This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

House of Commons Hansard #168 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was finance.

Topics

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I regret to interrupt the hon. member for Laval—Les Îles. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage has the floor.

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Abbott Conservative Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, the government is not really interested in taking lessons from the Liberals on arts because it has done more for the arts community in the last year and a half than the Liberals did in 13 years.

When we formed the government, the Canada Council of the Arts was in need of more funding and we delivered $50 million.

In terms of festivals, the Arts Presentation Canada program supports some 600 festivals and series in 225 communities each year.

Our budget this year announced an additional $60 million over two years for festivals and this new program will be ready to go in the fall.

Then there is Cultural Spaces Canada, $30 million annually, 408 projects across the country; Endowment Incentives, the money requested growing from $8.2 million to $25 million over the last five years, which has leveraged $74 million in donations to endowments from the private sector. The government takes art seriously.

6:40 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in the House and speak about gas prices and refining profits with regard to consumers being hosed across this country.

I asked a question in this chamber about the fact that the Conservative government was allowing the price of phone calls to go up as well, once again hurting consumers. It has actually allowed the rates to go from 25¢ up to $1 for local telephone calls if we use a card.

I specifically want to go back to gas prices. My specific reference relates to the issue of refining profits. It is important to note that Statistics Canada in its fourth quarter report, which is a month old approximately, noted that profits of oil and gas extraction companies exceeded $31 billion for the first time ever in 2006, up 2.3% over 2005 levels.

Crude oil prices peaked in the summer of 2006, but retreated in the latter portion of the year due to the high inventories and softening demand. Nevertheless, the average crude prices for 2006 were well ahead of 2005.

That is important to note because what we have witnessed is that refining profits moved exponentially up in the system and the actual cost to consumers has gone up significantly.

The government's claims that it is a world market and it cannot do anything about it is absolutely erroneous. There are different policies, also voted in the House of Commons, to create a watchdog agency, which the government could implement to bring some accountability and independent analysis to the subject matter.

The Competition Bureau currently does not have the mandate to delve into that layer of responsibility, so we need that updated. The minister's own briefing, which I obtained through the Access of Information Act, indicated that reviewing the Competition Act should be a priority for Canadians and the ministry, but the minister has yet to do so.

It is important to bring to light some information. Just today at the industry committee we started our first hearings on gas prices. One of the things that was interesting was that Natural Resources Canada brought out a breakdown of the different price increases and percentages. Sure enough, the profits for refining markets back in 1996 was 9.1% of the price of gasoline. Ten years later, that is 24.3%

That is unbelievable, given the fact that we witnessed refining being limited and reduced in this country in many respects. PetroCanada in Oakville, for example, was shut down because it did not want to invest in that. PetroCanada now buys its gas from Esso overseas in Europe and imports it.

It has also started purchasing gasoline from Esso in Sarnia, for example, so when Sarnia had the fire, consumers across Ontario in particular and across the country had to pay that differential because there was no competition and no excess refining capacity. PetroCanada stations were affected just as fast as Esso stations when the refining capacity dropped because of the fire.

I know that there are some promises of investment into the industry itself, but we have not seen the real proof.

My question to the government is this. Why does it not bring some accountability to this file? The Prime Minister questioned the previous prime minister, the member for LaSalle—Émard, about why he would not live up to votes in the House of Commons and chastized him for that. Why does the government not live up to the vote we had in the House of Commons on gas pricing and a petroleum monitoring agency, and do something to support consumers and bring transparency and accountability to this file?

6:40 p.m.

Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière Québec

Conservative

Jacques Gourde ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to address this matter. It seems to have captured the imagination of Canadians.

In 2005 and 2006, the price of oil increased considerably, mainly because of the high price of crude oil. A recent series of interruptions in supply has made the price climb at the pumps.

We all know that Canadians have been hard hit by the recent spike in the price at the pumps. Obviously, when the price of gas goes up, Canadians are affected. There is no doubt that this has repercussions on the daily lives of Canadians and increases the cost of living, which concerns us all.

