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House of Commons Hansard #66 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was troops.

Topics

Competition ActPrivate Members’ Business

6:20 p.m.

Bloc

Roger Gaudet Bloc Montcalm, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry is somewhat mistaken. When it suits him, he says that is a provincial matter; when it does not suit him, he is prepared to meddle in provincial jurisdictions.

That is not a valid reason. Why is there a Competition Bureau in Ottawa if it is interference in provincial matters? I would like the parliamentary secretary to give me a reason.

In addition, the parliamentary secretary should not forget that the Conservatives did not wish to bring back Bill C-19, introduced by the Liberals, as they were lobbying the government on behalf of the companies.

That is my answer to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry.

Competition ActPrivate Members’ Business

6:20 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, first I would like to congratulate my colleague for Montcalm for introducing this bill. My colleague is quite right. The Conservatives cannot continue to say that it is a provincial jurisdiction or that it is a federal jurisdiction, according to what suits them at the time.

Citizens are at the mercy of the refining margin, the percentage taken by oil companies. We need to get to the bottom of it.

My remarks are for my colleague. I toured Quebec. When I visited a Conservative riding in Quebec, I quickly noted, as they did, that since the Conservatives have come to power gasoline prices have hit record highs. It is about time that we have a bill like the one introduced by my colleague.

Competition ActPrivate Members’ Business

6:20 p.m.

Bloc

Roger Gaudet Bloc Montcalm, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for his comments. This proves what I was saying earlier. It is true in every municipality. For example, the Ultramar refinery in Quebec City supplies all the independent and national-brand service stations, including Shell, Imperial Oil—all the companies. They all get their gas from the same place. How can there not be some collusion between them?

That is why I was asking the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry earlier about Ottawa's Competition Act. Is it there to help the oil companies or to discipline them so that Quebec and Canadian consumers are taken care of?

Competition ActPrivate Members’ Business

6:25 p.m.

Oshawa Ontario

Conservative

Colin Carrie ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to take part in the second reading debate on Bill C-454, An Act to amend the Competition Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.

As members are no doubt aware Bill C-454 proposes a wide range of amendments to the Competition Act. Among its many provisions, Bill C-454 proposes to amend the Competition Act to provide restitution for consumers harmed by deceptive marketing practices and would give the Competition Tribunal the ability to issue injunctions to stop the disposal of assets by anyone engaged in deceptive marketing. This is to ensure that there is money available for restitution.

Bill C-454 also proposes to deter companies from abusing their dominant position by giving the tribunal the ability to award administrative monetary penalties, commonly known as AMPs.

The bill proposes to further discourage deceptive marketing practices such as false advertising, by increasing penalties for the violation of these legislative provisions.

Furthermore, Bill C-454 proposes to decriminalize the criminal provisions dealing with price discrimination and predatory pricing. It also proposes a number of consequential amendments to the act and other statutes.

I do not intend to address specific provisions of the bill today. Some of my colleagues will handle that, I am sure.

It is my hope that should Bill C-454 be referred to committee, there would be a thorough and detailed analysis of its provisions.

My primary purpose in rising to speak on this issue is to express my view that any amendments to the Competition Act should not be made lightly.

More particularly, there must be careful consideration as to how the act fits into broader competition policy, specifically the “price gouging” or, to put it another way, price regulation provisions which are provincial, not federal, jurisdictions, as well as the “anti-cartel” provisions which might negatively impact supply management.

This Conservative government understands the necessity of a modern and aggressive competition policy in this global economy. That is why in July 2007 this government took the proactive step and announced the creation of the Competition Policy Review Panel. The panel's core mandate is to review two key pieces of Canadian legislation: the Competition Act and the Investment Canada Act.

The panel will review key elements of Canada's competition and investment policies to ensure that they are working effectively, allowing Canada to encourage even greater foreign investment and create more and better jobs for Canadians. The government is looking forward to receiving the report on June 30.

What I would like to do today is set out why I believe that a careful approach to amending the Competition Act is essential.

Competition stimulates innovation and enhances productivity and economic growth. I think my colleagues from all parties recognize the importance of these factors for Canada.

I would hope they would also agree that economic prosperity is closely linked to the intensity of competition that exists in a country's markets.

Canada has achieved substantial economic success through privatization, free trade and deregulation, despite outright disapproval at one time for one of these economic provisions by all opposition parties. Through a reliance on competition and market forces our economy has thrived.

This government takes the issue of our economic competitiveness very seriously. We are determined to create the kind of competitive environment that will make Canadians much more prosperous.

In saying that, we are well aware that prosperity is not created by governments. What might come as a shock to the Bloc is that a government's job is to put in place conditions that encourage entrepreneurship and innovation. It is the private sector's role to innovate, take risks and create wealth in a way that benefits our entire society.

The Competition Act is an important part of Canada's competition policy. However, it is only one part of a larger legislative policy and regulatory framework.

This framework has a crucial impact on the competitiveness of Canadian businesses and Canada's economic performance. As I mentioned earlier, that is why this government created the competition panel in order to ensure these policies are modern and internationally competitive.

This government has also acted in other ways to increase innovation, productivity and strengthen our economy.

We are committed to providing effective economic leadership for a prosperous future and to strengthen the Canadian economy through our long term economic plan, “Advantage Canada”, and through our science and technology strategy.

In our recent economic statement, we built on that foundation, introducing important new measures that will help Canadian businesses compete, attract new investment to Canada, increase productivity, and create more and better jobs for Canadians.

The results are already paying off. Just last week Statistics Canada announced that Canada's unemployment rate had decreased to 5.8%, the lowest in 30 years. In Quebec the unemployment rate has decreased from 7.4% to 6.8% and 77,000 new jobs were created since January 2007.

Canada's economy is still creating better paying, full time jobs, while the U.S. economy is on the brink of recession because this Conservative government has put in place all the right economic fundamentals.

Let me now briefly describe the Competition Bureau's role and mandate, and discuss the importance of the Competition Act.

