Mr. Speaker, I will maintain my vigilance and keep a watchful eye every minute or so.
I would like first to thank those who moved this motion. It must be noted that this motion, which we heard yesterday, would simply allow the commissioner to conduct a review and to initiate investigations.
It must also be noted that he already has this power for civil law issues. However, in cases related to criminal law, the commissioner does not have that right, except for a group of six people or as a result of a departmental directive.
Therefore, what the Bloc has proposed would not have worked necessarily. It is, in part, already there.
What makes the motion acceptable from my party's perspective is the fact that it includes two very important provisions, which my party has worked on for almost ten years now, both in turning the pricing provisions of price discrimination and predatory pricing where they belong, under civil opprobrium as opposed criminal sanction.
I think hon. members in the House should be aware of the fact that where there are criminal sanctions, whether that be in price discrimination, predatory pricing, conspiracy or collusion, and I alluded a little earlier to the member for Oshawa, who is the parliamentary secretary, is it any wonder that over the years egregious examples of conspiracy, particularly in this industry, have never been proven.
I know most of us in this chamber have read section 45 of the Act, which deals with conspiracy. To get a conviction, one has to prove the tests of undueness. In every section undueness basically serves as a tremendous barrier of proof. One has to prove intent. One has to prove that the damage to the economy is so substantial or that the dominants are so substantial that it would bring about basically the failure of the Canadian economy.
I have said this tongue in cheek before, but the only way we would get a conviction in the oil industry, for instance, would be to have the chairman of Imperial Oil swear an affidavit before the Supreme Court of Canada that it was engaging in conspiracy. This is clearly not the case.
In your time here as a member of Parliament, Mr. Speaker, you have seen the number of refineries go from 44 down to 14 or 13 even. In fact, in Toronto region, we have absolutely no refineries left.
I heard the hon. parliamentary secretary talk about ample supply. I do not know where the parliamentary secretary for industry was, but for a month and a half Canadians paid on average 8¢ a litre more because of a refinery out at Nanticoke.
We are running our supply situation at such a fragile point today that we are experiencing difficulties which are having tremendous impacts on not only ordinary Canadian consumers, but also on the economy in general. Our interest rates did not go down this month. We would have expected that to happen, but it did not because of the cost of gasoline, which is artificially high in Canada.
It is clear to me, and I think to everyone here, that the way in which we wound up from so many players down to so few players was a combination of two factors: first, the creation of PetroCan years ago shut down a number of potential players in which independents could provide supply; and second, was stopping that policy, reversing it, throwing it back into the private sector only to have further mergers, such as the one we saw with Texaco having its assets taken up by Imperial Oil, Gulf and so on.
What this points to is a very dangerous oligopoly in the downstream, that is to say in the provision, the refining of product. That has happened under the watchful eye of a Competition Act, which I have tried to change several times.
The Competition Act, written in 1986 and which Peter C. Newman referred to as the only time in Canadian history when an act was written by the very people it was meant to police, has now seen an unfortunate outcome, but a very predictable one. It definitely needs amendment. That is one of the reasons I agree with the Bloc's motion. It agrees with what we have been trying to do for ten years.
A handful of players not only control the price, but they can also control supply and also control, to a large extent, the pump price we pay from region to region within one-tenth of a cent a litre.
I will give an illustration of this. Last week we heard that the price of crude had come down, but that refining costs had gone up. I had no problems with understanding the arguments. Even if I were to accept those, I would have to continue to ask myself why all last week throughout Canada Canadian consumers paid on average 5¢ to 6¢ a litre wholesale more than the United States. At the same time our hard-pressed refineries, under the previous agreements to share product with the United States, FTA, NAFTA, were selling gasoline 6¢ cheaper to the United States than they were receiving in Canada.
Those are the so-called mystery cents. Those are the facts that underlie and underscore the need to amend the Competition Act. It was not this member of Parliament, who was slightly before his own time. It was not the Liberal Party that sort of invented these things. The facts remain that the public policy forum, the Competition Bureau itself, among all the changes that need to take place, came up with three under formerly Bill C-19.
