House of Commons Hansard #83 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was product.


The House resumed from March 13 consideration of the motion that Bill C-454, An Act to amend the Competition Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Competition ActPrivate Members' Business

11 a.m.


Dave Van Kesteren Conservative Chatham-Kent—Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to reiterate basically what we talked about the last time this bill was before the House.

Bill C-454 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 criminal liability conduct currently regulated by provincial or federal laws. For example, it is not clear whether provincial authorization of certain price fixing arrangements, such as thorough marketing or supply management boards, would continue to shield such arrangements from criminal liability under section 45 if the amendments proposed in the bill were passed.

Given this, I would hope that my hon. colleagues will ensure that they take all points of view into consideration before deciding how to address the conduct that is targeted in this section.

Bill C-454 would also give the Commissioner of Competition the ability to launch inquiries, with formal investigative powers, into entire sectors of the economy. It would be useful to get more information as to what is contemplated here.

The commissioner already has the ability to conduct market studies as part of her role as an advocate for competitive markets, the recent study into generic drug pricing being one example. Is something more intended, such as using the information gathered in subsequent criminal proceedings? This will need to be clarified as soon as possible.

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 intentions. In this regard we should ask ourselves whether the costs imposed on businesses by lowering the threshold for merger notification outweigh any benefits of having the Competition Bureau examine smaller transactions.

There is a lengthy list of proposed amendments to the Competition Act. Given the importance of the issues involved with this bill, I look forward to the careful consideration that this House will give it.

Competition ActPrivate Members' Business

11 a.m.


Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-454, introduced by the member for Montcalm. I think it is a timely discussion for us to have in the House.

Bill C-454 is an act to amend the Competition Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts. We will support the bill at this stage because we believe it is important that it should go to committee to be discussed.

Other members have spoken about some of the things that are contained in Bill C-454. I want to address some of those, but I also want to talk in general about why it is important that we as parliamentarians take our responsibility seriously when it comes to competition.

I filled up my car on the weekend in my home riding of Dartmouth and the price was $1.32 a litre. That is pretty high and the big concern is not what it does to my pocketbook. As a member of Parliament I get paid well to do the job that I do. I have an awful lot of constituents who cannot afford gas at $1.32 a litre. It may be in fact that the price of gas is going to continue to go up. That may be a simple fact of life.

I think Canadians have the right to expect that their government, their members of Parliament, takes seriously the fact that in a free market economy we nonetheless have a responsibility to make sure that competition is real and open, and that in fact it is a free market and not a closed market.

In a previous life I used to run a home heating oil company for the Irving family and I can recall, and I am actually probably younger than I look, but I can recall when the price of heating oil in Nova Scotia was 26.3¢ a litre, which was the posted price for home heating oil in Nova Scotia on or about 1986, just some 22 years ago. The price of heating oil in Nova Scotia now is I think somewhere around 90¢ a litre, so we have gone from 26.3¢ a litre to somewhere around 90¢ and on top of that of course the new government disbanded the EnerGuide for low income houses which has made it even more difficult for families to heat their homes.

If we look at the basics of life, home heating oil in a province like Nova Scotia, where most houses are heated by oil, is not a luxury. It is an absolute necessity of life that one has to heat one's home. At 26.3¢ a litre, even 22 years ago, it was a lot easier to do that than at almost 90¢ a litre today. I think that consumers have a right to ask, where is the protection and is it a fair price?

Consumers are concerned about many things. I think that certainly the bill could address some of those things because people are nervous. What the bill would do is ensure that there is proper scrutiny on what is supposed to be a competitive market and appropriate penalties when companies, large big companies, abuse their right on the open market and are unfair to consumers.

The bill is very similar to Bill C-19 that was brought in during the last Parliament and that was in response to a report released by the Standing Committee on Industry in 2002, entitled “A Plan to Modernize Canada's Competition Regime”.

One of the things that I often talk to my constituents about, and I talk a lot in high schools about, is the work that Parliament does outside of question period and even outside of this chamber, and the fact that committees can do a lot of good work. The committee that I sit on now is the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities. We released a report recently that was very good. The committee was well chaired by the government member for Niagara West—Glanbrook and the work that was done was very positive.

This obviously was a report done in 2002 following up on the VanDuzer report, an independent study of the Competition Act, that was requested at that time by John Manley, who was the minister of industry, and a good one.

The committee worked hard on the report, consulting widely with stakeholders and provided a comprehensive report with a list of recommendations to bring Canada's competition laws up to date. Canada was one of the first industrial countries in the world to adopt a competition or anti-trust law.

Competition legislation is intended to prevent monopolies and price conspiracies that work against the interests of consumers. The Competition Act, Canada's competition legislation, is administered by the Competition Bureau, an independent federal agency.

The way companies and corporations do business has changed a lot in recent years because of new technologies, mainly in communications and transport. Of course, we have had the globalization of trade and a number of government and private members' bills have been introduced to try to cope with these changes.

Bill C-454 is a bill that is similar to Bill C-19, introduced in the 38th Parliament, but some amendments have been added which I think reflect the work of the committee in 2002.

Bill C-454 would, among other things, do the following: authorize the Commissioner of Competition to inquire into an entire industry; create administrative monetary penalties, AMPs, for abuse of dominant position; increase administrative monetary penalties for deceptive marketing, which I think is something else that a lot of consumers are looking for some action on; and repeal provisions dealing specifically with the airline industry, which has been an intermittently scrutinized industry.

At the time that the study did its work, just after the coming together of Air Canada and Canadian Airlines, there were concerns about that. I think there are still concerns about the airline industry and while I am talking about this, I want to commend my colleague from Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte, who is bringing forward a private member's bill for an airline passengers bill of rights, which also reflects issues that I hear in my constituency from people who have concerns.

Bill C-454 would repeal criminal provisions for price discrimination, predatory pricing, discriminatory promotional allowances and geographic price discrimination. It would authorize the court to make an order requiring a person who made a false or misleading representation to compensate persons affected by that and to issue an interim injunction to freeze assets. It would allow for these AMPs that would abuse their dominant position in the industry. Now there are criminal penalties, but we need to go beyond that to allow for these other direct penalties to be put in place.

When we talk about consumers and a free market, I think that in general, Canadians would support the fact that we have a free market and would say that it works, but it causes concern when we have price spikes, and it happens in gasoline and heating oil, it has happens in insurance, and it happens in many areas. We are hearing now, with the potential of a downturn in the economy, that food prices are going up, and of course we have the international issue of food scarcity and the hungriest people on this planet are once again those who are penalized the most by that.

All these sorts of issues are causing Canadians concern and to wonder how they are going to pay their bills, how they are going to fill their oil tanks, how they are going to fill their cars, how they are going to afford groceries, how they are going to afford shelter, what will happens if the economy continues to deteriorate, and what will happen if manufacturing jobs continue to go elsewhere.

Other industries such as forestry continue to suffer. An awful lot of consumers are very worried and I think they look to Parliament and to their representatives to say that we believe in a free market and we think that this is the best way to have it, but if we believe that competition works and if we believe in capitalism and that there is in fact a free market, then it has to be free. We cannot allow large companies to have a half free, half closed market which always benefits them. It is important that there be direct action that can be taken to protect consumers in that case.

