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House of Commons Hansard #86 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was pumps.

Topics

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Marc Garneau Liberal Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, the issue of northern or remote communities is a particularly acute one in terms of being able to respect the letter of the law in the case of Bill C-14 and yet there is a reality here, which he has very eloquently outlined, which is that in order to conform to the letter of the law there need to be inspections. The challenge there is to get the inspectors and the inspectors need to be available in order to do inspections of the pumps within a certain period of time.

This is problematic in and of itself in the case of certain communities but it is also a fact that these independent retailers who provide a very essential service often have very slim margins of profit and the additional burden of having to pay for the inspections that will need to take place at their one or two or three pumps is one they can ill-afford. It is a particularly acute problem for those independent retailers who are outside the large centres in this country.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

I will make this somewhat brief, Mr. Speaker. I remember during the last election that the price of fuel was a huge issue at the time. Many people in the House used this issue to torque it in certain ways. One of the ways of doing this, and to say it was shallow is being somewhat generous, was that there was a commitment to reduce the amount of diesel by 2¢, which came from the current government.

I have looked through the order paper but I cannot seem to find it. However, I was wondering if the hon. member would know where that policy went, perhaps out the pump, as it were.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Marc Garneau Liberal Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague raises an extremely good point. I seem to remember hearing about the 2¢ on diesel but I have not seen it enacted. I am forced to conclude that perhaps it was one of those many promises, including the 85¢ promise, which goes back about six years, whereby if gasoline went over 85¢ the GST would be removed from the price of gasoline.

Perhaps the government might be able to shed some light on what happened to those promises, which would have served the consumer a great deal more than Bill C-14, which is nothing but a sorry excuse for the government to try to look like it is on the side of the consumer.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, my question for the member has to do with ambient temperatures.

A number of years ago, I had a constituency complaint and the basis of the complaint was that people got more gas in their tanks in the morning when they filled up because the temperature was poor, whereas, in the afternoon, because gas expands with the heat, people got less when they filled up.

I wonder if the member can answer as to how that will impact the ambient temperature issue as far as the measurements that the inspectors are planning to take, because there has to be some kind of reconciliation here between ambient temperatures and how the gas is measured.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Marc Garneau Liberal Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, the whole delivery in terms of volume of gasoline is predicated on certain conditions. In terms of temperature it is based on 15° centigrade. Therefore, if it were 15° centigrade at sea level, there would be a certain volume, but unfortunately most of the time the temperature is not 15° centigrade. In fact, on average in the country it is minus 6° or something like that. Therefore, there has to be a compensation that is done and that compensation is based on temperature and it is supposed to adjust the volume. As the member quite clearly said, when liquids or gases get cold, they compress and when they get warm, they expand, so that changes the volume.

One can only hope these pumps are making that correction based on the actual temperature. This assumes that is part of the process.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Andrews Liberal Avalon, NL

Mr. Speaker, I commend my hon. colleague for his views on this legislation. I would like to ask one question. It might not be related, but when we talk about gasoline, it gets everyone's emotions up and running.

When we look at regulations across the country, it is different from province to province and region to region. Sometimes it is unfair that one part of a province or a region has to pay a certain price and then it is totally different in another place.

Could he comment on regulation and how we could address some of these concerns?

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Marc Garneau Liberal Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, regulation is a complex issue that touches both the provincial and the federal. On the federal component, for example, on the excise tax, we will remember that a far-sighted Liberal policy was enacted some time ago under Prime Minister Martin to take some of that excise tax and use it for infrastructure projects. That was applauded by many Canadians.

Regulation is an area for which the federal government has a responsibility. One of the concerns it should have is to deliver the best and lowest price to the consumer. It is not entirely within its responsibility, but it is part of its responsibility. As I mentioned in my presentation, things like the competitiveness of refineries to again stimulate greater competition are the kinds of issues the federal government should look at so ultimately the consumer is the one who benefits from it. This bill tries to suggest that retailers, to use the Minister of Industry's wording, and I cannot remember it exactly, are somehow out to gouge the consumer, which is not the case.

There is some constructive work that the federal government can undertake to make the price of gasoline as low as possible, and I would encourage it to do that.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Bouchard Bloc Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, as the Bloc Québécois industry critic, I had an opportunity to follow progress on Bill C-14 in the spring and to hear testimony at the committee meetings.

