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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

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Anthony Rota Liberal Nipissing—Timiskaming, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-14, the so-called fairness at the pumps act.

Fairness at the pumps sounds good. It is a nice title. It sounds as though people are trying to do something good.

I have heard different variations on it from the Conservative Party: the getting back at the chisellers act, those who are trying to rip off people when they buy gas.

What this bill amounts to is vast and expensive changes to combat variances which in large part can be attributed to environmental changes and honest errors.

When we look at what has happened in the past, and the amount of the variance or error, studies show that 96% of gas pumps are precisely accurate. Ninety-six per cent is not perfect. However, let us look at the difference. Four per cent are inaccurate. Of that 4%, 2% favour the consumer and 2% favour the owner. It is not as if there is this big massive problem, but it would be nice to try to get 100%.

The petroleum industry is second only to the apiary industry in terms of measurement accuracy. The apiary industry is slightly better than the petroleum industry.

What is more, according to Alan Johnson, president of Measurement Canada, the majority of pumps that were out of tolerance were out by slightly over one tolerance. One tolerance is the equivalent of .5% discrepancy between the amount of gasoline paid for and the amount dispensed. This means that the majority of pumps out of tolerance were about 1% off measurement. That is of that 4%. We can see how minuscule that amount is.

I am not justifying this and I am not saying it is okay to have variance, but what we have to look at is the amount of energy that has gone into this and how this actually comes out.

The Conservatives talk about it as if there were a whole industry out there trying to rip off consumers. They vilified a group. What I am seeing is a repeat of what we had in Ontario in 1995 when the Conservatives were in government in Ontario. Their modus operandi was to create a crisis and vilify one group, one industry. In this case it is not so much the oil industry or the petroleum industry, but they are vilifying the person at the pumps, the small operator.

We have seen this in Ontario. We saw it in Walkerton where they left it up to the individuals to monitor themselves and to hire their own private inspectors, not government inspectors, but private inspectors who would make a living off it going to different areas.

When private inspectors go in when needed or on a regular basis, what we are seeing is the industry regulating itself. I have a small concern with that; actually, it is a large concern because of what we did see in Ontario.

Currently on a report, a fraud is investigated by a government inspector. This will not change under the new system. The only change is that every two years station owners must pay $200 per pump for a mandatory inspection with no evidence of tampering or intentional discrepancy. That is $200 every two years. It does not sound like much, but when one has a number of pumps it causes a problem for the small operators.

As was mentioned earlier, I look at northern Ontario. Northern Ontario is a large territory with a sparse population and there are small operators. They are not making millions of dollars. They are not making huge amounts of money pumping gas. They are providing a service.

When we look at northern Ontario and rural Canada in general, there is not a lot of operators. I have seen it happen where people have to drive an hour to get gas, believe it or not. They have to get to that gas station. If that operator is not doing the volume, he still has to get the inspection.

When we look at what causes pumps to go out, cold temperatures cause a bit of variation, but the major factor is the amount of pumping that gets done.

When we look at a major centre such as Toronto, some stations pump gas like it is going out of style and there is some wear. Perhaps the Conservatives would like to look at something like that and say that maybe they should be inspected more often, but it is two years right across the board.

In rural areas in northern Ontario there is not that volume and not the wear and tear. When we look at operators in northern Ontario or in rural Canada, they still have to be inspected every two years. Inspectors are paid $200 per pump. Northern Ontario is a vast area, as is rural Canada. How many inspectors will be going to the rural areas? They are going to go where the fruit is lying low, which is in the major centres. The inspectors will be in the larger centres like Toronto, Vancouver and Ottawa. In the smaller centres, the operators will be at the mercy of the inspectors. They will be sitting there waiting and wondering when it is going to happen. This is going to cause some problems for the operators.

When we look at operators in rural areas such as northern Ontario, we see that there are independents. Many of the independents have been wiped out, but a lot of the operators are small operators. This adds to their costs. They will have to pass these costs on to the consumer. This is actually adding costs to the operators or the people of northern Ontario and rural Canada.