This bill is complex and it is important that we give this to the committee. The industry committee in 2002 did a good job in having a look at this. That is what committees do well. They call witnesses, talk to consumers, talk to consumer groups, talk to business advocates, and talk to the people who are most affected to consider the work that needs to be done.

Stakeholders and other interested parties will have an opportunity to make recommendations or changes as this goes forward. I am pleased to stand here today and support in principle this bill, so that we can let the industry committee do further work.

Competition ActPrivate Members' Business

11:10 a.m.


Mike Wallace Conservative Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to take part in today's debate on Bill C-454, An Act to amend the Competition Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.

In my remarks today, I would like to discuss some of the misconceptions surrounding Bill C-454 and the impact the bill would have on the issue of oil and gas prices.

Last night I had the opportunity to visit my grandmothers, my grandmother Wallace and my grandmother Gray, who are both in their nineties and have issues with gasoline prices. I appreciate their paying attention to the issues facing this government and the country today.

The Bloc has very clearly linked Bill C-454 to the issue of high oil and gasoline prices. Furthermore, the Bloc is saying to Canadians that if passed, Bill C-454 would be a solution. With respect, this is just not the case. There are no proposals currently in Bill C-454 that would impact the price of oil and gasoline in the way the Bloc claims that they would. To demonstrate my point, later in my remarks I will discuss one example of the difference between what the Bloc says the provisions of Bill C-454 would do and what the real impact would be.

Obviously, high gasoline prices have a significant impact on Canadians, both consumers and businesses alike. None of us wants to pay higher prices for gasoline, or for anything else for that matter. However, as parliamentarians we would be doing our constituents a disservice by suggesting to them that there is a quick and easy solution to this complex issue.

To clarify matters, it would be helpful to review the role and mandate of the Competition Bureau. The Competition Bureau is an independent law enforcement agency that contributes to the prosperity of Canadians by protecting and promoting competitive markets and enabling informed consumer choice. Headed by the Commissioner of Competition, the organization investigates anti-competitive practices and promotes compliance with the laws under its jurisdiction.

The commissioner is responsible for the administration and enforcement of the Competition Act. The act includes criminal provisions against price fixing and price maintenance and non-criminal or civil provisions dealing with mergers and abuse of a dominant position, among other issues.

The Competition Bureau actively follows wholesale and retail gasoline prices to determine whether they are consistent with market forces. When it comes to the gasoline industry or any other industry or sector of the economy, the focus of the Competition Bureau is on whether there has been a violation of the Competition Act. Where there is sufficient evidence of a violation of the act, the bureau routinely investigates and takes appropriate enforcement action.

As I am certain hon. members are aware, the Competition Bureau has looked into the gasoline industry over the years and has conducted six major studies. In addition, bureau investigations have led to 13 criminal trials related to gasoline and heating oil prices. Eight of these trials have resulted in convictions.

When it comes to matters within its jurisdiction, the Competition Bureau has taken action. However, there are matters that are not within the bureau's jurisdiction. At times like these when prices are rising, the Competition Bureau often receives complaints from consumers about price gouging, that is, that people feel the price is way too high. While price increases are not easy for anyone, high prices and high profits in and of themselves do not constitute a violation of the Competition Act any more than low prices do.

In a market economy, businesses are generally free to set their own prices at whatever levels the market will bear. Just because prices go up does not mean that there has been a violation of the Competition Act or that someone should step in to regulate prices. Absent extraordinary circumstances, governments should not determine what is an appropriate price or profit margin.

High prices are often a concern to the bureau when they are the result of anti-competitive conduct contrary to the Competition Act, such as a conspiracy to increase prices.

As I indicated earlier, when the Competition Bureau finds evidence of violations of the Competition Act, it has taken the appropriate action.

I have noted that the Bloc has included a provision in Bill C-454 to deal with price gouging. The Bloc has indicated that this is needed to deal with the gasoline prices that are considered too high, regardless of the reason for their increase. The Bloc has said that there should be regulation on the oil and gasoline sector with respect to price and profit margins. The provision put forward in Bill C-454 would effectively mean that the federal government would be responsible for the regulation of gasoline prices.

It should be noted that the federal government has no jurisdiction over the direct regulation of retail gasoline prices except in the event of a national emergency. Only the provinces have the authority to regulate gasoline prices. Four provinces, Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, have opted to set maximum gasoline prices. There are three provinces, Quebec, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia, that have opted for minimum gasoline prices.

Allowing market forces of supply and demand to determine prices leads to the optimal allocation of resources by giving appropriate signals to both producers and consumers. High prices are an indication of tight supply. They send a signal to producers to produce more and to consumers to consume less. Price regulation or other restrictions distort these signals leading to misallocation of resources, which ultimately harms consumers.

To compound this, the proposed provision to deal with price gouging set out in Bill C-454 is not limited to the gasoline industry. As I mentioned earlier, the Competition Act touches on virtually every sector of the Canadian economy. Therefore, the Bloc's proposal as it is currently drafted could result in the Competition Bureau being responsible for regulating prices for virtually everything Canadians buy, not just gasoline, but automobiles, food, televisions, furniture, clothes, dairy products, almost everything. I do not need to get into a long discussion about the impact such market regulation would have on supply management.

Is this what the Bloc wants, a federal agency determining what it thinks is an appropriate price for almost everything consumers purchase, and to punish those who charge more than that amount? I would appreciate any guidance the sponsor of Bill C-454 could provide on this matter, specifically how such an approach would be workable.

Essentially, every time there was a complaint, the Competition Bureau would have to determine whether the given price on any given day was the appropriate price and was not too high. How vast a bureaucracy would have to be created in order to monitor prices in all industries all the time?

While I believe all hon. members of this House want to see lower gasoline prices, I fail to see how the proposed provision to deal with gas price gouging would accomplish this. Rather, as I read it, this provision would create more problems than it would solve. At a minimum I imagine that the provinces would not be happy with our getting involved in their jurisdictions.

Time does not permit me to discuss the details of any other provisions of Bill C-454 which the Bloc claims would help deal with high gasoline prices but would actually do nothing of the sort. I would hope that the committee would ensure that there was a detailed and thorough review of Bill C-454.

As I stated at the outset of my remarks, we are all concerned with the impact of high gasoline prices on Canadians. However, gasoline prices are a result of a complex set of domestic and international factors. We must be very careful that any proposal put forward will actually do something to help deal with gasoline prices. As such, we must carefully scrutinize the provisions of Bill C-454. We would be failing to do our duty as Canadians if we did otherwise.

Competition ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Paule Brunelle Bloc Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, once again, I am asking the House to support the Bloc Québécois' Bill C-454, which seeks to dust off the Competition Act and enable the Competition Bureau to conduct real investigations into the oil industry under its own authority.

I said “once again” because we have to remember that the Bloc Québécois has already put forward two motions on this subject in the House. The first motion, which was put forward on June 1, 2006, called for the Competition Act to be strengthened. Unfortunately, the vote was 77 in favour and 204 against. The second time, on May 2, 2007, I myself put forward an amended motion based on the idea of setting up a petroleum monitoring agency, as recommended by the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology in 2003. That time, there were 159 votes in favour and 122 against. Let us hope that things will work out this time.

