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?