Mr. Speaker, I will be addressing this afternoon the opposition motion put forward by the Bloc Québécois, which I will outline for your benefit:
That, in the opinion of the House, the government should move an amendment to the Competition Act so that the Commissioner of Competition have the power to initiate investigations of the price of gas and the role of refining margins in the determination of the said price.
The main element is certainly the refining margins. The current situation with gas prices is really unacceptable. Canada produces a lot of oil and gasoline. Yet, we have seen gas prices increase steadily since this government took office in January 2006. We definitely have to look into the situation. The government members have no desire whatsoever to try and find ways to ensure that Canadians have access to reasonably priced gasoline. People are not asking for miracles, but they want to be able to buy gas at a reasonable price, which is definitely not the case right now.
Let us compare urban and rural areas. In urban areas, people can take public transit, be it the bus or the subway, to go to work, do groceries and so on.
In rural areas, there are no such services available, and we cannot get them, even though we should probably have access to public transit. People in rural areas have to drive their personal vehicle to the grocery store, to work, and they often have to drive long distances. Rural areas are often also remote areas, large areas requiring that one drive long distances, many kilometres, if not hundreds of kilometres, to go to work.
In such circumstances, rising gas prices can certainly represent a barrier for consumers, especially since they have no choice; they absolutely have to put gasoline in their cars if they want to go to work.
Wages are not going up at the same rate as the price of gasoline. Some people have jobs in seasonal industries where the work is not always distributed over 12 months or 52 weeks a year, and they have to be able to find the money they need to fill up their cars while still being able to put bread, butter and food on the table to feed their families, their children.
We are asking so little of the government. It is incredible and shameful that all the members of the Conservative government, which has been in power for far too long, are obstructing this and doing what they can to ensure that the price of gasoline does not come down in Canada. We have a government that absolutely does not want to do anything, that does not want to take any action, that wants laissez-faire and says the market will decide.
Whenever it is said that the market will decide, that means abuses are very possible. Not very long ago, the refining margin for producers was 7.2¢. That was the average between 1998 and 2003. I have been told this was already far too much, but it was the average over this five-year period. Nowadays, the refining margin is nearly 26¢ and often even more.
If the government thinks this is acceptable, we should ask into whose pockets the Conservatives want this money to go. Do they want it to go to the oil companies or do they want to make the effort to give a little of it back to taxpayers? We should make a comparison. We should look at what the reality is.
Gasoline retailers in Canada have an average margin of 3.5¢ a litre when they sell their gas. They employ people at street corners all over Canada, and their margin is 3.5¢ or less, while the big refineries have a margin that is often as much as 26¢.
Their margin is therefore 26¢ out of the current price of $1.15, or even more in some parts of the country. That is rather abusive and excessive. If the margin for refiners were the average for the 1998 to 2003 period, or about 7¢ a litre, the current price would be about 96¢.
This would reduce the refining margin by about 19¢, and the price of a litre of gas would currently be around 96¢. I am convinced that the public would at least acknowledged that an effort has been made. All we are asking from the Conservative government is to ensure that mechanisms are in place to allow workers, families and seniors to be a little better off, as well as all those who must use their car for various reasons, such as taking their children to activities, going to church on Sunday, doing the groceries once a week, and going to work every day. We want this government to be a little more compassionate, to think about those who must use their vehicle to earn a living and be able to pay for food, hydro and shelter.
In fact, the public is not asking for much. These people are not getting salary increases, but their costs are constantly increasing. Does a 26¢ margin not look excessive, compared to the 7.2¢ margin?
The Conservatives must believe that a 26¢ margin is respectable and acceptable. They are providing all sorts of excuses. They will say that it is the market that decides. If it is the market that decides, then they can invoke all the good reasons. Whenever anything happens, it seems as though the price of gas goes up by 10¢. Whenever we hear rumours about a war somewhere, the price of gas goes up by 15¢.
In the end, where does that money go? It is the refining margin that increases. It is the margin that refiners give themselves that goes up. Whenever there is speculation, not at the stock exchange, but about the weather or conflicts around the world, all the decisions made are based exclusively on that and, all of a sudden, prices go up. The cost of a barrel of oil has not necessarily increased by that much. However, if we look at the situation, we see that costs have gone up. It is oil companies that benefit from all this, not workers.
The government opposite claims it is working in the best interest of the people. In this case, and in many others, it is clearly not working in the best interest of the people. It is out to do anything but try to help citizens.
We have to find ways to stabilize the situation and ensure better prices. Among other things, the competition commissioner must be authorized to make his own decision about holding an inquiry. Proactive is the key word here. The Conservative government has been reactive for weeks and months. It is reacting because it is unable to correct the situation going on within its own party. It is reactive.
Why is the government unable to accept that the competition commissioner can be proactive and make his own decisions about a situation?
The competition commissioner must have the power to force oil companies to disclose information, provide evidence and prove that a situation really is serious and that prices are not going up 10¢ just because of high winds in eastern Canada or the possibility of conflict elsewhere in the world. The government must take responsibility in this situation. Right now, the Conservative government is not even able to shoulder its responsibilities. It is offloading its responsibilities onto seasonal workers, day labourers, families and seniors. It is not interested in helping these people live better lives.
Why is the Conservative government working so hard to ensure that oil companies can boost their profits not by hundreds, thousands or millions of dollars, but by tens of millions and tens of billions of dollars at the expense of workers? Why does the Conservative government not bring in these little changes that could certainly lower the price of gas and help the people in our ridings who need it the most? Why does the government not have a heart in this matter?