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 It would have repealed the airline specific provisions that are currently found in the act, which arose out of a particular period in Canada's aviation history and were designed to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.