The Competition Bureau is an independent law enforcement agency. It contributes to the prosperity of Canadians by protecting and promoting market competition and allowing consumers to make informed choices.

Led by the Commissioner of Competition, the Bureau investigates anti-competitive practices and ensures compliance with the laws under its jurisdiction.

An extremely important piece of this legislative framework is the Competition Act. It touches on virtually all sectors of the Canadian economy. It promotes and maintains competition so Canadians can benefit from competitive prices, product choice and quality services.

The Competition Act is important for both consumers and businesses. The legislation contains several provisions to address false or misleading representations and deceptive marketing practices. For example, the Competition Bureau investigates misleading advertising and deceptive telemarketing targeting Canadians. It ensures that businesses provide accurate information to consumers when marketing their products and services.

False or misleading representations and deceptive marketing practices can have serious economic consequences, especially when directed toward large audiences or when they take place over a long period of time.

The Competition Act also helps businesses. A competitive marketplace promotes the efficiency and flexibility of the economy. It expands opportunities for Canadian enterprises in world markets and ensures that small and medium sized Canadians businesses have equal opportunities.

Competition is the foundation of a strong, modern and knowledge-based economy, spurring innovation, competitiveness and productivity growth. The Competition Act is one of the key pieces of framework legislation that we have in Canada. As such, it should only be amended after there has been very careful consideration of the impact of any amendment. I would particularly note two provisions in Bill C-454 that warrant careful consideration.

First, I would hope that the Bloc members would revisit the proposal to amend the definition of an “anti-competitive act” for the abuse of dominance provisions to include “abusive exploitation” of a dominant position.

In other jurisdictions this language has been taken to mean excessive pricing or price gouging. Determining whether a price is too high requires price monitoring and regulation, which are matters of provincial jurisdiction, not federal jurisdiction. Such monitoring may best be left to the hon. member's colleagues in Quebec City. This government will not support provisions that will intrude on provincial jurisdiction.

Second, the proposal to amend the anti-cartel provisions might, as it now stands, criminalize a number of common forms of business arrangements such as supply management or joint ventures that can be beneficial in the long term to competition. Again, the government will not support provisions that could criminalize business arrangements as joint ventures or supply management.

In carrying out their deliberations, I hope the Bloc members will do their best to ensure that these substantive changes are addressed. I also hope a wide range of stakeholders representing consumers, small and medium sized businesses and other interested groups will have the opportunity to make their views known.

In closing, I hope my comments today have shown how important competition and the Competition Act are for Canadian consumers and Canadian companies, no matter what their size.

I also hope my hon. colleagues—

Competition ActPrivate Members’ Business

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. parliamentary secretary, but his time has run out.

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Markham—Unionville.

Competition ActPrivate Members’ Business

March 13th, 2008 / 6:35 p.m.

Liberal

John McCallum Liberal Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-454. I would like to congratulate the member for Montcalm on his bill.

The origins of the bill can be traced back to early 2002 when the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology released a report entitled, “A Plan to Modernize Canada's Competition Act”. The proposed changes from that committee's report formed the basis of government Bill C-19 during the 38th Parliament, under the leadership of the member for LaSalle—Émard.

Reading this private member's bill, I noticed that virtually all the provisions of Bill C-19 have been included as well as some of the other recommendations from the industry committee's 2002 report, which did not find their way into the original bill.

I understand many of the additions in Bill C-454 had been proposed during the rather lengthy year that the industry committee spent studying Bill C-19 before it died on the order paper in November 2005.

Above and beyond those additions, Bill C-454 has a number of other amendments that were not in the original bill.

While I am willing to lend my vote to the bill at second reading, I do so in the hope that it will receive the same diligent consideration at committee stage that Bill C-19 received in 2005. We must, as legislators, ensure that the objectives of the bill will be met without any unintended consequences.

To reiterate my position for the member, the bill shows good promise and I will support it at this stage. However, I will reserve my final judgment until it returns from committee wherein stakeholders and Canadians will have had the opportunity to voice their praise or their concerns for the bill.

While I am on the topic of committee stage, I hope the industry committee' s efforts to review the bill will be well coordinated with the Minister of Industry's review of the Competition Act. I believe the minister is expecting his panel to report later this spring and I hope that the two tracks will find some common ground.

The underlying purpose of Bill C-454 is to enhance the Competition Act, with a view to ensuring that businesses in our country compete with each other in a fair and open market. The act helps to protect businesses, especially small businesses, but large ones as well, from becoming the victims of such anti-competitive behaviour as predatory pricing and abuse of dominance.

The end beneficiary of this is the Canadian consumer, who will benefit from increased competition, diversified choice and in theory lower prices at the cash register. The act achieves this through the Competition Bureau, which enforces the provisions by responding to consumer complaints and investigating evidence of illegal activity by businesses.

The biggest change that Bill C-454 would make to the Competition Act is it would allow for general administrative monetary penalty, or AMP, provisions to be used against businesses or individuals abusing their dominant position in any industry. This would allow businesses and individuals injured by an abuse of dominance to seek financial remuneration for any damages they have suffered due to abuse of a dominant position. Currently there are only criminal penalties for such breaches of the act.

Similar administrative monetary penalty provisions are already in place for abuse of dominance in many countries around the world. Adding Canada to the list of countries that allows for these fines in cases where dominance has been abused is important, not only domestically but also in terms of strengthening ties with our major trading partners.

Let me move on to other aspects of Bill C-454. One is that the bill would increase the administrative penalties, or AMPs, that a business could be fined for practising in deceptive marketing practices. With the low limits of the current maximums, deceptive marketing can often lead to profits that are far greater than the monetary penalties that can be administered. By raising the limits, we will increase the deterrence factor and help to ensure that the people who are hurt by deceptive marketing campaigns can get a much greater percentage of their investment back from the guilty party.