Around this time last year, skyrocketing gas prices were becoming a problem again. The Bloc Québécois had put forward a motion asking the government to give the Commissioner of Competition the power to investigate the real reasons the price of gas was going up and to create a petroleum monitoring agency, among other things. Substantial amendments to the Competition Act are critical now that a barrel of crude is selling for around $130 U.S.

Many people in my riding and throughout Quebec have been writing to me and contacting me to communicate their concerns about the constantly rising price of gas, which has been as sudden as it has been inexplicable. People want their elected representatives to do something to protect them from these senseless price hikes. When people have to spend more on gas, their buying power decreases and they do not buy as many other goods, other goods that also cost more because of the cost of transportation, as we know all too well. Every time the price of gas goes up, everyone pays to make oil companies richer. Everyone gets poorer, including governments, which, as I should point out, consume vast quantities of petroleum products.

With summer fast approaching, the oil companies will not think twice about increasing gas prices, as they do every year. As soon as people decide to go on vacation, prices at the pumps start going through the roof. Consumers will once again be lining the pockets of the rich oil companies, while the government does absolutely nothing. This government is on the same side as the oil companies, so it protects their interests. Also, the Competition Act does not make it possible to conduct a full inquiry on the real reasons for the price increases.

Bill C-454, An Act to amend the Competition Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, would make it possible to fix the problems with the current legislation.

In its current form, the Competition Act does not enable the Competition Bureau to launch its own inquiries. It acts when it receives a complaint or ministerial request. Furthermore, the Competition Bureau does not have the power to compel disclosure of documents or protect witnesses, when doing general reviews of the industry.

The Competition Bureau does have this power when it is conducting an inquiry. But as I said before, only a complaint or minister's request can give it that power.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to file a complaint of collusion. There needs to be evidence, and that evidence is very hard to gather. Bill C-454 would make it possible to protect witnesses and compel disclosure of documents. Since these are not currently possible, the oil industry has been able to avoid this provision of the current legislation.

I remind members that no minister has yet dared to request an inquiry on the oil industry and the constant, cyclic and periodic rises in gas prices. I do not think a minister from western Canada, in a Conservative government, which looks out for the interests of oil companies, would make such a request.

The Conservative government is hiding behind the Competition Act to justify its failure to act. They tell us nothing can be done, since the Competition Bureau concluded that there is no agreement among petroleum companies to fix prices. Obviously, the government can reach this conclusion, since, as I pointed out earlier, the Competition Bureau is incapable of gathering information, forcing the disclosure of documents or protecting witnesses.

Thus, the existing act does not protect citizens from a situation that allows oil companies to rake in billions of dollars in profits every year. They are a very small group of players, within an immense market, for a product on which our entire society is unfortunately dependent. The answer to this equation is clear: abuse is a real possibility and the government must act. It must stop protecting the interests of the rich petroleum companies and start protecting our citizens from the greediness of this multi-billion dollar industry.

Finally, oil and gas pose an environmental, economic and social threat. No one wins when the price of gas goes up to $1.30 a litre, which is currently the reality in Trois-Rivières. No one except the petroleum companies.

Some people would have us believe, just as the government tried with its bill to reduce gas taxes, that governments are profiting from this situation. That is false. To a large degree, gas taxes are fixed taxes that do not fluctuate with the price. I must remind the House, as I was saying earlier, that governments and municipal administrations consume a lot of gas. They also pay the price.

We all lose, especially Quebec, which does not produce oil within its borders. Quebec chose clean energy: hydroelectricity. Every dollar spent on gasoline in Quebec is a complete loss. Every time the price of gas goes up, more money goes out of Quebec and into the pockets of the petroleum companies.

Bill C-454 would at least give the Competition Bureau the tools it needs to shed some light on the exact reasons for the sudden rise in the price of gasoline.

Our citizens, who are paying top prices for gasoline, must have answers, clear answers. That is why I urge the members of this House to vote in favour of this bill.

Competition ActPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.


Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the House for this opportunity to join the debate on Bill C-454. I would also like to thank my colleague from the Bloc Québécois for identifying some important concerns we share about the shortcomings of the Competition Act as it stands today.

The current act fails to defend consumers in a number of significant ways. My colleague is seeking to address those failures with the introduction of this bill. I too will be introducing a private member's bill in the following days on the subject of the Competition Act, because I believe there is a growing consensus here in the House of Commons that the act as we know it today has serious shortcomings.

I think most Canadians would agree that our free market economy is not in fact a free market. It is manipulated in many ways that are detrimental to the consumer and ordinary Canadians. The Competition Act and the Competition Bureau, which holds the tribunals when we believe there is no free competition, are supposed to be of some comfort to Canadians. They are supposed to assure us that somebody is watching out for our well-being and that we have somebody in our corner representing our views in increasingly complex industrial sectors.

Canadians have an instinctive gut feeling that they are getting hosed by some industry sectors. Perhaps the most pointed example is the daily reminder, irritant and frustration of the appalling and irrational price fixing associated with gas at the gas pumps. It is critically important that Canadians have a champion for their cause.

Competition tribunals have been struck about five or six times under the Competition Act to try to determine if there is price fixing in the gas and oil sector. They have been unable to do so every time. Canadians get optimistic and tell the government to go for it and defend them and make sure they are not being hosed, but the tribunals have failed. Canadians want comprehensive investigations done, but the limitations of the Competition Act are such that the tribunals, no matter how well meaning, have failed to satisfy their frustrations.

I note in the private member's bill put forward by my colleague in the Bloc Québécois, Bill C-454, that a comprehensive rewrite of the Competition Act would be done to hopefully give greater ability to the tribunals to give some satisfaction to Canadians.

I note that the bill would repeal all the provisions dealing specifically with the airline industry, another area in which there has been some frustration and irritation felt by users.

Bill C-454 proposes to eliminate the criminal provisions and replace them with new ones dealing with predatory pricing and geographic price discrimination. This is a regional frustration in a country as vast as Canada. We do not really know sometimes if shipping and handling is being used as an excuse to jack up prices or to fix prices, et cetera.

Another irritant that brings this to the top of mind for a lot of Canadians is the price of cars in regard to those in the United States. Even though our dollar is now at parity with the American dollar, and was even higher for a period of time, the price of cars has not dropped in any corresponding way.

This seems to be right across the board with all car dealerships. None of them reacted to the reality that the Canadian dollar actually purchased more. There was no justification for a price differential of $5,000, $6,000 or even $7,000 for a Chevy sold in Detroit and a Chevy sold in Windsor. It is this kind of thing from which we want our watchdogs to protect us and to defend our best interests in the most aggressive way possible.

The amendment that I will be introducing in my private member's bill would I think complement my Bloc colleague's bill. I believe it should be up to Canadians to invoke an investigation by a competition tribunal. It should not be left solely to government. My bill would trigger an investigation by a tribunal if 100 or more Canadians were of the opinion that an arrangement or relationship in any sector might constitute an offence under the Competition Act.