Bill C-14 amends the Electricity and Gas Inspection Act and the Weights and Measures Act.

Although the bill has not generated a lot of controversy, nonetheless, overall, it could have gone a lot farther.

In fact, that is why my colleague from Shefford introduced Bill C-452. That bill is particularly important given that Bill C-14 still does not allow the Competition Bureau to conduct inquiries on its own initiative.

My colleague therefore introduced Bill C-452 to give the Competition Bureau more teeth, so it can initiate inquiries on its own initiative.

It still has to wait for a complaint before undertaking an inquiry. This is a classic response from the Competition Bureau: a complaint has to be filed in order for an inquiry to be started. As a result, Bill C-14 still does not address one of the major issues, the appearance of collusion in the oil industry.

Although the Bloc Québécois expressed support for the bill, as I said in my last speech in the spring, that does not mean that it is sufficient. Moreover, the clause-by-clause consideration of the bill did not result in many amendments. The amendments that were made related more to secondary issues. Personally, I think that even though the bill does not have as many teeth as we would have liked, it is hard to be against motherhood, particularly when we are trying to provide better protection for the public.

Even though we think it is in fact high time to make changes to the Electricity and Gas Inspection Act and the Weights and Measures Act, Bill C-452 could give the Competition Bureau tools for battling companies that might want to profit from their dominant position in the market to rip off consumers.

The good thing about Bill C-14 is that from now on, the onus will be on the trader to prove they are not guilty. As well, there may be additional penalties if the trader continues to operate in violation of the law.

But what is more important, to my mind, is that the law will allow the names of offending businesses to be posted and announced publicly. In an area like gasoline sales, if a trader is convicted, we can bet that the retailer will want to remedy the situation quickly. Information moves fast in social media and neighbourhoods, and there are also service stations in various locations, on almost every corner, and so it will be easy for consumers to switch from one business to another when they see that the retail price of gas is higher in one location.

In addition, the amendment to the Weights and Measures Act will allow for much higher fines for offenders. Under the new provisions of the act, inspectors appointed by the government will be authorized to enter premises that they have reasonable grounds to examine and to seize or detain anything in the place, to use any computer or communication system in the place and to prepare a document based on the data. They may also prohibit access to the place and require that faulty equipment be shut down.

Bill C-14 is not intended to instill fear in traders, but rather to make improvements to legislation that no longer meets modern standards. It is quite appropriate in 2010 for inspectors to ensure that consumers are not being shortchanged.

In my last speech in this House on Bill C-14, I remarked that in committee certain questions would be asked regarding things that we would like to see included in this bill.

It is a tremendous opportunity for us as parliamentarians to give the bill some teeth and allow the Competition Bureau to launch inquiries of its own accord.

For a number of years, we have also been calling for a petroleum monitoring agency, which would closely monitor gas prices and tackle any attempts at collusion or unjustified price hikes. The Bloc Québécois is not coming up with anything new here. For years now, we have cited the recommendations in the November 2003 report of the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology.

The federal government has never done anything to assist consumers in this area, and it has to some extent let the opportunity to institute a petroleum monitoring system slip by. In spite of this, I reiterate that this is a step in the right direction.

Setting aside Bill C-452, the Bloc is convinced more than ever that the industry must contribute its fair share. With the skyrocketing rise in energy prices and oil companies’ profits, we are witnessing a real across-the-board economic bloodletting for the benefit of the oil companies. The overly generous tax benefits for oil companies must end.

We need to be prepared because by 2012, 11 car manufacturers intend to put about 30 fully electric or rechargeable hybrid models on the market. These cars will be more reliable and fuel-efficient and cost much less to operate than gasoline-powered cars.

I do not want to stray from the objectives of Bill C-14, but for the Bloc Québécois, any discussion on oil consumption absolutely must include a genuine plan and restructuring of the sector that focuses on achieving the following three things.

So once again, here are the three steps that must be taken in order to have legislation that truly has more teeth: first, the oil industry needs disciplining, and this can be achieved by way of a tougher Competition Act. Second, the oil industry must contribute by being made to pay its fair share in taxes. Lastly, we need to reduce our reliance on oil by, for instance, providing incentives to consumers to encourage them to buy electric cars.