If this were a problem solver, if it would put an end to all fraud at the pumps, then I would say that this is something we should embrace and let it go ahead, but this bill will not stop those major fraudsters who are overcharging consumers. It will only penalize pump owners, especially in rural regions where equipment is most likely to break down in inclement weather, whose equipment is off by less than 1%. That is not a large amount, yet independents, small owners, are going to be hit hard. In turn we are going to see more and more people asking why they would put themselves up.

It is almost as though they are accused of being guilty until proven innocent in something like this. In the way it is written, it has come to light that all small companies that pump gas are fraudulent, that they are all trying to chisel and steal money from people. That is not so. The people who pump gas are honest and are trying to earn a living.

There might be a little variation but there is variation in all businesses and all industries. When we look at it, about 0.0002% of the gasoline bought by Canadians last year did not end up in their cars. That is two ten-thousandths of one per cent. Anybody who looks at that sees it as a small amount. It is not a large amount. I am not saying it is insignificant, but it is something that should be considered because two ten-thousandths of one per cent is not a huge amount, not when we see the variation in the price of gasoline. It swings up and down. In my community the other day it went from 96¢ to $1.08. Had they been measuring better, it would not have made a bit of difference.

When I look at what the Conservatives have talked about in the past, such as taking the GST off once it got over 85¢ and all kinds of neat things that sounded good but were not acted upon, this is a pittance. It is playing Canadians for fools. It makes people feel good when they read the title of the bill, but unfortunately, that is where it ends.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

Bloc

Raynald Blais Bloc Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like the member who just spoke to further explain his reservations and why it should not be the consumer who pays. We must find a way to improve the system. However, if improving the system means that we end up paying more at the pump, what is the point?

Has my colleague thought about all that? When we study this matter in committee, how should we go about it and what is his vision?

I would very much appreciate his comments because they will help us get ready to do excellent work in committee.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Anthony Rota Liberal Nipissing—Timiskaming, ON

Mr. Speaker, that is a very important question.

In terms of this bill, people believe that in the end, they are not going to be ripped off. The best thing to do is to ensure that a bill is put in place to make a real difference. That should not mean that people have to pay a little bit more and that, in the end, there is no difference.

This bill causes problems for the company or the individual selling the gas, but does nothing about the price of gas. That is the problem. In 2004, the Conservatives began talking about changes and capping the price of gas. They wanted to stop it from climbing. They wanted to make sure that the price would be the same in Toronto as in northern Ontario, the same in Vancouver as in northern British Columbia. They wanted a fair price for everyone. That is what we have to work on: something that looks at the price at the pump, whether it is in major urban centres or in rural areas.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, earlier a colleague from the Liberal Party spoke about the despair he felt around bills like this because the title proclaims fairness at the pump. This gives Canadians the impression that is what is actually going to happen. However, the government is only moving the ball a few inches down the field and a penny here or there might be saved after all the effort that we are putting behind this bill. The big question about the potential abuse by some companies in price fixing has been risen many times, but the rules do not allow government to come to the conclusion that is in front of all of us, that companies seem to elevate their prices at various times of the year and consumers get hit. It is not pennies; it can add up to many dollars every time consumers fill up their tanks. Across the country that could mean millions of dollars.

This was not addressed by the Conservative government in the last five years, nor was it addressed by the previous Liberal regime. Are the Liberals now saying they are willing to work with us to provide consumer protection, to change the fundamental rules so that Canadians can be protected from gouging at the pump?

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Anthony Rota Liberal Nipissing—Timiskaming, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is nice to hear that the hon. member is willing to work with us to make a difference because we have not seen that. I remember in 2004 that his leader actually knocked out the Liberals so that the NDP could possibly get a couple of seats and we lost a lot. It was really painful.

However, let us go to fairness at the pumps which is what the hon. member mentioned. It is about the title of the bill. It sounds as though there is actually something being done and it sounds like it is there. As I mentioned earlier, this is a repeat of Ontario under a Conservative government. The Conservatives create a crisis, rally the troops and when they realize that we are all rushing in one direction, what happens is the issue was not there at all. It was somewhere else. This is a diversion that the Conservatives are using to make themselves look good, but it is not solving the problem.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is my turn so speak to Bill C-14, An Act to amend the Electricity and Gas Inspection Act and the Weights and Measures Act.