I say it is complementary because I notice in my Bloc colleague's bill that the investigation would not necessarily be limited to an individual company. Part of the reason we have not had satisfaction from the competition tribunal investigations is that the tribunal's hands are tied in the sense that it depends so much on the question put to it. If we are accusing two oil companies of price-fixing, the investigation is very narrow in investigating those two companies.

It is almost impossible to prove collusion. I am not accusing anyone here, but if there were some kind of informal arrangement whereby one oil company phoned the other, fixed the price for that day and undermined the competition, how could we prove that beyond any doubt and then apply any kind of punitive measures?

We would like the competition tribunal investigative body to be able to expand the scope of its investigation to look at the sector as a whole, even to be proactive in its investigation, to follow the money, as it were. We would like it to go from the narrow complaint, which may have dealt with two individual companies, to looking in a more general sense at the sector as a whole and then to trying to put some reason and logic to the inexplicable fluctuation in oil and gas prices, and I do mean inexplicable. The best minds in the country have tried to figure this out. The conclusion that most Canadians come to is that we do get gouged and we do get screwed.

The Canadian government does not even track gas prices any more, never mind trying to regulate or to make sure that we are getting fair pricing, never mind fixed pricing. The only consultant in the country the government members ever go to is this M.J. Ervin guy, the self-professed authority, the self-professed expert, who is actually a consultant to the oil companies. It is a fox in a henhouse situation. He never seems to see anything wrong with anything the oil and gas companies do. That is his meal ticket. I am critical of that.

We would like to think that there is somebody in our corner to make sure we are getting fair pricing even if we fall short of the burden of proof, of proving absolutely that there was price-fixing between two companies. If there is no defensible reason for the price to be jacked up arbitrarily, that is predatory pricing, and that is the language my colleague from the Bloc uses in this bill, where he notes that evidence of “predatory pricing” is required. Predatory pricing means taking advantage of people.

I have an elderly aunt who wanted to have four rooms painted in her little 600 square foot house. The guy charged her $10,000. We took it to court. Sure enough, the court ruled that the person had misrepresented the value of the service rendered. He painted the rooms, but he misrepresented the value. That is the kind of logic we would like extrapolated to industry sectors.

Canadians do not mind paying the real prices of things even if they are going up due to world forces or domestic forces, but they do not like being gouged. They like being able to trace and track how the pricing was arrived at so that they know the real value of the product they are buying. Nowhere is this more self-evident, I believe, than in oil and gas.

Let me give one more example in the minute I have left. When Colin Powell announced the invasion of Iraq, with the shock and awe campaign about to start, the price of gas went up 10¢ a litre within one hour. No one can tell me that was for gas the companies bought at a higher price. The market anticipated a problem with the flow of oil and gouged consumers an extra 10¢ in anticipation of problems that companies did not even know would happen.

That is the kind of thing we need protection from as consumers. That is why we are going to see a flurry of private members' bills coming forward along the lines of improving and enhancing the authority of the competition tribunals, underpinned by a new and reformed Competition Act. I support this bill. I wish my colleague well in its success.

Competition ActPrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.


Rick Dykstra Conservative St. Catharines, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to the bill and to welcome all members back after a long, hard, working week in the ridings. I enjoyed the opportunity to spend the week in St. Catharines and I worked pretty hard on making a couple of announcements with respect to the environment.

Today I welcome the opportunity to participate in the debate on Bill C-454, An Act to amend the Competition Act. I listened closely to my colleague about the positions with respect to the non-competition act, which is a pretty complicated bill. It has a number of aspects to it and I will address a couple of them in my remarks today.

First, Bill C-454 contains a provision that would allow consumers to seek restitution for harm they may have suffered as a result of deceptive marketing practices.

Second, the bill would alter the administrative monetary penalty, or the AMP. It is a scheme for deceptive marketing practices. This would be done by increasing the maximum amount of financial penalty that the Competition Tribunal may impose for deceptive marketing practices and by providing for an additional penalty to remove any profits for that activity.

I will begin with the issue of restitution.

Bill C-454 proposes to allow the Competition Tribunal to order a company that has promoted a product through false or misleading advertising to pay restitution to the consumers who purchased that product.

However, the Bloc bill actually gives very little guidance as to how this process would work. In fact, the only direction that the Bloc thought to provide was to instruct the Competition Tribunal to appoint an administrator to manage the restitution fund and process consumer claims. In fact, the proposed wording is extremely broad and vague and could actually cause more harm than good. The language in the bill says that the amount of the restitution is to be distributed “in any manner and on any terms that the court considers appropriate”.

The problem with the Bloc's “throw the ball in the air and maybe we'll get it into the net” approach is that it severely lacks the precision necessary for legislation that actually underpins Canadian business and international competitiveness. I would hope that, in the course of this debate and at committee stage, we will obtain more clarity as to how exactly this proposed restitution scheme would actually function.

For the moment, there are a number of questions that stand out for me.

For example, the issue of unclaimed funds needs to be addressed. There would almost certainly be unclaimed funds every time restitution would be ordered. Not every affected consumer would be aware of a judgment in his or her favour nor would every affected consumer be able to prove that he or she actually bought the product in question. Then there is a good chance that some consumers would simply not bother to pursue their claim, in part, if it is only for the small amount of, say, a few bucks. However, even a few dollars multiplied by thousands or tens of thousands of people, or perhaps more depending on the product, could quickly, as we see, become a great deal of money.

What will become of these funds if they are not claimed? Obviously, such money could not simply be returned to the offending business because that would actually counter what the bill is trying to accomplish. Hopefully, the Bloc has thought through its political rhetoric on this and will be able to answer this important question because I assume that everyone would want to fully understand the answers to these questions.

The second matter that I will address today concerns a provision within Bill C-454 that would allow for increased penalties for individuals and businesses engaging in deceptive marketing.

From a justice perspective, we on this side of the House are in full agreement. When there are serious crimes that require minimum sentencing, we will always be in support.

The current maximum penalty for individuals is $50,000 for a first order and a maximum of $100,000 for each subsequent order. Bill C-454 proposes to raise these amounts to a maximum of $750,000 for the first order and a maximum of $1 million for each subsequent order.

For corporations, the current penalty is a maximum of $100,000 for the first violation and a maximum of $200,000 for each subsequent order. The provisions contained in Bill C-454 would actually replace these amounts with a maximum of up to $10 million for the first violation and a maximum of up to $15 million for each subsequent order.

Bill C-454 also proposes to give the Competition Tribunal the ability to order a second penalty in addition to the one described above. This second penalty appears to be intended to take away profits generated by the deceptive marketing practices.

The nature of these provisions with two separate penalties raises a few questions. First, I would find it useful to get some explanation as to how and why it was decided to propose two types of administrative monetary penalties. What are the reasons for adding this extra layer? Why is a single penalty not adequate? It is not clear to me why they would both be needed.

It would also be very helpful to hear exactly how these two penalties relate to each other. For example, could the Competition Tribunal order the second penalty only after there had been an order for the first one? If the second penalty could be levied on its own, could the tribunal do this in all cases or only in some cases? Has the Bloc actually thought through these issues?