We must be prepared, because electric cars will be available soon enough. So we should offer assistance for municipalities to install charging stations. We should also do further research on the batteries of these future vehicles so that they keep their charge longer.

We must implement better measures to prevent fraud, as proposed in Bill C-14. Having measures like these and a comprehensive action plan will enable us to come out on top.

In conclusion, I will briefly present the position of the Bloc Québécois.

The Bloc Québécois supports Bill C-14 in principle. However, this bill does not directly address the problems of collusion, such as the problems that recently came to light in Quebec, nor does it provide ways to effectively predict sudden increases in gas prices.

Therefore, the Bloc Québécois believes that we still need to look at ways to effectively address rising gas prices through Bill C-452, which we introduced.

In addition, the Competition Act still does not allow the Competition Bureau to conduct inquiries on its own initiative. A complaint must be filed, because if there is no complaint, the Competition Bureau does not take action, does not do anything.

The Bloc Québécois is also calling for the creation of a petroleum monitoring agency to closely monitor gas prices and to deal with attempts to collude and with unjustified price hikes.

That is the Bloc's position. I want to repeat that in principle, we support Bill C-14, which we are debating today.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am rising to speak to Bill C-14. The short title is the fairness at the pumps act. One would presume that fairness at the pumps refers to consumer protection and that we are talking about fairness to consumers generally.

Although there are some good measures in the bill, I would say that, generally speaking, consumers are at risk in any number of areas. The NDP has consistently called for a number of initiatives to protect consumers more broadly. These initiatives include having a minister responsible for consumer affairs; strengthening the Competition Bureau, tackling credit cards independently, not just through voluntary measures that credit card companies put in place; putting health and safety measures in place that protect consumers from imported goods; and finally, improving labelling so that consumers know when they are buying genetically modified products.

With respect to fairness at the pumps, I think this is a small measure to adopt in attempting to protect consumers.

I want to place the reason for this legislation in context.

Back in May 2008, an article called “Hosed at the Pumps” appeared in the Ottawa Citizen. The article said that the federal government was aware that there were any number of violations at the pumps. It stated, “A Citizen investigation shows that between Jan. 1, 1999, and Aug. 28, 2007, nearly 5% of gas pumps tested in Canada—about one pump in 20—failed government inspections by dispensing less fuel than they should”.

This relates to consumer fairness in that Canadians were going to the gas pumps and paying more for the product, because they did not receive the amount that they should have received.

The article goes on to state:

And while some faulty pumps give out more fuel than they charge for, more often than not it is consumers--not the retailers--who get hosed, government inspection records show.

The problem of faulty pumps appears to be an industry-wide phenomenon. About 30% of all gas vendors tested have had at least one pump flunk an inspection by shortchanging consumers, according to the inspection reports.

There is a lot more detail here, but I want to go on a little further in the article. It said that sometimes consumers are shortchanged, sometimes they get a benefit; there are fluctuations, and there is a limit set for acceptable fluctuations.

The article further states:

The small fluctuations might be less of a concern if the measurement errors evened out. In theory, consumers who come up short on slow-running pumps should be balanced by those who benefit from extra gas from fast pumps.

But the inspection reports reveal a puzzling trend: Canadian consumers are squeezed by faulty pumps far more often than vendors. When a gas pump fails a measurement test, 74% of the time it is the motorist who is disadvantaged by the error, and not the retailer, according to the inspection data.

Odder still, the results of pump inspections in the U. S. seem to run counter to the Canadian numbers. Newspaper reports on state government inspection of gas pumps suggest that consumers and retailers in the U.S. tend to be affected by pump errors in roughly equal proportion, with motorists getting a slight advantage in some states.

Not so here in Canada. Here, consumers end up on [the] short end of the nozzle three times as often as retailers. “There is no realistic possibility of these errors being so slanted against consumers just by chance,'” said Richard Shillington, a statistician with the economic consulting firm Infometrica, who reviewed the numbers on behalf of the Citizen.

“It's off the scale. It's one in billions,” he said of the odds of this happening. “But that does not mean,” he adds, “that the errors are necessarily attributable to unscrupulous vendors. There could be procedural or mechanical reasons that would make more pumps run slow rather than fast.”