One was the general application for airlines. I will discuss that in just a moment. The second was turning pricing provisions from criminal to civil. The third one was about the need for an independent monitoring watchdog. Why do we need that? Simply put, Natural Resources Canada, which is the be all and end all in terms of pricing, relies on some companies like M.J. Ervin and Associates. Mr. Ervin is a great man. I met him before, but the companies he serves are in fact the oil industry. We have the proverbial fox monitoring the chicken coup.
I do not speak so disparagingly of a company trying to make business. I just do not believe it is fair for a country that has seen its consumers invest so heavily over the years in terms of providing energy self-sufficiency and building these refineries with taxpayer money to see these things suddenly decline and see prices in Canada, a nation blessed with an abundance of technology, of resources and ability, suddenly paying more than the United States when there is a crisis.
We talked about Hurricane Katrina. No wonder the Competition Bureau cannot find anti-competitive act if it hit it on the head. For seven, to nine, to ten weeks during that period of time, we were paying 10¢ a litre more in Canada than the United States, where the problem existed. I have no difficulty in telling people that we should be paying international prices for crude and for gasoline, but, for goodness sakes, 10¢ a litre more? Are we crazy?
The bureau thought so little of that and said that it did not matter that we paid the 10¢ because it found no question of anti-competitive behaviour. What it did not say is that it could not find the anti-competitive behaviour that allowed a handful of companies to charge those kind of prices, which would not be acceptable in any other industry across the country.
I have had many discussions on this. We have worked on this over the years. We know what the solutions are. The Bloc motion simply crystallizes the very minimum, with which even I think some members in the industry agree. However, in the public, people like Wanda Hollis in Hamilton, Ontario, are leading the gas boycott. There is a perception, a belief, that what they are doing is stopping the companies from taking advantage of consumers. I wish great power to them to do that, but until we get the Competition Act correct, we will wind up with investigations that are predictably useless and predictably unnecessary.
I am getting tired of hearing from the media and others, who do not want to look at this, say that we will constantly wind up in the same pickle we are in. We will have an inquiry, but we will not find conspiracy.
Let it be perfectly clear. The Liberal Party and the industry critic, the member for Kings—Hants, do not believe that conspiracy needs to exist in an environment where we have regional to regional monopolies, in which Imperial Oil in Toronto sets the price. The wholesale price for gasoline at 4 o'clock in Toronto was 66.7¢ a litre, down from 67.8¢ the day before. The other three major companies simply followed that same price.
There is no incentive to break that monopoly. In fact, that price is 3¢ a litre above wholesale prices for the same gasoline we sell to the United States. We are only doing it to ourselves. We need a transparent, objective body to look at these prices and say whether consumers are getting a fair break or not. It is very simple to do.
Platts, Bloomberg Oil Buyer's Guide knows what the Canadian dollar is exchanged for every day and looks at the wholesale prices of gas in the United in the New York market, for example. We have a fair idea about what we are talking.
On that price, yesterday at the wholesale, it cost 3¢ to 4¢ a litre for a refiner to turn crude into gasoline. In fact, yesterday the mark-up was about 21¢ a litre, which is never explained anywhere. The media also has to help us here too. I do not want to hear what the price of crude is. I do not put crude in my gas tank, but I do put gasoline in that tank. I want to know what the price is, whether that is ethanol or a new product that comes out.
The reality is the blueprint of the Competition Act. It was written in a way that is deliberately flawed, which enhances monopolies, which has destroyed a lot of the ability for us to have competitive pricing in Canada. Parliament must act decisively and quickly with no more name calling or pointing fingers saying “they should have” or “they should not have”. Let us deal with the specifics.
Today Canadians are being ripped off. They deserve an answer and they deserve a decisive response by the government and Parliament. I am prepared to support any initiative that goes in that direction.