That the House do now adjourn.
Madam Speaker, before I begin, I want you to know that I will be sharing my time with the member for Mégantic—L'Érable.
First, I want to thank all my colleagues who unanimously agreed to this emergency debate this evening. The entire House recognized that my motion was a priority.
This is the second such gesture since the Standing Committee on Industry, Natural Resources, Science and Technology met to discuss gasoline last Thursday. The committee was also unanimous about its desire to hear from witnesses, summon oil companies and senior public servants and invite people to appear before the committee.
Today, the House was also unanimous. Why such unanimity? I think that there are two reasons.
First, there are the astronomical increases in the price of gasoline over the past few weeks, months and year. In early 2005, gas cost about 78¢ per litre. Now it costs $1.08. For years now, we have seen the same thing happen time and again: a significant increase, followed by a small decrease to soothe public opinion, followed by another increase. We are trying to break this cycle.
That is why we want the government to act as soon as possible. This is the second main reason for holding an emergency debate this evening: the government has no action plan.
The only action the government took was when the Bloc Québécois tabled the first phase of its action plan. The Prime Minister said then that we might be able to examine the situation facing the most vulnerable people in order to determine if we can help them. Since then, there has been no news from the government.
The senior public servants who testified before the committee last Thursday told us that the plan was not ready and that they did not know exactly where we were headed. The situation is such that committee members unanimously decided to summon the five ministers responsible for transport, energy, finance, industry and the environment. These are all individuals who are concerned by this issue and who will ultimately have to come before the committee to show their will to act and to present their action plan. So far, we do not know anything about this plan.
The Bloc Québécois wants to contribute. It has already done so by introducing a plan of action. My comments this evening will specifically deal with the various aspects of this plan.
The first point is that consumers must get a break in the short term. As we saw, people were directly hit by this increase. Low income earners who rely on oil for heating purposes will be particularly affected this winter if they are not given the possibility of making up for the loss incurred in terms of their net purchasing power.
We are not talking about subsidizing oil. I think we should pay for energy at its actual cost for our society, and that includes environmental costs. On the other hand, we must ensure that the poor do not have to pay for things for which they are not responsible.
We cannot tolerate the diversion of wealth created by the gas price increase. Profits by oil companies are increasing exponentially. Over the past four years, the profits of the six oil companies in Canada have doubled, from $5 billion to $10 billion. Given such profit increases, we must find a way to calm things down. Otherwise there will be a permanent diversion of wealth that will benefit oil companies rather than consumers and people living in remote areas.
Take the case of a resident of Saint-Pamphile, in my riding, who must travel 50 or 60 kilometres to find work and then to get there. If the gasoline price increase eats up all the revenue drawn from a job that pays $9 or $10 per hour, this will have a very negative impact on the economy and it will slow things down. People must absolutely be compensated.
In this connection, the Bloc Québécois has proposed a tax deduction of $3.75 a day, up to 10% of income. This is already available in the regions far from major centres. It is a measure that would make it possible to help out people in the regions and offset the effects of higher gas prices.
We also want to help the affected economic sectors. This not only concerns consumers but also others whose jobs are affected. I am thinking for example of self-employed truckers, not those employed by a major trucking company whose contracts are lined up six months or a year in advance.
What we want is for a small trucker to be able to benefit from a kind of compensation when he sees his costs rise as soon as he puts gas in his tank, so that he can remain competitive. So we are talking about a tax credit for independent truckers.
We also want to see the tax credit we have in Quebec for taxi drivers and owners made general, so that they can continue to charge a reasonable amount for their services. Here again, it is not a matter of subsidizing gas prices, but of ensuring that the increase in company profits goes back into the pockets of people who need it if they are to keep their businesses running normally.
The same goes for agricultural producers. With the price as it is, there is a forecast of $250 million in added costs to our farmers. Just think about the mad cow crisis they have had to deal with in recent years. If we add an additional debt of $250 million to their burden, they will have to give up their farms, will be forced to sell up. This crisis absolutely must be addressed.
Finally, there is a fourth group: independent logging companies. These are people who operate multi-function machines, harvesters, in forests. These machines use substantial amounts of fuel, and their owners have high payments to make. They were taken by surprise by these skyrocketing fuel prices. We believe that they too should be compensated for their additional costs.
These are short term measures for those currently affected in their daily lives. In our opinion, there should be more medium term measures. The government would be well advised to act on our suggestion to establish a petroleum monitoring agency. Basically, every year for three years, this agency would report to the House of Commons on market conditions and make recommendations.
Had such an agency been established two years ago, when the committee recommended it, changes would have already have been suggested in order to face the kind of crisis we have gone through recently, and we could have influenced the situation. There is a very important factor: uncertainty of fuel availability must be reduced. The current up and down scenario is hurting the economy as a whole, and the government's inaction is seriously interfering with the ability to react appropriately to the situation.
Also, the Competition Act must be strengthened. We have been asking for five years that it provide more powers, so that investigations that are not quasi-judicial can be conducted. There is no need for written or recorded proof of collusion, but a review of the economic sector is required to determine whether or not the market is functioning properly.
This afternoon, the minister gave an indication that the government might be prepared to amend the Competition Act along those lines. We can assure him of our cooperation: our amendments are ready, and we are prepared to submit them to him, so that he can amend the act as soon as possible to ensure that the Competition Bureau can start its investigations.
So, there are short term measures, structural measures, but also measures to redistribute wealth. We can see that petroleum companies are making very substantial extra profits. There is a way to put a tax on these extra profits. We believe that an extra $500 million in taxes could be collected from these companies to finance these aid measures.
Given the fact that profits of more than $10 billion were made over the last year, an amount of $500 million might be considered reasonable. Indeed, at this time, the increase in profits is exponential and will remain so in 2006. Given the new prices, no one would think this is disproportionate. Instead, it would be a reasonable and realistic way to redistribute wealth where it should be, to ensure that our economy continues to run.
Measures must also be taken to reduce our dependence on oil. The Minister of Environment told us last week that the price was high, that it would remain high and that was good for the future. I repeat that I am not against paying the real price for gas. However, we must ensure that profits as well as the proportion of taxes that we are paying are reasonable, so that we can use them for other purposes.
As for measures to reduce our dependency on gas, we could invest substantially in wind energy and encourage the buying and building of less energy consuming vehicles. We are waiting for the government to take action on this.
To implement these measures, we first need the political will, instead of the government currently giving up. Why is the Prime Minister not intervening with the G8 to say that this issue must be dealt with, that this is important? He must make this position known publicly.
Why does he not call on the oil companies at the national level, as the committee had the courage to do, to tell them how this works and what extra efforts they could make?
And finally, he should implement an action plan, like the one that the Bloc Québécois is suggesting on this issue, so that we can feel there is really a government, that people want to tackle this problem and overcome it. This is what this debate is about tonight.