In the article's conclusion it states:

By using the most conservative figures, pumps that fell outside the tolerance zone would have shortchanged consumers by at least $17 million annually if projected across the entire industry. At the same time, however, fast pumps would give out $8 million in free gas. On the small percentage of pumps outside the tolerance zone, consumers would come out about $9 million behind.

That was in 2008.

We are now at the end of 2010, and we are still looking at legislation that addresses fairness at the pumps.

I want to touch on the response to that report. The article refers to government inspections carried out between 1999 and 2000. For a number of years, government inspections continued to demonstrate that Canadian consumers were being short-changed at the pumps.

It is 10 years later, and we are talking about these old numbers, and we are finally dealing with legislation in the House. That is unacceptable.

I want to acknowledge the good work that the member for Windsor West has done on this. He has been on this file for a number of years. Whether it is gas prices or the unevenness of measurements at the pump, he has been looking into what is required for consumer protection.

Bill C-14 is an act to amend the Electricity and Gas Inspection Act and the Weights and Measures Act. The short title is “fairness at the pumps act”. According to the legislative summary, the aim of the bill is to amend certain provisions of the Electricity and Gas Inspection Act and the Weights and Measures Act to provide greater protection for consumers from inaccurate measurements at gas pumps and other measuring devices.

The bill seeks to achieve this objective by introducing administrative monitoring policies for contraventions under the acts, increasing maximum fines for offences, introducing a new fine for repeated offences, introducing mandatory inspection frequencies for measuring devices, and proposing the appointment of non-government inspectors to be trained and certified by Measurements Canada to conduct mandatory inspections of measuring devices.

I want to talk a little about the administrative monitoring policies. Many see this as progress. The administrative monitoring policies allow for a more flexible and proportionate response to instances of non-compliance. There are varying degrees of these classifications, from minor to serious or very serious, with specified maximum penalties for each level. It allows for a rapid response to these violations, as opposed to having to go through the process of laying criminal charges.

Bill C-14, proposes to increase the accountability of retailers for the accuracy of their measuring devices by requiring them to have their devices inspected at regular intervals. Mandatory inspection frequencies, which are common in the majority of industrial nations, for example, France, Germany, and most U.S. states, are proposed for measuring devices used in eight trade sectors: retail petroleum, downstream or wholesale petroleum, dairy, retail food, fishing, logging, grain and field crops, and mining. Other sectors will be added to this list in the future, depending on the results of stakeholder consultations.

There is much more in the bill; this is a brief summary of some aspects of it.

I want to touch on the use of authorized private sector service providers. We are going to see a shift as a result of having private-sector inspectors carry out these inspections. The government has said that this is partly because it is going to increase the number of inspections required.

The NDP feels strongly that inspections need to be done in house with government workers. In this way, we have an arm's-length, non-interested party performing these inspections.

Under this fairness at the pumps act, the Minister of Industry will have the ability to appoint non-government inspectors of authorized service providers to perform inspections. This will allow Measurement Canada to use its resources strictly to enforce its mandate.

The mandatory inspections could be conducted by authorized service providers. The Measurement Canada inspectors will continue to assess marketplace performance through independent inspections, respond to complaints of suspected inaccurate measurements, and perform follow-up inspections of authorized service providers to ensure that they are doing their jobs correctly.

The Measurement Canada inspectors will be solely responsible for enforcement actions. Fees for the independent inspection services would be determined by market forces, ensuring that there is competition in the marketplace and that retailers will be charged fairly for these services.

It is estimated that the number of annual gas pump inspections would increase from 8,000 to approximately 65,000.

Although there would be more inspections, they will be carried out within the private sector and one would question the impact on the retail sector itself at having to pick up the cost. According to this, these fees will be determined by market forces. That sounds like something that could cause some problems for some in the retail sector.

The NDP has raised a couple of problems with the bill. I know the member for Windsor West attempted to make some amendments at the committee stage of the bill and was not successful. The problems the member for Windsor West has identified are the privatization of the inspection service by mandating frequent inspections that must be carried out by the newly created authorized service provider private companies. Mandating private inspections will now increase from 8,000 per year to 65,000. I did talk about what that impact might be on the retailers.

There is no ombudsman office to evaluate problems or investigate complaints. This is a very important aspect that we have been on record about, and I will talk about when we first raised that. There is no refund or compensation for consumers who are ripped off and no refunds or restitutions on the taxes collected in the phantom gasoline purchases.