Finally, there is also the issue of how or even whether the restitution scheme I described earlier relates to these penalties. Is it the intention of this bill to have all these provisions apply at the same time? Again, there are a number of questions that do not seem to have any answers within the context of this very complicated bill.

There may be answers to these questions but the Bloc did not answer these essential questions within its legislation. Putting forward half-thought through policy for the sake of some weak political rhetoric is not the right way to go about this. It is my hope that we will get the answers to these very important questions as deliberations on Bill C-454 continue.

The Competition Act is a very complicated piece of legislation. Likewise, Bill C-454 is lengthy and complex. A number of substantive policy questions arising from this legislation, such as implementing “price gouging” or “price regulation”, are provincial matters. I find it interesting that the Bloc raises time after time the issues it faces from a provincial perspective and yet, within the context of this bill, actually surrenders some of that provincial responsibility.

These provisions could be potentially damaging to supply management and should make members wonder whether this is just political wrangling rather than sound legislation as is required for the amendments to the Competition Act.

I trust that during committee stage there will be a complete and thorough review of this bill and that the federalist parties will actually protect the jurisdiction of the provinces because it seems that in portions of this bill the Bloc is not prepared to defend provincial jurisdiction on portions.

Competition ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Resuming debate.

The hon. member for Shefford has six or seven minutes. I will then have to interrupt him to give the hon. member for Montcalm his right of reply.

Competition ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.


Robert Vincent Bloc Shefford, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-454. This is not the first time such a bill has been tabled. If my colleague does not understand why this was necessary, he should take a look at the other similar bills that have been introduced.

They were introduced because gas prices have been going up year after year. Everyone, from consumers to those working in the transportation sector—including rail transportation—is affected by this explosion in gas prices. The explosion in gas prices has led to an increase in the price of consumer goods. When gas costs more, the consumer price index will surely rise as well.

This issue has an important impact. The government always has the same response. The member who spoke before me once again said that there was nothing to be done because the Competition Bureau had concluded that there was no agreement among the oil companies to fix prices, so therefore there was no problem.

However, the Competition Bureau has never conducted a formal inquiry into this issue. All it has done is study how the industry operates. When the Competition Bureau conducts a study, it has almost no power, because it does not have the power of inquiry. It can examine how the industry operates in general, but it cannot discipline the industry.

What factors are behind the increase in gas prices? There are four: the price of crude oil, the refining margin, taxes and the retail margin. What everyone in my riding and in every riding in Canada wants to know is why gas prices are going up so much. Why is gasoline so expensive? What has happened to cause another increase in gas prices?

Absolutely nothing has happened. The retailers' profit margin fluctuates between 3¢ and 6¢ a litre. It stays about the same from one year to the next. The retail margin is always the same. Things have to be done differently.

Looking at the four factors, we have to assume that the oil well operator has a profit margin on the price of crude oil.

In my opinion, companies make money from the refining margin. A company makes billions and billions of dollars from refining. The price of crude oil is fixed and even listed on the stock exchange, and it varies very little. Of course, the “blueprints” determine the price of supply and demand. The taxes are relatively unchanged. The GST is 5% and applies to the price of gas before the QST. The QST is 7.5% and applies to the price of gas after the GST. This is unchanged.

As I said earlier, the taxes are still the same, and retailers still have the same flexibility. Only the GST and QST increase with the price of gas, but they account for only a small portion of the price increase. The taxes are essentially fixed. They are not making gas prices go up; the oil companies are making gas prices go up.

During the 2004 election campaign, the Conservatives presented a bizarre plan to fight gas price increases. Their proposal did not target oil companies; they proposed to decrease gas taxes. We do not believe this to be a wise course of action. If taxes are lowered, the price charged by the industry may rise and absorb the difference. The state needs the taxes to fund expenditures, namely to reduce our dependence on oil. The state does not make money when the price increases. It actually loses because it is a large consumer of gas.

With regard to refining, North American oil companies significantly streamlined refining operations in the 1990s.

As you are signalling that I only have one minute left, I will present the Bloc Québécois' three-pronged approach.

The first thing would be to discipline the industry. That is the goal of Bill C-454, which strengthens the Competition Act. We should set up a monitoring agency for the oil sector.

The second would be to have the industry make a contribution in light of the soaring cost of energy and oil company profits. The economy as a whole is suffering while the oil companies are profiting. The least we can do to limit the devastating effects is to ensure that they pay their fair share of taxes.

The third thing would be to decrease our dependence on oil. Quebec does not produce oil and every drop of this viscous liquid consumed by Quebeckers impoverishes Quebec and contributes to global warming.

Therefore, Quebec is proposing to reduce dependence on oil.

Competition ActPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Montcalm now has the right to reply.

Competition ActPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.


Roger Gaudet Bloc Montcalm, QC

Mr. Speaker, before I begin, I would like to thank the Gaudet-Pilon-Morin-Venne team and all the bowlers and enthusiasts who raised $13,200 on Saturday night for Leucan for children with cancer. I wanted to publicly thank them.

This being National Volunteer Week, I would like to thank all the volunteers in my riding for the good work that they do.

We will soon proceed to a vote on Bill C-454, An Act to amend the Competition Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts. Although we already have a Competition Act, it has some major flaws that need to be fixed in short order. I would like to show that it is necessary for the House of Commons to intervene in order to improve the current Competition Act and vote in favour of this bill.

Every time the price of gas skyrockets, the government invariably says the same thing, that its hands are tied because the Competition Bureau has found that there is no collusion between the oil companies to set the price of gas and therefore no problem. The Competition Bureau has never conducted a proper investigation into the matter because it has never had the power to do so.

The bureau does not discipline the oil industry and does not encourage the government to intervene either. The flaws in the current act prevent the Competition Bureau from doing any real work. The Competition Bureau cannot initiate an investigation of its own accord. What is more, the Competition Bureau cannot compel disclosure of documents or protect witnesses when it does a general industry study.

The Competition Bureau is therefore limited in what it can do. Furthermore, the price of oil products keeps going up and the refinery margins vary remarkably. The refinery margins are twice, even four times higher than can be reasonably expected. When the oil companies decide to make their profits soar, the Competition Bureau will still not be equipped to conduct a true investigation, unless the House of Commons passes Bill C-454.

I need not remind hon. members to what extent the oil companies are shamelessly taking advantage of this situation. They are posting record profits. The flaws in the current Competition Act are a constant source of discussion in parliamentary committee, where a reverse onus of proof is being recommended to address the agreements between competitors and determine whether there is a conspiracy.

Here is what Konrad W. von Finckenstein, the Commissioner of Competition, said during a meeting of the Standing Committee on Industry on May 5, 2003:

—while the bureau's mandate includes the very important role of being investigator and advocate for competition, the current legislation does not provide the bureau with the authority to conduct an industry study.

It seems to me that it would be preferable to have a study on the overall situation carried out by an independent body that would have authority, that would be able to summon witnesses and gather information. It should also have the power to protect confidential information that someone is not necessarily going to want to share, but which would be vital in order to reach a conclusion based on the real facts.

These statements prove that the existing Competition Act does not allow the Competition Bureau to conduct real investigations into industrial sectors. Bill C-454 will make it possible to implement a comprehensive strategy that will enable us to do something about the rising cost of petroleum products.