Another measure included in the bill, which came directly from the industry committee's 2002 report, was to eliminate the section of the Competition Act that dealt specifically with airlines. This special mention of our airline industry was added at a time when Canadian and Air Canada were merging and there was widespread concern that the Competition Bureau needed stronger tools to ensure that the combined giant did not engage in predatory conduct.

Today, however, there are many low cost carriers that have emerged and the airline industry no longer needs special mention in the act. The industry can go back to being covered by the general provisions, which, as I have mentioned, would be strengthened the bill.

I am glad to see that the Bloc Québécois have taken an interest in helping to build a stronger 21st century economy, supported by a competitive marketplace and a competition with the tools to ensure that they get the job done. The Bloc often takes a narrow and isolationist approach to economic matters, so it is nice to see it put country before its own party interests.

It would have been very easy for the Bloc for instance to dismiss a bill, such as C-19, as an intrusion of the federal government into matters of provincial jurisdiction. For instance, price controls are the exclusive jurisdiction of the provincial government, save for in emergency situations. The Bloc of old might have believed that the federal government had no place deciding when a business had engaged in predatory pricing. Determining the appropriate price of something could be interpreted as a matter purely for provincial jurisdiction.

In this instance I am glad to see that my Bloc colleague from Montcalm was willing to table a bill that proves a federal bill can be good for all Canadians including the people of Quebec.

I look forward to seeing what the industry committee does with Bill C-454 and when it arrives back here in the House for report stage and third reading.

Competition ActPrivate Members’ Business

6:40 p.m.

NDP

Peggy Nash NDP Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill C-454, An Act to amend the Competition Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts and to congratulate the hon. member from the Bloc Québécois for introducing it.

The Competition Act is an important law in Canada. It governs how we do business in a number of ways. The purpose of the Competition Act is to encourage Canadian businesses to compete with one another with the belief that enhanced competition will lead to lower prices and greater product choice for consumers.

The Competition Act contains criminal and civil provisions which apply to most industries and businesses in Canada, both large and small. The Competition Bureau is an independent federal agency which administers the act.

The current act criminalizes some anti-competitive practices. The criminal provisions include: conspiracy to unduly lessen competition; bid rigging; discriminatory and predatory pricing; price maintenance; refusal to supply; and certain misleading advertising and deceptive marketing practices. The offences are investigated by the Competition Bureau and prosecuted in federal or provincial superior courts.

Attempts have been made before to update the Competition Act. In April 2002 the House of Commons Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology released a report entitled “A Plan to Modernize Canada's Competition Regime”. It recommended extensive amendments to the Competition Act.

Subsequently Bill C-19 was introduced. It proposed changes to the Competition Act that would have allowed the Competition Tribunal to impose an AMP, an administrative monetary penalty, if it found that a person or a company abused its dominant position. It would have increased the AMP that the Competition Tribunal or court could impose when it found that a person or company had engaged in deceptive marketing. It would have repealed the airline specific provisions that are currently found in the act, which arose out of a particular period in Canada's aviation history and were designed to deal specifically with the airline industry. Bill C-19 proposed to decriminalize predatory and discriminatory pricing provisions.

At the time, there was a great deal of debate about Bill C-19 but it died on the order paper and ultimately did not pass. The Competition Act remained unchanged and that is very unfortunate for Canadians.

Every time the price of gasoline goes up, we hear complaints from our constituents. They see gas prices rise in lockstep usually just before a long weekend. The greatest instance of consumer complaints is probably from people who believe they are being gouged by gas and oil companies.

The government should deal with this in a more effective way. It is clear that the Competition Act, as it currently stands, does not have the teeth to deal with this kind of price gouging. It should be thoroughly investigated so that Canadian consumers are protected.

The issue of deceptive marketing and deceptive advertising is also of great concern to Canadians. We have an aging population. We all know of situations where seniors especially have fallen prey to deceptive advertising. Again, the Competition Act simply does not have the teeth to protect consumers. It is basically a buyer beware situation, and that is simply not good enough.

We should think of a situation where an individual senior, who lives alone in his or her own home, who maybe does not have access to the Internet, and does not read as widely as some other folks, is up against a very powerful and well resourced company that has a very slick marketing campaign. That individual senior could be quite vulnerable. I believe it is our job as parliamentarians to do everything we can to ensure that all consumers are protected.

We all want to foster a healthy economy. We want to make sure that we are creating the conditions for businesses in our economy to do well and for them to compete. We have a very mature economy, but there has to be a balance so that consumers are also protected.

Today the average person is really getting squeezed. Savings are at an all time low and consumer debt is the highest it has been in a generation. People are incredibly price sensitive. There are people who have to commute from the suburbs to the centre of town to go to work every day. Some people in my part of the country and the greater Toronto area commute long distances. With respect to the price of gas, people are phenomenally price sensitive. When the price of oil goes up, consumers really take a hit in the pocketbook. They need us to make sure that they are protected.

There is one concern that I do have with this bill, and it was a concern with Bill C-19 as well, which is that the AMPs, the administrative monetary penalties, would be tax deductible for the corporations that face these penalties. That does not make any sense. It makes no sense that the Government of Canada and the Canadian taxpayers would somehow be responsible for paying these monetary penalties. That is something we should discuss at the committee.

I will be supporting this bill. As a member of the industry committee, I look forward to discussing the bill at the industry committee. The goal is to protect Canadian consumers, to put teeth into the Competition Act, and to protect our seniors from deceptive advertising. I believe all of these provisions would lead to greater competition and a healthier economy.

Competition ActPrivate Members’ Business

6:50 p.m.

Bloc

Claude DeBellefeuille Bloc Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is my great pleasure today to speak to Bill C-454, which was introduced by the Bloc Québécois member for Montcalm. First, I would like to congratulate my colleague on his excellent work and on this initiative to bring this important issue back to the House of Commons. It has not lost its relevance over the past few years with the price of gas at the pump now hovering around $1.15.