On these last two points, since 1999, we know consumers have been overpaying in a significant number of cases. However, how do we go back to consumers over 10 years and say that they overpaid their gas bills for the last 10 years? There is not even any recognition of that and there is no acknowledgement as well on the taxes that were collected on these so-called phantom gasoline purchases. We have had people paying more at the gas pumps and the government has been collecting taxes on phantom gas. Therefore, we have other problems with the bill.

In April, the member for Windsor West called on the government to take immediate action. He said that gas pump problems were exposed more than two years ago by a media investigation and the government waited far too long to respond. He said the government was allowing the thieves to keep what they stole over the past few years. The member for Windsor West is very passionate about this file.

He went on to say:

What is outrageous is that the government potentially collected taxes from consumers who were paying for phantom gasoline....The question that must be asked is whether the government earned tax revenues from this short-changing of Canadian motorists and, if so, how much?

To make matters worse, the “Fairness at the Pumps Act” will further remove the federal government from the inspection process and will essentially allow the oil industry to police itself.

We have seen this in other cases. The do-not-call list comes to mind, where the industry was policing itself. We have seen how ineffective that has been in terms of monitoring that list. We have little faith that turning this over to the private sector is going to ensure that not only are retailers protected, but that consumers are protected as well. I absolutely support the member for Windsor West calling for these inspections to be carried out with government employees.

In 2008, which is how long New Democrats have been raising this, during a question period exchange, the member for Toronto—Danforth raised the issue around this report. In his question he said:

—the Ottawa Citizen has reported that one in twenty pumps is not correctly calibrated and that consumers are paying the price. In addition to shortchanging people at the pumps, the big oil companies are not even giving people the gas they paid for. At $1.30 a litre, every cent counts. When will this government create an ombudsman position to protect consumers from the big oil companies?

The minister of industry at the time came back and said a bunch of other things that did not do much around answering the question, but he did say they would not be creating the position of ombudsman.

Although the act does put in place some measures, it simply does not guarantee the kind of protection for which New Democrats have called. One would wonder why we have not seen this ombudsperson who would give Canadians a bit more faith that their interests were being well looked after.

Perhaps we will not get one because people are afraid of what the ombudsperson will speak up about. We have seen this with Veterans Affairs. The ombudsperson has done a very good job, is well respected by veterans, but his term will not be renewed. If we do not get an ombudsperson around consumer protection, is it because people are afraid we would get a very good ombudsperson who would speak up and protect consumers?

It makes no sense that those kinds of things are not included. They would give Canadians more confidence.

Because we were unable to get the amendments we were looking for at the committee stage, New Democrats simply cannot support the bill without some of those other measures and protections in place. Therefore, we will be voting against it.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, for a number of years the government of the province of Manitoba had a random inspection system for cars. If people owned their cars over a 10 or 12 year period, they would probably be called in by government inspectors once every 6 or 7 years. Manitobans trusted that system because they trusted the government inspectors, and there was no charge to it.

In 1995 the Conservative government of Gary Filmon turned it all over to private garages. What happened? Entry level cars doubled in price. No one could buy a car for $300 anymore, it was $1,000, and every two years it had to be inspected. CBC's I-Team investigators uncovered widespread gouging by garages. With a private garage, if people kept their cars for 10 years, they would never have to be inspected. Only if they were sold would have to be re-inspected.

Which system helped to keep safe cars on the road? The one where the government randomly brought them in every 3 or 4 years, or the system that if people bought their cars through private garages, they could drive them for 10 to 12 years and never have them inspected?

This is what happened in Manitoba. I see a direct parallel here.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member from Elmwood—Transcona raises a very good case of how the private inspection services simply do not work. Arguably, perhaps more inspections are needed, but it is troubling to think that we will radically increase the number of inspections, which means that we will have all of these private sector authorized inspectors put in place. There would be a cost to the retailers and people simply do not have faith in that private inspection process because of examples exactly like the kind that the member from Elmwood—Transcona pointed out.

That is why we call on the government to maintain the inspection service with Measurements Canada and ensure it has the adequate resources to conduct those inspections. Also, those inspections could be random and at arm's-length from the industry. Then people would have more faith in them.

