable environment.

We heard our former minister of the environment speak earlier about how important many of these initiatives are and how important it is that we meet our obligations. Yes, there is a lot we could still do, but we do have a plan and we are going in the right direction with these initiatives to help improve the quality of life throughout this country.

Given the impact of higher energy costs, our government believes that these types of measures are a priority. That being said, we also remain steadfast in our commitment to balance budgets. This expenditure will not jeopardize our fiscal position, which is something that I believe we as Canadians and as a government are very proud of and clearly have no intentions of doing anything that would jeopardize that for us and for Canada.

These new energy initiatives will help reduce energy costs by an average of 30% per household while making housing more affordable. We are taking steps to make our cities and communities more healthy and sustainable.

When I was the chair of the Prime Minister's caucus task force on urban issues, there were several recommendations made which I would like to share with my colleagues in the House this morning. The task force called on the Government of Canada to consider creating a national building retrofit strategy to encourage and facilitate energy efficiency, which could possibly involve several things. One was providing tax credits to homeowners and businesses that undertake energy efficiency retrofits, as well as supporting a national community-based home retrofit advisory service network.

I am pleased to say, on behalf of my colleagues who also sat on the task force over that 18 months and met with many people across this country on what was important from an urban perspective to ensure the urban sustainability of our cities, that this recommendation has since become government policy. This is proof that our government is constantly listening and taking action to improve the lives of Canadians.

Those were a few of the recommendations. Overall, there were 52 recommendations in that report and all 52 have either been implemented or are in the process of being implemented. That says a lot for the government's response and the work that gets done in many of the task forces that the government sets up.

I would also like to speak today about the long term effects of this bill, particularly the environmental benefits. This is something that cannot be fixed overnight. We all know that, but we need to recognize the opportunity to ensure that our children and grandchildren can have a clean and healthy environment to grow up in. The government has taken action through significant investments in the environment and in sustainable infrastructure in Canadian communities.

We should listen to our children who have already become much more environmentally conscious than probably most of us for a variety of reasons, one being the programs they watch that talk about having clean air and a healthy environment. They are probably doing more.

Look at how smoking has decreased and how many times children go up to adults, and ask why they are smoking and polluting their environment. Twenty years ago nobody would have thought of saying that, but our children are very well educated and moving very positively along with these right ideas, and they are moving in the right direction.

Since 1997 the government has committed more than $13 billion in new funding for environmental measures, putting Canada on the path as a leader to a sustainable economic future.

Some of these investments include over $6 billion toward measures to address climate change; $3.5 billion to help clean up the many contaminated sites across this country in order to use them for a variety of services, from community centres to housing to many other uses, because these sites are sitting there not being used at all; funding to design, implement and enforce framework legislation such as the Canadian Environmental Protection Act and the Species at Risk Act; and support for the development of environmental technologies.

We have done much more and we will continue to do more to help improve the environment for all Canadians. The main objective of the government's environmental initiatives is to have the most impact where it matters most in the places that Canadians live, work and play.

Canada depends on its cities and communities to attract the best talent and to compete for investments with the rest of the world. They are also vibrant centres of commerce, learning and culture. Canada's cities and communities must continue to be healthy, safe and beautiful places to live. It is very important that we continue our competitive edge, continue to be the very best place in the world to live, and that we be a healthy, clean environment for people to want to come to this country and enjoy the riches of it.

That is why, building on current financial support for infrastructure programs and the full rebate of the GST, budget 2005 committed $5 billion in gas tax revenues over the next five years to support environmentally sustainable infrastructure for cities and for communities. We all recognize how critical that investment is and how important it is that we ensure our cities are moving into the 21st century, and have the support and the tools that they need to compete as well.

Bill C-48, which passed this summer, included environmental measures that built on the budget 2005 initiatives by providing funding for public transit as well as $100 million over two years for a low income energy retrofit program. I would remind hon. members that the initiatives in Bill C-48 are contingent on surpluses of $800 million over two years. May I repeat that we do not intend to go into debt, as I indicated earlier, and we intend to continue to be good financial managers.

This brings us to Bill C-66, the bill before the House today. This bill complements the government's previous initiatives by taking action to help families lower their future household heating costs by making their homes more energy efficient. Again, we are reinvesting tax dollars into our very communities where this money comes from.

It fast-tracks, extends and increases five-fold the low income energy retrofit program which will support grants of up to $5,000 per low income household, or about 130,000 homes. Without that help, many of those households will continue to consume huge amounts of energy. That is not a good thing for us, nor is it a good thing for them.

Further, hon. members will recall that in order to encourage further action by Canadians, provinces and territories, budget 2005 allocated $225 million over the next five years to quadruple the number of homes retrofitted under the EnerGuide for houses retrofit incentive program. That is some $40-plus million a year to help retrofit homes. That is a huge help to homeowners. Bill C-66 enriches this program, so that almost 750,000 home will be retrofitted by 2010, instead of the 500,000 originally projected in the budget.

Furthermore, Bill C-66 strengthens the financial incentives to encourage Canadians to upgrade to energy efficient oil and gas furnaces. It also provides corresponding incentives for households that heat with electricity. Bill C-66 also increases retrofit incentives for public sector institutions such as hospitals, schools, municipalities and provincial governments.

My constituents in the riding of York West will truly benefit from the government's responsible course in this and in many other areas. Specifically, many of my constituents will benefit from the energy cost benefit program, a total of $565 million which will be paid out to 3.1 million low income families and seniors who will receive anywhere between $125 to $250 per household. These payments are a first down payment on further tax relief being introduced over the next five years.

I also mentioned the sharing of $5 billion of gas tax revenue to help municipalities with infrastructure needs, for public transit, for example. In recognition of the immediate need for improvements in public transit, Bill C-66 proposes to make certain and fast-track money to municipalities for investment in public transit infrastructure, with $400 million to be made available this year and $400 million in 2006-07.

Canadians look to their government to develop sound policies that will help improve their quality of life. At the same time, they want action that is practical, effective, reasonable and responsible. In other words, they do not want their government to put Canada's solid fiscal situation at risk. Bill C-66 meets that challenge head on.

Given the impact of higher energy costs, the government believes that this balanced package containing aspects that address market transparency and longer term measures to reduce energy dependence along with some limited short term relief is a priority. At the same time we remain committed to balanced budgets.

This is an important bill for Canadians. I look forward to its swift passage and call on parliamentarians from all sides of the House to support the legislation as it will improve the life of all Canadians.

Business of the HouseGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Karen Redman Liberal Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Discussions have taken place between all parties concerning the recorded division scheduled to take place on Wednesday, November 2, 2005 on the motion to concur in the 14th report of the Standing Committee on Justice, Human Rights, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness requesting an extension of the time to consider Bill C-215. I believe you would find consent for the following motion. I move:

That the recorded division scheduled to take place later on Wednesday, November 2, 2005 on the motion to concur in the 14th report of the Standing Committee on Justice, Human Rights, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, be deemed concurred in.