Bill C-454 is being read for the first time in Parliament, but I want to remind some of my colleagues from other parties that it is inspired in large part by Bill C-19, which the Liberals tabled shortly before the 2005-06 elections, and which the Conservatives decided not to reintroduce. Of course, it has been rewritten and improved, but it is, in essence, the same. If I were to provide a broad outline of this bill, I would summarize it by saying that its purpose is to strengthen the Competition Act.

First, it gives the Competition Bureau the power to conduct its own inquiries into the oil industry. Currently, the bureau can do no more than undertake general studies that have no consequences.

In the course of conducting such inquiries, it can summon and protect witnesses. If it could not do so, it would very likely never be able to prove anti-competitive practices.

Lastly, when companies want to enter into agreements with their competitors, they will have to prove that these agreements are in the public interest. The bill also significantly raises the amount of fines, from $10 million to $25 million.

That said, exactly what need is this bill trying to meet?

Prices of petroleum products are rising steadily, and we want Quebeckers to have a way of finding out why this is happening, who is benefiting and, most importantly, whether this is reasonable.

The first major problem that is affecting everyone to different degrees is the rising price of crude oil. This is having a direct impact on the price per barrel, which is fluctuating today between US$100 and US$110 and has increased by 230% since early 2004.

This in turn is affecting the price of heating oil, which is on the rise. It has averaged about 90¢ since early 2007 and has gone up by more than 50% in the past two years. I want to remind the House that according to Statistics Canada, approximately 500,000 Quebec households in Quebec still heat with oil or another liquid fuel.

The increase in the price of crude oil is also driving up the price of gas, which, understandably, has raised the public's ire for the past several years.

For a number of years, in fact, old records have fallen repeatedly as the price of regular gas has regularly reached new highs. Fluctuations aside, the price of gas in Quebec is going up steadily; it was 71.3¢ in May 2002, 94.4¢ in May 2004 and $1.10 in May 2007. Since the beginning of the year it has fluctuated between $1.09 and $1.18.

At the same time, oil companies have posted record sales for a number of years. But that is not all. Oil companies' net profits have also skyrocketed in recent years. The oil industry's net profits rose from $17.6 billion in 2003 to $20.2 billion in 2004 and $35 billion in 2006, a 100% increase.

What is more, with respect to the increase in costs, if we compare the price of regular gas in Quebec today with the price in 2004, we find that the retailer mark-up has remained stable, taxes have remained stable and even gone down in proportion to the price of a litre of gas, and the increase in the price of crude oil accounts in part for the increases.

But lately, the constant fluctuations in gas prices cannot be explained by crude oil prices; they are attributable to the obscene profits made by the refineries.

Is this situation intentional? We do not know, because the Competition Bureau does not have the tools it needs to conduct a serious and complete investigation. But one thing is for sure: the structure of the oil industry encourages spikes in gas prices, and is conducive to abuse. That is why the industry must be monitored, hence Bill C-454.

As members know, I am the Bloc's natural resources critic, and it is part of my duties to learn about the oil industry. That is precisely what the Standing Committee on Natural Resources did for several months last year, as part of an important study on the oil sands industry. Over the course of about 30 meetings, we heard from some 100 witnesses, many of whom came from the oil industry.

I listened to and questioned these witnesses carefully, and although our conclusions can be found in the committee's report, I would like to share how these testimonies touched me personally.

When I was listening to these professional lobbyists, I was deeply struck by the excesses of the industry, with its echoes of the gold rush.

People in the oil industry came to talk to us, they explained the challenges, confidently predicted the future, easily came up with rational solutions to complex problems in their heads, but were so detached from the effects caused by their industry, that it literally took my breath away.

As everyone also knows, I am a social worker by training, and if I wanted to draw a parallel with a type of clientele, I would say we are dealing with an industry that has a very hard time regarding itself objectively or engaging in any self-criticism, and above all, we are dealing with an industry for whom the end justifies the means and that is always right. It has a bit of a superiority complex, which places it above other things and makes it prone to over-ambition and exaggeration, often in a shameless manner.

In the case of the petroleum industry, the excessiveness of the financial stakes—we are still talking about billions of dollars—and the current importance of their products, which are practically essential to the functioning of society, create this cavalier attitude that often lacks any moral or ethical sensibility. I could give so many examples that I could easily keep the House busy until tomorrow, but let us look at just one, more recent and very typical example.

On Monday, March 10, the Minister of the Environment presented his solutions for climate change problems—a plan whose flabbiness will surely go down in history. One of his proposals is carbon capture and storage by the oil industry. Speaking through a task force that delivered a study to Natural Resources Canada, the oil industry responded that it refuses to invest great sums of money in this technology because of the uncertainty surrounding its large-scale commercialization.

And as if that were not enough, the task force, composed of one academic and four industry representatives, went even further. Try to listen to this without being too surprised:

...it is a very difficult proposition for individual private sector players to commit additional hundreds of millions of dollars...to achieve a public good...for which it may not be compensated with an adequate (or any) return on investment.

In any context that statement would be unacceptable, but in the current climate change crisis, it is totally irresponsible and insulting. This method would force private companies to contain their pollution.

The members of this task force act as if they are doing us a favour. They are completely disconnected from reality, so much so that they add even more. As François Cardinal reported in La Presse on March 11, the report recommends that the federal government allocate $2 billion immediately and that both levels of government provide “stable financial incentives”.

I would like to remind hon. members that the oil industry made $35 billion in profits in 2006. And these people are talking about the impossibility of investing in the public good unless profit is involved?

I also want to point out that in addition to $66 billion in direct subsidies from the federal government between 1970 and 1999, this industry is currently benefiting, through accelerated capital cost allowance, from tax measures such as former Bill C-48, under the Liberals in 2003, and from tax cuts announced by the Conservatives in the economic statement of November 2007 of up to $1.5 billion annually.

In the coming year alone, the oil industry will receive a $1.18 billion gift. In total, for the 2008-13 period, roughly $7.8 billion will go into the pockets of the oil companies through various measures implemented by both the Conservatives and the Liberals.