As we have seen of the inspections that were being carried out in the past, the government was taking no action when a problem was identified. Again, the government department that is responsible needs to have the resources in place and the support of the minister to ensure the work they do results in the kinds of outcomes that we can see, which is fairness to consumers.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to the speech from the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan. As always, it was right to the point.

I have had literally thousands of phone calls in my constituency office since I have been elected about gouging at the pumps. This bill addresses a very small part of that larger problem. It talks about calibration at particular gas stations. The member has addressed concerns about privatization in terms of enforcement and issues with respect to fines on that aspect of it. For most people who call my office, that is only a tiny fraction of the concerns they have.

People are much more concerned with what is happening with the oil companies in general and what is happening on perceived collusion, especially in terms of setting gas prices. It seems that prices are always going up on long weekends, or on Fridays or when one station raises its prices, all of them do.

There are much larger issues that this government is failing to address. This is still a government that is giving huge corporate tax cuts to the oil and gas industry, precisely part of the players who are gouging consumers in our communities.

Could the member from Nanaimo—Cowichan take a couple of seconds to address those issues as well?

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member for Hamilton Mountain is absolutely correct. We have received a number of calls in our offices about gas prices. I am always shocked when I go home to Nanaimo—Cowichan on Vancouver Island. Our gas prices are always substantially more than they are in this part of the country. It is always a surprise to me when we know there are not a lot of refineries.

The member Windsor West has raised this issue a number of times and has called for an investigation into how gas prices are set at the retail level. It does seem to be a bit of a miracle that on the Friday of a long weekend, the gas prices, throughout the area, go up almost simultaneously.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

An hon. member

Free market.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

I hear one of my colleagues talking about free market. It is hard to believe there is much free market happening when there is this simultaneous raising of prices.

At the beginning of my speech on Bill C-14, I talked about fairness for consumers and the fact that the NDP had called for a number of initiatives to ensure there would fairness to consumers across a broad range of issues, including gas prices. We have called for a minister responsible for consumer affairs who can take on the responsibility for looking at things such as the retail gas prices in our country and whether or not there had been collusion among the retailers and the gas companies and ensure consumers were all paying the same price.

There is no free market competition with gas prices. The member for Hamilton Mountain raised a great point and she is absolutely correct. This bill does nothing to protect consumers around that kind of practice in the market.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, that was a perfect answer so I will just take the opportunity follow up a bit.

One of the problems people have in our communities is that when they see prices rising simultaneously, as the member just talked about, and when they have that perception of collusion, there is absolutely no redress for those people. They do not know what to do. We can complain to each other and people do, right at the pumps. They certainly complain to their family members and they call us as members of Parliament to complain to us, but right now there is absolutely no formal mechanism for addressing those very legitimate concerns, having them investigated and frankly acted upon.

One of the things I had the privilege of doing in the House was to introduce a bill calling for an oil and gas ombudsman, someone who would have to take those complaints seriously, who would have to do the investigative piece, but also then have the power to order remedial action. That would be real consumer protection. That is something for which people in my riding of Hamilton Mountain are calling. That is something they have supported. I know the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan has constituents who are watching this just as closely because, frankly, this is an issue from coast to coast to coast.

Would she care to comment about whether she has also received a flood of those requests, whether her constituents have signed those petitions and whether she thinks this would be part of the solution?

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, again the member for Hamilton Mountain is absolutely correct. The bill she tabled for an oil and gas ombudsperson would help alleviate some of the problem that we have seen with oil and gas pricing across the country. I know, from hearing from members in my own riding, they are very supportive of this kind of initiative.

New Democrats are proposing these kinds of initiatives to protect consumers, fairness for consumers. I outlined at the beginning of my speech a number of those initiatives, whether it was a minister responsible for consumer affairs, or the kind of labelling that we would all like to see, or looking after the health and safety of products that were imported in the country.

New Democrats have been taking on a number of things to ensure that consumers are protected and that there is fairness in the pricing.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, Justice; the hon. member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, The Environment; the hon. member for Etobicoke North, Health.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to stand today to talk about this particular bill.

At first glance I noticed that we have this wonderful way of playing with titles in this House with certain aspects of legislation. Sometimes it means a significant amendment to other acts or it may be an act upon itself but we tend to title them in a way that, I suppose, sells.

