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.