It is high time we fixed this problem and gave the Competition Bureau the power it needs to do a proper job.

Bill C-454 to amend the Competition Act is critical to undertaking real investigations into the oil industry. Passing this bill will give the Competition Bureau the vital powers it needs to fulfill its mandate. Both the government and the oil industry must be transparent.

The people of Quebec—and the people of Canada too, I imagine—think that the ruling government and the oil companies are in cahoots with each other. In light of the tax cuts and other benefits being given to oil companies, people have the right to wonder about this. In my opinion, Bill C-454 would meet the people's needs, and I hope that it will be passed.

Competition ActPrivate Members' Business



The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

It being 12:02 p.m., the time provided for debate has expired.

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Competition ActPrivate Members' Business


Some hon. members


Competition ActPrivate Members' Business



The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Accordingly the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

The House resumed from April 10 consideration of Bill C-33, An Act to amend the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, as reported (with amendments) from the committee, as well as Motion No. 2.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders



André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise once again to speak to Bill C-33. Members of the House had the opportunity to express their position at second reading. The committee then did an excellent job trying to improve this bill. Unfortunately, many of our amendments were rejected, both by government members and by the Liberals. This did not prevent us from pursuing our work, however. For instance, an NDP member introduced motions to improve Bill C-33, including the motion selected by the Chair that we are currently discussing in this House.

I would remind the House that Bill C-33 seeks to amend the Canadian Environmental Protection Act and that the motion we are discussing here today was introduced by the hon. member for Western Arctic.

I would like to begin by saying that the Bloc Québécois supports this motion, whose purpose is to improve a clause added by the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food by specifying that a thorough review of the environmental and economic aspects of biofuel production in Canada should include a review of the progress made in the preparation and implementation of regulations enacted by the governor in council.

In committee, during the clause-by-clause review of Bill C-33, I proposed an amendment with a similar purpose. That is why it was not so difficult for the Bloc Québécois to support the NDP member's motion. This addition will provide for a more complete evaluation of the consequences of biofuel production and the implementation of governing regulations.

As I was saying, I proposed amendments to broaden the scope of the regulations and to allow the committee to study the regulations. Unfortunately, these amendments were rejected by both the Conservatives and the Liberals. Nevertheless, I feel it is worthwhile looking at these amendments again to give citizens, who have not necessarily followed the committee's clause-by-clause review, an understanding of how useful these amendments could have been. As the saying goes, the devil is in the details. The purpose of these amendments was to improve Bill C-33, to tighten up the regulations and also to allow the committee to study the regulations, as we would like to do in many files.

The amendments sought to broaden the scope of the regulations. Bill C-33 will allow the government to blend biofuels with regular gas. I had proposed two amendments.

First, I wanted the government to be able to regulate the submission by persons who produce, sell or import fuel of information regarding the environmental effects of biofuels. This would have provided an additional safeguard with respect to the source of these biofuels and their method of production. More specifically, we believe that the submission of information about the environmental and energy record, the life cycle and the environmental and social consequences of fuels must be regulated. This is currently a shortcoming of Bill C-33. We wanted to remedy this shortcoming.

Second, the bill, in its present form, distinguishes biofuels according to a certain number of criteria such as the quantities of releases, feedstocks used, or the fuels' chemical properties. We believe that the government should be able to differentiate biofuels according to criteria with broader environmental scope, namely their environmental and energy record, the analysis of their life cycle, even their social and environmental repercussions.That was the intention of the second amendment tabled.

We also proposed other amendments, because Bill C-33 does not include any standards per se. All it does it authorize the government to make a certain number of regulations governing biofuels, including standards and their consequences.

These amendments were designed to enable the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food to study the proposed regulations before they were adopted, for the simple reason that the oversight will come from the regulations and not the bill that is before Parliament, Bill C-33.

If the committee were able to study the proposed regulations, the committee members could keep abreast of technological advances in the field of renewable biofuels and also evaluate the appropriateness of the measures proposed by the government.

Although renewable fuels are one way of combating greenhouse gases and reducing our dependence on oil—the Bloc Québécois has presented a very detailed policy on reducing our dependence on oil—they are not all created equal. When studying the proposed regulations, the committee could look further at biofuels, their sources and their potential impacts. Environmental and energy impacts were mentioned earlier. These amendments were therefore similar in their approach.

I am still talking about them, because I feel that it is not too late to do the right thing. Unfortunately, however, these amendments were not accepted during the clause-by-clause review. I repeat, if they had been, Bill C-33 would have been improved. As I said in several committees, this is often the norm. It is being discussed more and more. There is a desire for committees to study the regulations arising from bills. As issues evolve, there would be more frequent opportunities to study the regulations and look at technological progress that has been made and how the regulations are being applied, in order to determine whether this is in keeping with the spirit of the bill. Unfortunately, Parliament does not yet do this routinely.

All that to say that it is logical for us to support the motion of my NDP colleague from Western Arctic. Bill C-33 will only be stronger if Parliament agrees to vote in favour of this motion. This bill addresses some of the Bloc Québécois' concerns. We want to reduce our dependence on oil. We also want the transportation sector to make an increased effort in cutting greenhouse gas emissions and we want the use of agricultural and wood residues to be developed.

It is common knowledge that the Bloc Québécois favours the use of cellulosic ethanol. In Quebec, two plants have been built quite recently in the Eastern Townships. They should be up and running by this summer. There is one in Westbury and another in the Bromptonville area of Sherbrooke. The Kruger company is also involved in opening this latest plant in order to develop wood residues.

The goal of the Government of Quebec is for fuels to consist of 5% ethanol by 2012. In Bromptonville, there is a new development in cellulosic ethanol. Apparently agricultural and wood residue is used, but construction wood that is no longer of any use and would get burned anyway could also be used more. Producing cellulosic ethanol from leftover construction wood could be a rather useful development.

The federal government has announced a regulation requiring 5% renewable content in gasoline by 2010. Regulations will also require an average of 2% renewable content in diesel and heating oil by 2012. In addition to cellulosic ethanol, which I spoke about earlier, it would be a good idea—and I will finish up with this topic—to develop and explore biodiesel.

In committee we heard from people from the CFER back home, in Victoriaville, who are using a vehicle that runs on french fry oil. Used vegetable oils are collected from 10 restaurants in Victoriaville, and are currently used to run a delivery vehicle for a local pharmacy. Yves Couture, the director of that training and recycling centre, came to speak to the committee about this vision for the future. People may say that it is only one vehicle, but when the government has the good sense to invest in these new technologies, I am convinced that we will be able to make major advances in the development of biodiesel.

The Fédération des producteurs de boeuf du Québec is in favour of Bill C-33, and is also calling on the government to focus on biodiesel. Now that there are new standards for removing specified risk materials, these people do not know what to do with residue and animal waste. They even have to pay to dispose of it. If it were sent to biodiesel plants, we could run our vehicles on materials that would probably have been sent to the landfill.

We must fully examine these possibilities. We will have the opportunity to discuss them as these technologies move forward.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

12:10 p.m.


Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, I found my hon. colleague's presentation to be thoughtful and it focused on what is happening on the ground.

I was pleased to hear about all the different initiatives that are going on in Quebec with respect to the use of biofuels. This is very positive, but it also poses the important question, how can we determine the winners and losers in the biofuel industry as we move forward?

What we are trying to do with the amendment is to give us some flexibility in the approach we take. We in this party do not think that there is trust and confidence in the government to put forward regulations that are going to apply in a very good fashion to all the different types of initiatives that are available under biofuels, or as I like to call them, bioenergy.

In my constituency in the far north we are rapidly transforming the fuel used to heat major institutional buildings to wood pellets. Right across northern Canada including northern Quebec many communities are strictly on diesel fuel or fuel oil for their buildings. Fuel oil is $1.30 a litre. The wood pellets that are imported from Alberta are half that cost.

There is still much work to be done in this field to understand the nature of the incentives and programs, and the conditions we should be attaching to the biofuels industry. Does the member agree there is a need to have that oversight?

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

12:15 p.m.


André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Western Arctic for his question. I also want to congratulate him on introducing this motion.

As the saying goes, it is better to be safe than sorry. Consequently, when Bill C-33 was studied clause by clause in committee, we introduced the amendments I mentioned earlier. The member's colleague, the NDP agriculture critic, also introduced worthwhile amendments. Only one was adopted. There was a good reason the member decided to introduce a few motions in the House so that we can have a better idea of the approach the government wants to take.

We are talking about technologies that are often in their early days. For example, cellulosic ethanol techniques are just emerging now. Canada does not yet have the capacity to produce these biofuels commercially. That is why it is imperative that in committee, we be able to look quickly—not just every five years or so—at everything the government wants to do and also at all the environmental and energy-related impacts of that decision. This is really very important. We also have to look at the social impacts, especially with the food crisis in the world today.

It is important that we be able to study all the regulations the government wants to make once this bill has been adopted, to make sure they are on the right track. Some countries are taking a step back, while others are seriously questioning the use of biofuels. However, when a country wants to reduce its dependence on oil, it has two choices: it can either do nothing and continue using oil or it can use biofuels. But it has to use them intelligently.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

12:15 p.m.


Raymonde Folco Liberal Laval—Les Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to speak today to contribute to the debate on government Bill C-33, An Act to amend the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, to provide for the efficient regulation of fuels.

According to the government's own technical briefings on March 14, 2008, Canada's greenhouse gas emissions have grown steadily since 1990. At Kyoto, Canada committed to a target of 6% below 1990 levels; however, Canadian emissions have grown steadily since 1990. Canada's annual greenhouse gas emissions are currently more than 25% higher than they were in 1990 and 32% higher than Canada's Kyoto protocol target. This growth is due in part to the continued expansion of Canada's production and export of oil and gas. Without immediate action, our emissions from all sectors could increase by another 24% to reach 940 megatons in 2020. This is terrible news.

As my colleague, the MP for Ottawa South, has said, for Canadians all of this has to be seen in the context of climate change policy. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC, told the government, all parliamentarians and all Canadians that we need to contain temperature increases to between 2° and 2.4° if possible. We will only be able to do that, it says, if we stabilize emissions within 15 years and cut them in half by 2050. The IPCC report also says that there are already many low cost options available to developed countries like Canada to reduce greenhouse gases, such as financial incentives, the excise fuel tax, deploying existing technologies, tradeable permits and voluntary programs.

The Conservative government since it came to power has cut the carbon credits and the renewable power investment programs which were the former Liberal government's initiatives.

Professor Mark Jaccard of the School of Resource and Environmental Management at Simon Fraser University said in an interview with The Hill Times last year that the Conservative government believed it could deliver a successful environmental plan based on improving air quality.

A number of the former Liberal government's climate change programs were cut. Then, public opinion polls finally made the Conservative government realize that this was not a fleeting movement, but that the public was truly concerned about climate change.

Professor Jaccard added that a number of public officials advised the Conservatives to reinstate the Liberals' regulations and reintroduce them with different names, which was a waste of time. He also pointed out that the Conservatives wanted to delay the release of the new programs because of their similarity to the Liberal programs.

My colleague from Ottawa South also reported that the failure of the government's plan has been well documented by the C.D. Howe Institute, the Deutsche Bank, the Pembina Institute and the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research.

The National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, the Conservatives' own board, has told the government its plan is baseless and will not achieve the targets in any way. In fact, it appears not a single third party observer has put forward a shred of evidence to substantiate that the government's plan would work.

The developed countries are responsible for the pollution rate we have now in the world. By moving their industries to developing countries such as China and India, to name only two, they have damaged their environment and their agriculture and have helped increase global warming.

Today, studies show that the expansion of the production of ethanol is doing very little for the environment. On the contrary, ethanol use could add to greenhouse gas emissions, not reduce them.

My constituents in Laval—Les Îles, many of whom are from India, Pakistan, the Middle East and other countries, are very concerned about what is currently going on in their home countries.

The problem of global warming is the most urgent ecological problem of our generation, as the leader of the official opposition pointed out. That is why, together with my colleagues from the Liberal Party of Canada, I think the government's bill does not go far enough. It does not provide any real solution to the greenhouse gases problem.

According to a study by the OECD, Canada is behind other developed countries and is among the lowest-ranking OECD countries in terms of emissions per person for smog-causing gases, at 2%. Although Canada contributes just 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions, the quantity of those emissions per person is among the highest in the world, and that percentage keeps going up.

A number of studies show today that corn ethanol and other biofuels, such as soy or sugar cane, contribute to increasing greenhouse gases and therefore to global warming.

A study published in Science magazine concluded that the current use of prime farm land to expand biofuel crops will probably only exacerbate global warming because of deforestation and increased cash crops to the detriment of food crops. That is to say nothing of the economic pressure being put on farmers to produce more biofuels including wheat, soy, barley and sugar cane, which has a negative effect on the price of corn and wheat, and therefore on the living conditions of those involved.

We are already beginning to feel the negative effects. All we hear about in the media these days is the food crisis, which is a direct result of the massive cultivation of cereal crops and other food products for uses other than feeding populations. And this is only the beginning of a vicious circle.

According to recent studies, there are other solutions, particularly the use of renewable or green energy sources that do not use carbon.

As for transportation, we could follow the example of Europe, and particularly France, which is currently developing electric car prototypes.

As for household energy consumption, we can now use alternative energy sources, including wind, solar or photovoltaic energy, that is, converting solar radiation directly into electricity, as some countries in northern and western Europe are doing, as well as hydroelectric energy.

We can also use new, environmentally friendly materials in the construction of houses, which is already being done in Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands and even in certain developing countries. Some African countries, for instance, are using solar and wind energy. These environmentally friendly materials are designed to conserve energy in houses, thereby reducing the waste and over-consumption of energy.

My colleagues and I firmly believe that the most effective solution combines two attitudes: first, consuming less energy; and second, developing and producing more renewable energy.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry Ontario


Guy Lauzon ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and for the Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for her presentation. She brought up some very interesting points, many of which I agree with.

Although I am in agreement with the hon. member opposite on some points, I would like to point out some differences.