Yesterday I received a phone call from a constituent from Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, who said that her heating costs have increased by 50% in two years. She thought that was totally unacceptable.

Bill C-454 is needed to help people like that and to supervise the oil industry more carefully. We hope the bill will be adopted.

Competition ActPrivate Members’ Business

7 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Chatham-Kent—Essex, who normally would have 10 minutes, will have only 8 minutes because I will have to interrupt.

Competition ActPrivate Members’ Business

7 p.m.

Conservative

Dave Van Kesteren Conservative Chatham-Kent—Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to take part today in the second reading debate of Bill C-454, An Act to amend the Competition Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.

My intention is to outline the provisions of Bill C-454, which proposes extensive amendments to the Competition Act.

Bill C-454 contains a number of provisions that were in earlier legislation, specifically Bill C-19. However, Bill C-454 not only alters some of the provisions that were in Bill C-19, but also introduces some new provisions.

The House should not make the mistake of thinking that Bill C-454 is merely Bill C-19 by another name. This is a very different bill in many important ways.

As such, I would caution my hon. colleagues to give this bill very serious attention. Any amendments to the Competition Act will be of great interest to a wide range of stakeholders across Canada.

To show how great an interest, I would refer hon. members to the Competition Policy Review Panel. As hon. members will recall, in July of 2007 the government announced the creation of the panel, which has as the central part of its mandate a review of key elements of Canada's competition and investment policies, including the Competition Act. In the context of its consultations, the panel received approximately 140 written submissions.

Given the importance of the Competition Act for Canadians, I would like to take a few minutes to review some of the provisions of Bill C-454.

First, there are some provisions in Bill C-454 that are the same as those in Bill C-19. For example, Bill C-454 would decriminalize the price discrimination, predatory pricing, discriminatory promotional allowances and geographic price discrimination provisions of the Competition Act. These provisions would then be dealt with under the non-criminal abuse of dominance provisions of the act.

Bill C-454 proposes to allow the tribunal to order restitution to consumers affected by deceptive marketing practices. In addition, the bill gives the tribunal new power to impose interim injunctions to stop the disposal of assets by anyone engaged in deceptive marketing practices. This is to ensure that there is property available for such restitution.

However, there are several key provisions in Bill C-454 that are different from what was contained in Bill C-19. Bill C-454 proposes to add three different types of financial consequences to deter abuse of dominance. I understand that all three would be applied at the same time.

First, the Competition Tribunal could order an administrative monetary penalty, or AMP, against individuals and companies that engage in anti-competitive conduct: up to $10 million for a first offence and up to $15 million for each subsequent one.

Second, Bill C-454 gives the tribunal the ability to order an additional AMP on top of the one I just mentioned. This second AMP would be an amount not greater than the profits generated by the anti-competitive conduct in question.

In addition to these two AMPs, Bill C-454 would allow private parties to pursue separate private litigation before the Competition Tribunal when they believe that a dominant firm has abused its market position. At present, only the Commissioner of Competition may bring abuse of dominance matters to the tribunal. In relation to private access to the tribunal, Bill C-454 includes a provision to grant the tribunal the ability to award damages to private parties.

Next, Bill C-454 introduces a proposal to change the definition of “anti-competitive act” for the purposes of the abuse of dominance provision. Bill C-454 would introduce the concept of “exploitative conduct” into the Competition Act. In other jurisdictions, particularly the European Union, this phrase has been taken to mean excessive pricing or price gouging.

As I understand it, an attempt to deal with price gouging would be viewed as a form of price regulation that would have far-reaching implications for the Canadian marketplace. As such, this provision should be carefully considered.

As we know, price regulation is essentially a matter of provincial jurisdiction. I am quite sure that the sponsor of the bill and his colleagues would not want to intrude on a matter of provincial jurisdiction.

Moving on to the issue of deceptive marketing practices, Bill C-454 proposes a series of financial consequences. The provisions in Bill C-454 include an increase to the existing AMP: from $50,000 to $750,000 for individuals and from $100,000 to $10 million for corporations. For subsequent violations of the act, the proposed AMPs are $1 million for individuals and $15 million for corporations.

At the same time, Bill C-454 provides for an additional AMP for deceptive marketing practices, up to the amount of profits generated by the practices. Again, it appears that both AMPs could be ordered by the tribunal at the same time. Bill C-454 would also amend the list of factors the tribunal considers when determining the appropriate penalty for deceptive marketing practices.

Bill C-454 also amends the anti-cartel provision of the act, section 45. The proposed amendments would strike the word “unduly” from section 45 and raise the level of fines that would be imposed. Section 45 is one of the key provisions in the Competition Act.

As I understand it, removing the word “unduly” could expose to criminal liability conduct currently regulated by provincial or federal law. For example, it is not clear whether provincial authorization of certain price-fixing arrangements, such as through marketing or supply management boards, would continue to shield such arrangements from criminal liability under section 45 if the amendments proposed in the bill are passed.

I see that my time is nearly up. Finally, I would like to say that Bill C-454 would change the rules regarding pre-notification of mergers, by lowering the threshold at which companies considering merging would have to notify the commissioner of their intent. In this regard, we should ask ourselves whether the costs imposed on businesses are warranted.

Competition ActPrivate Members’ Business

7:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

When we next reconsider Bill C-454, there will be three minutes remaining for the hon. member for Chatham-Kent—Essex.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

7:05 p.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, I am speaking tonight on the question of LNG terminals.

Right across this country, we are looking at LNG terminals coming up on either coast. These liquefied natural gas tankers were considered by the Prime Minister to be too dangerous to go through the waters off New Brunswick, but when it came to standing up for the people of Quebec about the same terminals going in near the city of Quebec, he was okay with that. We have seen that the Rabaska terminal received federal approval on February 28.

Surely the tragic happenings of the ferry off the coast of British Columbia has alerted us to the dangers that we can have with extended tanker traffic and large ship traffic in our waters.

