Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Madawaska—Restigouche.
I am pleased to participate in this extremely important debate this afternoon on a motion that reads:
That, in the opinion of the House, the government should move an amendment to the Competition Act so that the Commissioner of Competition has the power to initiate investigations of the price of gas and the role of refining margins in the determination of the said price.
I will begin my remarks by reminding hon. members about the current role of the Competition Bureau and of its present mandate. The Competition Act contains regulations that ensure Canadians are treated fairly in the marketplace and that corporations in positions of market dominance do not abuse their status to the detriment of consumers.
The Competition Bureau is an independent law enforcement agency responsible for the administration of the Competition Act, which includes provisions against price fixing, price maintenance and abusive behaviour by a dominant firm, resulting in a lessening of competition. The Competition Bureau's role is to protect competition in the marketplace so that Canadians can benefit from competitive prices, product choice and quality service. All of its provisions apply to gasoline and other petroleum products.
Each year the bureau receives numerous complaints about gasoline prices, I am sure, from many Canadians. Complaints are examined to determine whether the provisions of the Competition Act have been violated.
We hear over and over again that the Competition Bureau has conducted, since 1990, six major investigations into allegations of collusion in the gasoline industry and that it has consistently found no evidence to suggest that periodic price increases resulted from a conspiracy to limit competition in gasoline supply.
However, collusion is not the issue. Enhancing competition at the refinery level clearly is.
We need to acknowledge that the Competition Bureau has serious limitations. It does not possess up to the minute information on all developments in the worldwide petroleum industry and it is not the bureau's mandate to conduct ongoing economic research and analysis of developments in the petroleum sector of the economy.
Today's motion calls on the government to amend the “Competition Act so that the Commissioner of Competition would have the power to initiate investigations into the price of gas and the role of refining margins in the determination of the said price”.
I would like to be very clear for everybody watching at home that the federal government does not control the price or the distribution of most goods and services sold in Canada, including gasoline, something that somehow or other people always seem to think is totally in the government's hands to control.
Where prices are not regulated, they are determined by market forces. I understand that all of us as Canadians are seeing gasoline prices rise and that people are upset at what they see as unfair prices and taxes at the pump.
Gasoline pricing is one of the most talked about and studied consumer related issues in Canada and probably the one that is most hated when people pay $100 to fill up their cars. Just last week this issue was raised to me at a local meeting of the North Islington seniors. Seniors are part of our community who immediately feel the impact of these increases in costs, as well as other families struggling on low fixed incomes. Seniors who are on very limited fixed incomes simply cannot afford to pay the astronomically high prices that we have seen lately. Just putting gas in the car to get to their appointments is creating a hardship on their lives.
High gas prices affect all Canadians. From the trucking industry that delivers food to our grocery stores, to low income families trying to make ends meet, rising gas prices are creating strains on budgets across the country.
It is not just the rising price of gasoline that is affecting my constituents in my riding of York West. The price of natural gas, which has almost doubled since last year, will continue to hit senior citizens and others living on fixed incomes much harder this coming winter.
The Ontario Energy Board has approved a 19% increase in natural gas prices to reflect the rising cost to distributors. With this increase, rates will have risen 45% since October of 1999. That translates to about $430 more a year per residential customer. Seniors on pensions and low income families, those living on fixed incomes, simply cannot afford another $400 or $500 to keep warm this winter.
When the Liberal government was in power, twice it introduced energy rebate programs when the energy costs got to an all time high.
The volatility of gasoline prices and recent high fuel prices continue to generate discussion about market fairness and the competitive nature of the retail gasoline market in Canada. The Liberal government understood the majority of the pump price of gasoline comes from the price of crude oil, a globally traded commodity. The Liberal government acted to diversify our fuel supply. Some examples include the fact that we supported initiatives that would diversify Canada's fuel supply, such as Alberta's oil sands, Hibernia in Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia's Terra Nova.
We worked toward increasing performance standards for vehicles to make them more fuel efficient. We invested money in green fuel research and used fiscal policy to promote the development of green energy.
We also developed EnerGuide to promote energy efficiency in homes and places of business, which was a very popular program among many people in Canada. Sadly, this program fell victim to the minority Conservative government's radical cuts.
The Liberal Party is certainly sympathetic to consumers paying high prices for gasoline and our record shows this. We support any measure that increases transparency in the international and domestic markets for gasoline.
This motion proposes to strengthen the Competition Act to allow for investigations into gasoline prices and, specifically, their relationship to the refining margin and corporate profits. Therefore, I am pleased to support it today.
On October 6, 2005, the Liberal Party introduced measures to strengthen transparency in the energy market. As part of Bill C-66, $13 million was set aside to give Canada's Competition Bureau more powers and to strengthen the Competition Act in response to high energy costs. I would like to acknowledge the work of my colleague from Pickering—Scarborough East. In the years that I have been here this is an issue that he has championed all of those years to try to get changes.
This would have given Canada's Competition Bureau more powers and would have strengthened the Competition Act. Bill C-66 also committed $15 million to establish an office of energy price information to monitor energy price fluctuations and provide clear current information to Canadians. However, Bill C-66 was one of the first casualties of the minority Conservative government when it took power.
The Conservative government has flip-flopped on this issue since the first days of the minority Conservative government. The Prime Minister had pledged to Canadians that a Conservative government would eliminate the GST on gas entirely if prices escalated above 85¢ per litre and is now reneging on that commitment. It is another broken promise.
If that is not bad enough, after long advocating tax relief for motorists, the Prime Minister has told Canadians that they will need to get used to gas prices being this high. High gas prices are not the only thing Canadians will need to get used to under the government. The list includes sarcasm, arrogance, hypocrisy, flip-flops, contradictions and more broken promises.