A perfect illustration of what I am talking about is Bill C-14, An Act to amend the Electricity and Gas Inspection Act and the Weights and Measures Act. Basically we are making sure that the calibration is correct and that people are not being unfairly gouged at the pumps because of the measurements and weights that are involved in determining how much gas is being put through the pump.

As my hon. colleagues pointed out, a very small fraction of retail outlets, that do it unwittingly, are subject to shortchanging their customers. In this particular situation, that is what this bill tries to amend.

The title of the bill, and this is the best part, is fairness at the pumps act. In relative debate, we have been talking about the price of gas now for the past 5 to 10 years extensively. We all know why. The price of oil rises and the price at the retail pump is extremely high, well over a $1. In my riding in central Newfoundland, it is some of the highest in the country, exceeding $1.20 in certain cases. I think that in Labrador it is even more than that. I think we get the idea.

Therefore, fairness at the pumps act leads us to believe that fundamental action has taken place so that the price of the fuel is coming down in a particular area. That is not particularly the case here. What this would do is help calibrate the machines and ensure the retail outlets are following suit.

In this particular situation, they may be sideswiped by some of these regulations, which I will get to in a moment. I had to start by saying that the fairness at the pumps act is not an apt description. It is kind of discovering an old t-shirt in our closet. We take it out to clean the floor and call it ShamWow because it sounds good, but it is still an old t-shirt.

In this particular case, some of the fundamental points provided in Bill C-14 deal with, in one instance, the administrative monetary penalties. That is for contraventions under the act. That is a big part of this for the particular retail outlets.

Let us not be led astray here. This is not for the average consumer. This is for the retail outlets and, in this case, especially if they are rural or northern, this will be a hard situation to face in certain circumstances. This is why I think there should be more in this bill to help people in particular situations.

Before I proceed, Mr. Speaker, I would like to mention that I will be splitting my time with the member for Nipissing—Timiskaming.

The bill would Increase maximum fines for offences and it introduces a new fine for repeated offences, which is apropos for the case. If people are doing something because they were unaware that the calibration was wrong and what we see as a price tag is not what just went into the gas tank, which sometimes happens unwittingly, there is a fine involved. However, if it happens again and again and the person is a repeat offender whose intent is to bilk the customers, then the person should be dealt with accordingly.

Bill C-14 proposes to increase the accountability of retailers for the accuracy of the measuring devices. Mandatory inspection frequencies, common in the majority of countries, deal primarily with retail petroleum, wholesale petroleum, dairy, retail, food, fishing, logging, grain, field crops and mining. Essentially, these are measurements for industries in general where the measurement of the goods being sold or purchased is very important. There needs to be that standard and, in this case, this international standard.

Other sectors could be included in the future of course as time goes on and I am sure we will have a debate about that in the future.

Measurement Canada will take a more active role in this. One of the roles it will take is the training of people involved in helping to calibrate these machines to ensure they are correct.

I will now talk about some of the clauses that are considered here, one being the Electricity and Gas Inspection Act. The act requires that only approved and verified metres would be involved. The act allows the accreditation of independent metre verifiers to verify the accuracy of electricity and natural gas metres on behalf of Measurement Canada.

We see there is another element being brought in that is really quite something. Now we are branching off into a different direction that, in my particular riding, could be detrimental under certain circumstances. However, the spirit of this is an honest one, which is to ensure the calibration on the pumps is correct, but in this particular case the government could help maintain that perfection in the system by doing more things to help certain retailers.

Bill C-14 proposes to give the Minister of Industry the power to appoint non-government inspectors. These inspectors would be trained and certified by Measurement Canada, as I mentioned. This is where the bill gets a little bit dicey, a little bit cloudy as to the clarification of what it is that certain retailers must do and what it is they are on the hook for, as the common vernacular goes.

Description and analysis: In addition to ensuring metres are kept in good repair, owners are responsible for paying any fees required by the act, such as those that may be charged for mandatory inspections.

I will touch on that one for a moment because it is one that is of grave concern to me. The owner is responsible for the cost involved in looking at the metres to ensure they are calibrated. Let us say that the owner is someone with a retail outlet in a remote area, perhaps on the south coast of Newfoundland. In certain cases there are places remote enough so that there is no other way to purchase gasoline in a 200 kilometre radius. The owner finds himself in a situation where, if he needs to have someone come in and if it is not someone from the government or someone trained and willing to do it but someone in the private sector, a fee is involved to bring the person to the owner's establishment to ensure his pumps have the right readings.