A report by the U.S. department of energy on LNG tanker safety, considered conservative in its findings, identified that damages to persons or property from a tank explosion would cover an area of 1,600 metres in radius, a circle of over three kilometres across, from an accident. An exploding vapour cloud from an LNG tanker hit by a terrorist attack could cause damages as far away as 2,500 metres. If more than one LNG tank exploded, these amounts would increase by up to 30%.

In 2004 there was a tragic explosion and fire at the LNG facility in Algeria where 27 people were killed and 56 were injured. It was an explosion caused by a leak in a pipe. The blast was felt miles from the site.

In 1979 an explosion at the LNG plant at Cove Point, Maryland, killed one and caused extensive damages.

In 1973 an explosion at an LNG plant in Staten Island, New York, killed 37, and this list goes on.

These facilities are hazardous in their nature. They are not really the kinds of facilities we want to locate in a narrow river which is only 305 metres wide at the Rabaska site. Right in the middle of a very populated area of Quebec City, celebrating its 400th year this year, is a very serious place to put an LNG terminal.

In 2002 the city of Boston denied permission for an LNG tanker to enter that city's port. The Boston fire chief said he did not believe any fire department could put out an initial fire if a ship were struck, due to the rapid burn rate of the gas.

A Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor who studied LNG tanker safety for the American National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warned that a strike against an LNG tanker could spark a huge inferno that would scorch and kill nearby residents, set waterfront buildings ablaze, and shoot searing electromagnetic waves into neighbourhoods that could spark even more fires.

We are talking about a product whereby once the terminal is established, we are going to see an ongoing procession of these ships up the St. Lawrence Seaway in the midst of 40 million tonnes of cargo that are moved there on some 3,000 ships, constantly, for decades and decades to come.

When we look at the location and the set-up for these, and I am not talking about the relative merit of LNG but the location and set-up of these types of facilities, if we are just simply taking the--

7:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities.

7:10 p.m.

Fort McMurray—Athabasca Alberta

Conservative

Brian Jean ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to the question raised by my colleague from Western Arctic.

Indeed, since the member asked this question on December 6, 2007, this government has granted its approval to the proposed LNG project in Rabaska.

This decision was announced on March 4, 2008. It was rendered following a very lengthy and rigorous analysis which included a number of departments at the federal and provincial level.

Safety and security is this Conservative government's primary responsibility and we take it very seriously. Let me provide a little bit of context.

This LNG project has the potential to be a tremendous benefit to the Quebec economy. The Quebec government supported the proposal and asked us to do a review of the report of the environmental assessment joint panel review.

This government's job is to ensure that if a project like this is to proceed, it does not pose a significant risk to the environment or to the health of Canadians.

A comprehensive environmental assessment has indeed been completed and it has shown that this particular project is safe from an environmental point of view.

Now that the entire process has been completed, the federal government concludes that the Quebec government and the developer can indeed pursue the procedures for implementing the eventual Rabaska LNG terminal. It is safe.

Should the project move forward, the Government of Canada will indeed ensure that the developer implements all mitigation measures identified in the report, as well as the required monitoring and review programs. There is ongoing monitoring to make sure that the project remains safe as well.

My colleague has made reference to the LNG project in Passamaquoddy Bay in southwestern New Brunswick. As the member knows full well, each and every case is different and unique. Indeed, all of them need to undergo a very rigorous federal environmental review. Each case is judged on its own merits based on its safety, the security issues, and indeed environmental issues.

In the case of Rabaska, a review was conducted and was shown to be safe from an environmental and safety perspective, and in the best interests of the people of Quebec. We are going to act on their behalf in this case.

In keeping with our commitment to protect the environment, the panel recommended several mitigation and follow-up measures should the project proceed.

Twelve recommendations pertain to federal areas of responsibility, implicating Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Transport Canada, Environment Canada and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans and Transport Canada, and this government will ensure that appropriate follow-up measures are implemented to monitor the effectiveness of mitigation measures and ensure compliance with any conditions that are eventually set out in the regulatory approvals or authorizations that may be issued under the Fisheries Act and the Navigable Waters Protection Act.

Therefore, any such conditions will only be known for certain at the time of those approvals or authorizations.

I am happy to inform this particular member, because I know he is interested in it, and all members of this House, and in fact all Canadians, that this Conservative government and this Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities has finally acted to review and modernize the Navigable Waters Protection Act which is applicable in this particular case.

This act was written in 1882 and is one of the oldest pieces of legislation in Canada.

The provisions contained within this act do not serve the people of Canada any longer for the purpose for which they were intended. A new, more flexible regime must be established for the review of works constructed in Canadian waters. It is long overdue.

The act is currently being studied by our committee and we are getting the job done.

7:15 p.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, those certainly are not reassuring words to me. The first words of the hon. member's presentation were the tremendous benefit that this was to the economy. That is not the issue here.

The issue here is safety. The issue is the fact that we are putting a terminal in a very difficult location on a well-travelled and used seaway that will most likely expand its use in the future. We are adding to the use. We are adding to the danger that is inherent in any busy traffic area.

This terminal could have been put in other locations. This terminal did not have to go where it is.

I do not want to talk about the benefits of LNG. I do not think there are any. I think it is a negative loss to Canada's economy.

If the Conservative government would have taken heed of the Canada first energy policy, we would not be in this fix.

7:15 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to be representing the people of Fort McMurray—Athabasca. Last year on the highway that goes north to Fort McMurray, 23 people lost their lives as a result of the highway not being twinned.

Fortunately, this government has put $150 million plus into twinning that highway and it will be done. I can assure the member that if we stop driving our cars in Canada, we will have no more car accidents, but that does not seem like a very plausible possibility.

Indeed, we will move forward on the safety and security of Canadians, the health of Canadians, and the environment. We will ensure the economy keeps going for the people of Quebec. That is what we are going to do on this side of the House.

7:20 p.m.

