Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to speak to this motion, because the price of gas affects our entire economy, the entire population and, above all, many workers, who, in order to earn a living, must constantly contend with very high gas prices. The price is skyrocketing, the refining margin is three times too high and oil company profits are truly obscene. The price at the regular pump was $1.15, on average, last week in Quebec City, and $1.17 in Trois-Rivières on May 7. The average refining margin reached a record high at 23¢. That is three times too high, as the hon. member for Joliette was saying, when we know that a profit of 5¢ to 7¢ is enough for the oil companies to earn a reasonable profit on refining.
The price of petroleum products could remain high over the summer, especially since the cost of crude oil continues to rise. Who is pocketing the profits in the end? It is the oil companies, of which there are only six major companies. There are six major oil companies in Canada, and together, they earned a record profit of nearly $12 billion in 2006, an increase of 25% over 2005. It was unbelievable, but that record profit of 2005 was 70% higher than in 2004. It is becoming apparent that the oil and gas sector really needs to be controlled. The entire economy is threatened by the increase in the cost of this very strategic resource. We in the Bloc Québécois believe it is possible, at least in part, to avoid increases in prices for gasoline and other petroleum products.
Clearly the rising price of petroleum products has many consequences in our day-to-day lives. For example, in the case of taxis—to give just one example—they cannot change their fares every day according to the gas prices. With vacations coming up, how will our low- and middle-income families cope with this rise in the cost of gas? It increases the cost of all goods, since obviously the rise in transportation costs will be passed on to consumers through increased product prices. In my riding, the Kruger company, in an industry that is already in trouble, will have more problems transporting its wood chips. We think of our truck drivers, whose incomes are constantly dropping. They will have to put in longer hours to make ends meet, and that will lead to higher risks of accidents. Their profits are already very low and they will have something to say about this to the members of this House.
And certainly the increases in the price of gasoline are very harmful to the government, which itself is a very large consumer of gas.
Four main factors explain this rise: the price of crude oil, of course; the refining margin; taxes; and the retail margin.
When we talk about the retail margin, this is the difference between the price paid by retailers to buy their gas and the price they sell it for. Taxes, even though we often find them high, barely fluctuate and in our opinion do not explain the variations in the price of gas since most of these taxes are fixed. Certainly the price of crude oil is set internationally. It is hard to do anything to control this price, but there remain certain factors on which we can have an influence. While supply can still meet demand, it nevertheless has an effect on the rise in prices. Increasingly we see that oil prices are negotiated on the stock market. They are very sensitive to speculation, like any other commodity.
Professor Antoine Ayoub was talking in this connection about the new players, that is the pension funds, that have got into the oil speculation market and that have more influence on the market. We see that, by basing themselves on a number of uncertainties, which my colleague from Joliette talked about, such as the Iraq invasion and the resumption of Iraqi exports, which are always threatening to become problematic, they manage to make the price rise artificially by about US$15 per barrel.
This brings us to the key point of this motion, which has to do with refining.
In North America, companies have significantly streamlined refining activities since 1990. Obviously, to cut costs, they have closed a number of refineries, thus increasing use of their production capacity.
The gap between supply and demand has narrowed, with the result that the smallest climatic or technical problem upsets the balance between these two factors and leads to an increase in prices. The smallest increase in demand for gas sends prices up, as we can see on long weekends and holidays, as though refineries had no way of anticipating this. Why could they not have built up reserves? Any businessperson knows that during peak times, there should be a little more merchandise to sell, to be sure to meet the needs of customers. This remains very hard to understand.
If the government had not stubbornly refused to follow up on the recommendation to create a petroleum monitoring agency, it would have been better able to understand the market and see the crisis coming. We think a petroleum monitoring agency could prevent this situation by sounding the alarm, and propose solutions.
The Bloc Québécois is suggesting that the Competition Act be given more teeth to examine the role of refining margins in the determination of prices. A reasonable refining margin is in the range of 4¢ to 7¢ per litre, as mentioned earlier. In March and April it was more than 15¢ per litre. Last week, it was about 23¢ per litre, four times the reasonable margin. The industry must be disciplined, the Competition Act must be strengthened, the Competition Bureau must be able to investigate and must have real powers of investigation, which it does not have right now, and a petroleum monitoring agency should be established.
Furthermore, this was a recommendation made by the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology in November 2003. We wonder what the government is waiting for to take action.
As I only have one minute left, I will move the following amendment. I move, seconded by the member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, the following amendment:
That the motion be amended by adding after the words “said prices” the following:
and that the government also move to amend the Act to decriminalize the anti-competitive pricing practices and treat them as reviewable under the abuse of dominance provision and furthermore, the government should create a petroleum monitoring agency such as the one proposed by the Bloc Quebecois and recommended in the Fifth Report of the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology presented in this House on November 7, 2003”.