In our last budget, we adopted a number of initiatives such as the ecoAuto rebate program, which encourages Canadians to buy highly fuel-efficient vehicles with rebates up to $2000. We in the government are getting things done.

It is not just the price of fuel that influences our energy costs. The way we drive also has an impact. The government has posted on the Internet a number of practical tips on buying, driving and maintaining vehicles. These tips can save Canadians money and fuel and also reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The following are a few examples of some of the tips: drive at the speed limit since driving at 100 km per hour instead of 120 km per hour increases performance by 20%; plan trips, use public transit as much as possible; avoid letting the motor idle for nothing; and keep tires inflated.

Since we are talking about gasoline I will talk about energy, something that is very important to this government. We recognize how important it is that we end our dependency on oil.

Our government recognizes that we must invest in other forms of energy. We have invested $1.5 billion in renewable energy such as wind, biomass and tidal energies.

The development of new technologies is one of the primary areas where we can join forces. Innovative and ground-breaking technologies are the key to Canada's future when it comes to natural resources. The natural resources industry is a high tech industry, and it is Canada's technologies and know-how that have made Canadian business so competitive on the world market. The truth of this can be seen in the resource exploitation technologies that Canada supplies to the rest of the world.

Everything our government does is focused on results. We have invested $230 million on a targeted initiative to do research into technology to clean up our conventional energy. These are tangible things that we believe can make a difference, everything from clean coal technology to emissions-free coal-fired electricity generation to carbon sequestration.

In fact, when price regulation has been imposed in the past, it has actually resulted in higher gasoline prices. We cannot get involved in regulation. As long as we are not facing a national emergency, the Canadian Constitution does not allow the Government of Canada to regulate energy prices. That is a provincial jurisdiction. At present, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick have decided to regulate gas prices. Experience has shown, however, that although regulation may stabilize prices and make them less volatile, it does not necessarily lower prices.

The Competition Bureau has the authority and the responsibility to investigate any anti-competitive practice and, if necessary, to take legal action. The Competition Bureau has conducted several major investigations of collusion in the oil industry.

6:45 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, that really does not solve the problem. The problem is that we have to protect consumers. Of course we want clean energy and efficiency in terms of people switching to alternative energy, but consumers do not need to be gouged in the process. There should be a net benefit in terms of switching that we can take advantage of, but we do not.

How is the government program measuring up? Statistics Canada recently came out with statistics showing that Canadian consumers mostly shrugged off the effect of rising gasoline prices on their driving habits, never mind their overall behaviour. The only concession drivers made to higher prices was to switch from premium grade to regular grade gasoline. What happens is people produce worse products. That does not take away the fact that the refining profit margins have gone up significantly. In the last year they have gone up as well. That is what we are talking about, putting those resources back into Canadians' pockets so they can make better decisions about their habits.

It is important to note that the government can put up a website and a few other things, and I even include driving habits in my literature in order to educate consumers about all those different things, but the reality is—

6:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources.

6:45 p.m.

Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière Québec

Conservative

Jacques Gourde ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources

Mr. Speaker, as part of our EcoAction plan for a cleaner, healthier environment, we have implemented initiatives such as our ecoAuto program, which gives rebates of up to $2,000 per vehicle to help Canadians acquire vehicles that consume less fuel.

To make alternatives to fossil fuel available, the government has mandated that gasoline must contain 5% renewable fuel, and it has recently invested $2 billion in a Canadian biofuel strategy.

In the 2006 budget, we created a tax credit for public transportation to encourage the use of public transportation systems, and we reduced the GST from 7% to 6%, which lowered the price of gas and other products.

In addition, the government has set up the ecoEnergy program for personal vehicles. This program will include information about fuel consumption and tools to help consumers make decisions, such as labels on vehicles, manuals—

6:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Order. The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly the House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24.

(The House adjourned at 6:50 p.m.)