Bloc

Richard Nadeau Bloc Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, on February 6, I asked the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister for La Francophonie a question, and he talked about his attachment to his mother tongue and gave us a lecture because we asked him why he addressed the audience at the gala of the Canada-Arab Business Council solely in English.

Of the 22 countries in the Arab world, five are part of the Francophonie: Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Mauritania and Tunisia. Algeria calls French its second language. The Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister for La Francophonie perhaps does not know that 29 states in the world list French as their official language, and more than 200 million people speak our language.

The minister is a francophone and meets with representatives of countries who are not anglophones. There is no justification for not using the language that Canada has in common with a good number of these Arab countries, that is, French. Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister for la Francophonie “shocked many people, on January 30, when he spoke only in English in Canada's capital to a group of MPs, business people and diplomats, including francophones” reported the Montreal daily, La Presse, “Several witnesses to the minister's gaffe...were forthcoming: the minister did not speak one word of French, not even a thank you”. This is shocking behaviour for the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister for la Francophonie, and it is outright scandalous since he sits at the table of the ministerial conference of the Francophonie on the international scene. This demonstrates this government's lack of consideration for the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie and lack of regard for the French language. For this government, the language of oil is English.

How can a francophone Quebec MP justify his lack of regard for his mother tongue? How can the Minister of la Francophonie justify his lack of consideration for member countries? How can a Conservative who boasts about obtaining recognition for the Quebec nation justify hiding the language of this nation?

This subservient attitude led the minister to reply that “it was nothing”. He added that “the member is trying to make something out of nothing.He is exaggerating. His comments are exaggerated.” This attitude is shameful. Quebec no longer hides. This government, which wants to propose a new action plan on official languages, has relegated French to the position of a second language of lesser importance. If the Quebec ministers in this government wish to rise through the ranks, they had better speak English.

He does not even realize what message he is sending to the international community as Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of la Francophonie. He did not even apologize for this insult. It is unfortunate, most unfortunate, but typical of his government. How can he justify such shameful behaviour?

7:20 p.m.

Beauport—Limoilou Québec

Conservative

Sylvie Boucher ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and for Status of Women

Mr. Speaker, one very important question still remains before this House, and I would like to ask it now. What has the Bloc Québécois ever done for French Canadians?

The Bloc Québécois has been in Ottawa for 15 years now and they have absolutely nothing to show to their constituents. Their record: zero. As the opposition member well knows, the Minister of Foreign Affairs is a francophone. He is a proud Quebecker and Canadian, through and through.

To question the minister's loyalty to his own language is a disgrace. It is ironic that the opposition member should attack the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Does he not know that, last year, the Minister of Foreign Affairs agreed to chair the ministerial conference of the Francophonie for the next two years?

At the end of his participation at the conference in Vientiane, Laos on November 20 and 21, 2007, the minister underscored to his counterparts from across the francophonie Canada's priorities during his mandate. As we all know, beautiful Quebec City will be hosting the 12th Francophonie Summit in October 2008. Canada will chair the summit, and we will be the co-hosts, along with the Government of Quebec. It will be the third francophonie summit to be held in Canada.

This event will give Canada's Francophonie an exceptional opportunity to demonstrate its vitality, its energy and its contribution to the international Francophonie. The minister himself put it well when he said that the Francophonie is an international organization that has done much to promote and strengthen French language and culture throughout the world. French language and culture have been at the heart of Canada's identity since our country was founded.

Allow me to note that in a few days, my government will join millions of francophones across Canada and around the world to celebrate International Day of La Francophonie. Canada is proud to be a member of the Francophonie family. Our participation in this organization bears witness to our country's socio-cultural reality. French is one of Canada's founding languages, and it is spoken by nine million Canadians. The francophone and francophile community is a large one, and it is an integral part of Canada's identity, one that makes us unique. In recognition of the French fact in Canada, the federal government has played a leading role in promoting the Francophonie both nationally and internationally.

Beginning in the 1960s, Canada has been a leader in promoting the Francophonie through active participation in the creation and development of its many institutions. Since the Agence intergouvernementale de la Francophonie was created in 1970 in Niamey, Niger, Canada has either founded or joined all of the Francophonie's multilateral institutions, and now plays a leading role in them.

Our government therefore fully supports efforts to promote the development of francophone communities in Canada. The Francophonie enables Canada to create essential links with other francophone countries around the world.

Our government is working to build a stronger, safer, better Canada, a Canada that succeeds because of its proud, hard-working people. We are a united, respected country, a magnificent country whose history, identity and future have been and will continue to be forged by francophones.

7:25 p.m.

Bloc

Richard Nadeau Bloc Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, as I said, on February 6, I asked the Minister of Foreign Affairs, who is also Canada's Minister for la Francophonie, a question to bring to the House's attention the fact that he spoke solely in English at the gala of the Canada-Arab Business Council. For a minister of la Francophonie, that is totally unacceptable.

Perhaps he does not know that in several Arab countries, French is used as a second language, and that a number of them are part of the Francophonie.

The fact that this minister, who boasts about recognizing the Quebec nation, does not even deign to speak French—which is his first language, to boot—when giving a speech in public, shows a flagrant lack of respect for the Francophonie.

7:25 p.m.

Conservative

Sylvie Boucher Conservative Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, here is what Canada has done. The Government of Canada is the second largest supporter, after France, of the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie and francophone institutions and contributes approximately $35 million annually.

In addition, the Government of Canada has already committed $57 million for planning the 12th summit of la Francophonie, which will take place in Quebec City in October 2008.

We have a proud record of supporting la Francophonie—a record the Bloc will never be able to lay claim to.

7:25 p.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak tonight to a question that I asked of the minister shortly before the budget came down. It had to do with students and the important need that Canada has to educate young Canadians.

I asked specifically about student grants and I talked about loans. My question had two parts. One part had to do with the Millennium Scholarship Foundation. I had guessed in my question that the government might be trying to get rid of the Millennium Scholarship Foundation. I asked the minister if his government was going to get rid of the Millennium Scholarship Foundation or rebrand it some way in Tory blue. One did not have to be Kreskin to know that the government was going to get rid of a program that worked, a program that the Liberal Party had brought in.