A lot of small retailers will be on the hook for travel costs, meals costs and mileage costs. The frequency of getting their pumps calibrated will be such that it is an added expense to them. It is not just that. Let us assume, unwittingly, that there is a slight mistake in the calibration and that the gas pump is putting out something that is slighty off what the price on the pump shows. It must be shut down. Even though that is the only pump in a 200 kilometre radius, it must be down for a period of time because, let us face it, if it has to be fixed and it has to be fixed by someone else. Someone else has to come in and do that.

We should think about the people in the area who rely on gasoline to get to work, take their kids to schools or get to the hospital, God willing. These are the situations that I do not think we have looked into with the bill. When the bill was put together, I would hope that there was some consideration and thought put into it, more than what I see on the surface of this particular bill. I certainly believe that the government should have looked at some kind of subsidy for these small retailers to help them in calibrating their pumps.

In the meantime, we have the administrative monetary penalties, which in this case are apt because we have a graduated amount of money. As I said earlier, if owners unwittingly make a mistake in their pump or it is showing a different reading, then obviously they will be fined for it, but if it happens again and again, the intent is such that they want to bilk the public. After all, this is about fairness at the pumps, I suppose.

That said, the graduated fine should be to a point where individual retailers will not have to pay a small fee every time it happens. They must pay more and more as we go along. That is the key element of this.

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4:35 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member will know that the Bloc's Bill C-452 would go a long way toward solving the problem here. It would change the Competition Act to authorize the commissioner to inquire into an entire industry sector, which is what we really need to do in this country.

The public has been aware of price fixing on gasoline prices for many years and yet 125 studies, paid for by provincial governments and the federal government, have all concluded that the legal framework is not there to get a conviction. We need to change the Competition Act.

The federal people have been able to chase the real estate agents on two occasions and get action from them to stop price fixing. They managed to get travel agents to stop price fixing. If they can do it with those other industries, why can they not do it with the retail gasoline industry?

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4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, the member made an extremely valid point.

I would like to point out for my colleague that this topic came up in discussions several years ago in my home province of Newfoundland and Labrador when we instituted price regulation at the pumps. P.E.I. was the other province.

Why is it that we do not have the framework by which we can cut down on what I would consider an unfair business practice after well over 100 studies have been completed? It is true that we do it in other sectors. Is it a case of this industry being so connected to world inputs, such as oil prices being determined by a huge global compact? Is this part of the reason?

I do not stand here trying to make excuses for this. I do think that in this particular situation, despite the fact that Canada has a great deal of resources, we still have the right to disentangle ourselves from the world to ensure the consumer in Canada is not unfairly gouged.

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4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Joe Volpe Liberal Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague from Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor was not here when this was a raging debate, led by members of the now government side, who were in opposition at the time and who were looking for fairness at the pumps.

I noticed that my hon. colleague looked at the legislative item that says fairness at the pumps act. For a government that has been in power for almost five years and one that used to rail against unfairness at the pumps, it has done nothing. It is now simply looking at measurements and weights associated with arriving at prices.

As the member and my hon. colleagues have indicated, six years ago the provinces in Atlantic Canada figured out a particular formula, but one that did not completely address the issue of gouging and fairness in the rest of Canada.

I wonder if my colleague is finding out the same thing that the rest of us are finding out, which is that this is a waste of Parliament's time, especially when the government knew what the program should have been and yet did nothing for five years. It is now moving sound bite legislation with no substance but lots of spin.

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4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, I do not know if my colleague was here earlier but I mentioned that with some of these bills we are seeing a case where we haul the old t-shirt out of the closet and call it ShamWow and start cleaning with it. Just because it has a fancy label does not make it a better cleaner. The member gets the idea--

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4:35 p.m.

An hon. member

It's still a sham.

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4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Yes, it is still a sham. That is a good point.

The member made a valid point. The government campaigned on two options: first, a 2¢ reduction in excise tax on diesel; and second, when the price of gasoline goes over 85¢ it would cut out the GST element. Neither of those things were done.

In this particular situation, the government did not even go so far as to talk about the Competition Act, which my colleague from the NDP talked about. Instead, we have mandatory inspections. By the way, this must be paid for by the gas station owner.