First, one of her last points was that we had to get our waste of energy under control, and I agree with her on that. However, she also mentioned that there was a crisis in food prices. There is definitely a marked increase in food prices around the world, but we have to be careful not to blame the food prices on biofuels. For example, food prices have increased by roughly 7% over the last three years. During the same period, oil has jumped by 70%. Therefore, if there were ever a case for finding replacements for oil, this would certainly be it.

Canadian families continue to enjoy some of the best food at the most reasonable prices anywhere around the world.

She mentioned that emissions had grown since 1990. As we know, during that period her government, the former Liberal government, was in power for 13 of those years. One of the members who sought the leadership of the Liberal Party mentioned that the Liberals did not get it done . Perhaps she could speak to that.

She states that we are behind the U.S. when it comes to biofuels. We are and that is because the former government did not get it done during the last 13 years. Therefore, could she comment on that?

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

12:25 p.m.


Raymonde Folco Liberal Laval—Les Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry for the compliment.

We are not talking about a problem that touches only Canada. We are talking about a problem that touches not only the hemisphere but the whole earth. What has happened to people elsewhere will happen to us.

I talked about the rise in food prices. I am not a specialist in chemicals or in the environment. However, I read the newspapers and I listen to the media. The media has said for the last two weeks that it is important for us to look at the alternatives. I am not saying we have the right answers. Far from it. My colleague from Quebec mentioned a while ago that we had to do more research and in different avenues.

For my colleague from Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry, yes, the Liberals were in power for 13 years and we looked at several answers. He may recall that the leader of our party was, at the time, minister of the environment. He was in charge of putting together an agreement, the Kyoto agreement, which took place in Montreal.

However, the Conservative government has been in government for two years now. Therefore, the Conservatives cannot always throw back the argument about what happened before. We are asking the Conservative government to govern and get something done.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

12:30 p.m.


Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, quite specifically, the amendment we are debating right now is an oversight amendment, which would give us more control over the process of the development of the biofuels approach in Canada, the bioenergy approach. Why will her party not support the amendment? It will give us the time to deal with the issues as they come up and ensure that the government acts correctly?

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

12:30 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Laval—Les Îles has 30 seconds to respond.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

12:30 p.m.


Raymonde Folco Liberal Laval—Les Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I cannot respond to that in 30 seconds. It is very complicated.

If I may, I would like to answer my colleague at some other time. However, I would like to say this about the oversight function.

One has to be very careful. The government has oversight functions that look after it, but it is so secret that the oversight does not work in any case.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

12:30 p.m.


Ève-Mary Thaï Thi Lac Bloc Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, this debate is primarily about the NDP's two motions concerning Bill C-33. The NDP's first motion is two-pronged. Part (a) seeks to correct part of the English wording. Part (b) of the first motion seeks to give the governor in council the authority to regulate the amount of greenhouse gas emissions allowed in the production of biofuels, to prohibit the use of GMOs in grains used in biofuel production and to restrict the use of arable land for production of biofuel crops.

Part (b) could render the entire motion out of order, first, because it broadens the scope of the initial bill, and second, because we are at the report stage.

With respect to the latter consideration, we are against Motion No. 1, should it prove to be in order, because management of a province’s agricultural land is under Quebec’s jurisdiction.

The NDP's second motion seeks to improve a clause added by the committee, which states that “a thorough analysis of the environmental and economic aspects of biofuel production in Canada” should include a review of the progress made in the preparation and implementation of the regulations enacted by the governor in council.

If the second motion is in order, we should support it, especially since the Bloc Québécois put forward a motion with a similar purpose in committee. This amendment will lead to a more complete assessment of the impact of biofuel production and the regulations that govern it.

Bill C-33 addresses some of the concerns of the Bloc Québécois, which is urging that we free ourselves from our dependence on oil, that the transportation sector make an effort to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and that we promote the use of forestry and agricultural waste.

With regard to biofuel substitutes for oil, the most interesting avenue at present is the production of ethanol from cellulose. This process, still in the experimental stage and deserving of more support for research, uses a plentiful and inexpensive raw material and, more importantly, would recycle vegetable matter that is currently unusable. It would also provide new markets for the forestry and agriculture industries.

The concept of using raw materials that can be produced more readily is gaining support.

Thus, research is being focused on the production of ethanol from non-food crops and materials rich in cellulose. The development of an efficient process for converting cellulose to ethanol could promote the use of raw materials such as agricultural waste and straw as well as forestry residues, primarily wood chips, and even fast-growing trees and grasses.

Still in the experimental stage, ethanol made from cellulosic materials such as agricultural and wood waste cannot yet compete with traditional products. However, it does represent a very interesting possibility.

Quebec can cut its oil dependency in half within 10 years. The Bloc Québécois estimates that this huge shift requires that six objectives be met: quickly help Hydro-Québec regain a margin of flexibility; continue encouraging individuals, businesses and industries to give up using oil; reduce fuel consumption in passenger transportation; stop the increase in consumption in goods transportation; reduce consumption of petroleum products as fuel; and make Quebec a centre for clean energy and clean transportation.

The goal is to increase residential efficiency by 18% and reduce consumption by 15% in 10 years. To find more energy, we need to start by looking at the energy we waste.

Using fairly simple methods to improve thermal efficiency, we can reduce the difference between older homes and newer homes by 65%, according to the federal Department of Natural Resources.

Our second proposal is to eliminate the use of fuel oil in homes, businesses and industry. The 10-year goal would be to reduce by half the number of homes that heat with fuel oil and to reduce by 45% the use of oil as a source of energy in industry.

We also recommend curbing fuel consumption for the intercity transport of goods. Unlike intercity transport, for which it is possible to develop alternatives to trucking, trucks will always be difficult to replace in an urban environment. However, in many cases, the vehicles used for this type of transport are unnecessarily large.

Furthermore, we must reduce the amount of fuel used to transport people. There are two paths to achieving our objectives. On one hand, we must come up with an efficient alternative to the use of personal cars in urban settings and, on the other hand, we must reduce the amount of fuel consumed by cars.

Another objective is to decrease the proportion of oil relative to all fuels. The Bloc Québécois recommends that current oil-based fuels have a 5% biofuel content.

Furthermore, we recommend that Quebec—a leader in some areas of transportation and clean energy—become a leading centre for transportation and clean energy.

By further consolidating our assets in such sectors as public transportation, hydroelectricity and wind power, as well as substantially increasing support for research and development in niches related to clean technologies, in which Quebec has competitive advantages, Quebec could have an enviable position in the post-petroleum era because it would be less vulnerable to oil crises and it could export leading edge technology.

Over the next 10 years, achieving these objectives would benefit Quebec in many ways. Quebeckers could benefit from a 32.8% reduction in oil consumption in Quebec and a reduction of close to 50% in oil used for power generation in Quebec, which would drop from 38% to 20%. They would also benefit from a 21.5% reduction in Quebec's greenhouse gas emissions, and a savings of $3.2 billion on the cost of importing oil into Quebec.

As my Bloc Québécois colleague was saying earlier, the bill does not go far enough. It is nonetheless a major step forward for the people of Quebec and Canada.