What the government did with the program is no improvement at all. I think it is much worse. What is even worse is the justification. The budget indicates that the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation is also a significant intrusion into provincial jurisdiction. Every province and territory in Canada loved the Millennium Scholarship Foundation and advocated for its renewal but the government killed it and, I suspect, we will have another Canada summer jobs fiasco like we had last year.

However, I want to talk about student loans because every time a question has been asked about student loans in the last little while we have heard that there is a great review going on in the Canada student loans system and we should wait because we will love it. The minister and his department would not have had to go very far to get some great ideas. It could have done a lot of stuff.

The student organizations in Canada, the Canadian Federation of Students, the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations and the Coalition for Student Loan Fairness, which is headed by spokesperson, Julian Benedict, who I had a chance to visit with recently in British Columbia, came out with eight points and I just want to talk about a couple of the really important points that were in their plan, which was made quite public.

The most significant thing that could be done with student loans to make it a better system for Canada and the one that they highlighted as their number one need would be to reduce or eliminate the interest rates on student loans. A number of countries are doing interesting things with student loan rates. Some countries do not charge rates on student loans. Some charge cost of borrowing.

The Canadian student loan program charges between 8.75% and up on student loans. It does not make any sense. In the economic update of 2005, brought in by the member for Wascana, then the minister of finance, pledged a complete overhaul of the student loan system. One of the things we would have done, I am quite sure, is to have looked at that and asked if it made sense, because I do not think it does. Why would we not reduce it to the cost of government borrowing, which could be just over half of the rate we are charging? Why would we want to squeeze money out of Canadian students or have a disincentive for kids to go to university?

How about their recommendation on a student loan ombudsman so that students could actually navigate the system better? Again, in the budget some $123 million were provided but it was very vague as to what it would do. It would have been a very simple positive step for Canadian students and former students who are debilitated by this debt, who get out of university with a mortgage but no house. If we had given some signal to them that there would be an ombudsman or commissioner of student loan fairness, that would have been particularly helpful to them.

Enforcing collection derivatives and increasing the interest relief period. Here is another one, not necessarily from the coalition but that all parliamentarians have heard. Medical students should not have to repay their loans with interest while they are still residents and not making a full family income.

These are not new ideas. These are things that could have been enacted. This student loan review was not sufficient. It did not get the job done. I think it could have been a lot better for Canadian students and they are disappointed.

7:30 p.m.

Blackstrap Saskatchewan

Conservative

Lynne Yelich ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development

Mr. Speaker, I always appreciate the hon. member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour. He is on committee with me. I commend him on his leadership and the seriousness and consciousness that he exhibits at committee.

However, I do have to say he is unreasonable when it comes to acknowledging the highly principled work that we do for students and post-secondary education. For example, he has been quoted as saying he does not know whether students should laugh or cry over government policies on post-secondary education.

On February 26 the Canadian Federation of Students had this to say about the budget:

By implementing a national system of grants, the government has responded to a long standing call by students and their families...

Or how about this:

The new system ensures that the money will go directly into the pockets of students who need it most.

The government is committed to creating the best educated, most skilled, most flexible workforce in the world. We are following through on that commitment by making significant investments in the post-secondary education system.

The government believes that education is the great enabler. It is allowing young people to gain the knowledge and skills for a job in today's economy and allows Canadians to move out of poverty and into the world of opportunity.

This is why budget 2008 made significant investments in post-secondary education and in students by creating a new Canada student grant program that will support Canadian students with a $350 million investment in 2009-10, rising to $430 million by 2012-13.

I would like to remind my hon. colleague that he was an MP in the previous government, a government that cut $25 billion from the provinces. The Liberals' only bragging right is a failed millennium scholarship program which did not help the students most in need. The actions of this government are a breath of fresh air for parents and students after the failed record of the previous government.

These grants will provide predictable, stable and transparent funding to students, helping them make better plans. It will be available to students on an equal basis. It will apply to college and university students. Most important, the grant will be targeted to those students who are most in need of the support.

If they qualify for a federal student loan, students from lower income families will be eligible for $250 per month for every year of their undergraduate study or college program, up to four years. Students from middle income families will be eligible for $100 per month.

I would also like to take a minute to point out that the actions this government has taken will support more than 100,000 more students than the poor, failed Liberal approach to student support.

The member talked about an ombudsman. We do not need an ombudsman. Our student program will be so much better. It will be streamlined. It will be efficient. It will be effective. An ombudsman was only needed when the Liberals were running the student loan program.

7:35 p.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I enjoy working with the parliamentary secretary on committee.

There is nothing more critical for this country than to maximize its human resource potential, and the Conservative government is not taking that seriously.

It killed the millennium scholarship foundation. The foundation was supported by every province and territory. It ignores the needs of the most vulnerable. Its vaunted review of the student loan program ignored the major suggestions of students and advocates.

Let me be specific. To whom were the Conservatives listening? Let me be more specific. Did they talk to the Canadian Federation of Students? Did they talk to CASA? Did they ever meet with the Coalition for Student Loan Fairness? If not, why not?

7:35 p.m.

Conservative

Lynne Yelich Conservative Blackstrap, SK

Mr. Speaker, actually, I quoted from the Canadian Federation of Students which stated on February 26:

By implementing a national system of grants, the government has responded to a long standing call by students and their families...

The new system ensures that the money will go directly into the pockets of students who need it most.

This government is committed to ensuring that Canada has the best educated, most skilled, most flexible workforce in the world. That is why we committed in budget 2008 to an investment of $3.2 billion in post-secondary education through the Canada social transfer. I want to point out to my hon. friend that this is a 40% increase over the Liberal funding levels. The increase stands in stark contrast to the $25 billion that the previous Liberal government cut from the provinces in the 1990s.

The new Canada student grant program will provide more money for more students for more years of study than the failed Liberal approach.