Bill C-14 is not bad in itself because it is very important for pump measurements to be accurate. I have noted, though, the criticisms voiced by my colleagues. They said that consumers should not have to bear the cost of the new monitoring requirements under Bill C-14. We will have to be careful in committee to fully clarify this issue.

The Bloc Québécois is in favour of sending the bill to committee. However, the bill does nothing to address the real concern of people, which is that they pay too much for gasoline. Two things need to be done: we have to create an agency to monitor gasoline prices and to give the Competition Act more bite.

The Bloc Québécois has introduced some bills in this regard that I will discuss in a few moments. That is what we need to talk about. I hope the government is not going to pat itself on the back, claiming that it introduced a bill to regulate the fluctuations in the price of gasoline and it will ensure that people pay a fair price through tighter monitoring of the measurement devices at the pump. The accuracy of these measurements is a very interesting point.

We do not even know if consumers benefit or are penalized when pumps are not working quite right. I suppose that if people are tampering with the pumps, it is not to do consumers any favours. It remains to be seen, though, whether people have fiddled with the gauge showing the number of litres pumped. That is not the solution, and I will show why in the next few minutes.

Bill C-14 amends certain provisions of the Electricity and Gas Inspection Act and the Weights and Measures Act in order to better protect consumers against inaccurate gasoline pump measurements. That is basically what we are talking about. Many people are concerned about this. The bill covers other measurement devices as well and not just gasoline pumps.

The bill imposes penalties for contraventions to the laws in question, increases maximum fines for offences, and introduces a new fine for repeat offenders. It also introduced mandatory frequencies for measuring devices and proposes the appointment of non-government inspectors, to be trained and certified by Measurement Canada to conduct mandatory measuring device inspections.

The Bloc Québécois is in favour of Bill C-14 in principle and of sending it to committee.

However, Bill C-14 does not directly address the issue of collusion that has recently come to light in Quebec. Nor does it effectively prevent sudden increases in gas prices. I spoke about two objectives earlier: creating an agency to monitor gasoline prices and giving the Competition Act more teeth.

I want to talk about what happened in my own municipality. Many vehicles are stolen and many people are in possession of stolen vehicles in central Quebec. I do not want people to think that my region is particularly problematic, but in Victoriaville we also had the infamous gas price cartel. Luckily, the scheme was uncovered and people are being held accountable. I hope that if this happens elsewhere in Canada, we will be able to stop them.

However, under current legislation, criticism or complaints must be filed in order for the Competition Bureau to act. That is the difference. The Competition Bureau needs to have quasi-police authority to act when it feels the need and as soon as there are suspicions, not only when there is a complaint. I will come back to that.

We also believe that we still need to make an effort to efficiently respond to rising gas prices, and we can do so with our bill, Bill C-452, which the NDP member mentioned during questions and comments. That bill was introduced by my colleague from Shefford. The Competition Act does not allow the Competition Bureau to conduct inquiries on its own initiative. It must always wait for a private complaint before it can start an inquiry. We are also calling for a petroleum agency to closely monitor gasoline prices and to respond to any attempts at collusion or unjustified price hikes.

If the government had taken a serious approach to really helping consumers, it would have focused on those two points. Every time the price of gasoline rises suddenly, people begin to wonder about the oil industry, and rightfully so. These increases are unjustified, and consumers must not be the victims of dubious business practices on the part of oil companies. I repeat, the existing Competition Act has significant gaps. For instance, it does not allow the Competition Bureau to undertake a real investigation of an industrial sector. How can it gather information if it can neither force the disclosure of documents nor protect witnesses? This aspect must be corrected.

Bill C-452 introduced by the Bloc Québécois would toughen up the Competition Act to give the federal trade tribunal the right to initiate an investigation, rather than waiting for complaints or accusations, the right to protect witnesses and the right to conduct searches and seize documents. A petition to that effect has been circulating. It is a very popular petition, particularly in my region, understandably, since it was seriously affected by this cartel. To ensure that everyone clearly understands the importance of this issue, I would like to read the petition.

WHEREAS:

1. Individuals and companies pled guilty in the summer of 2008 to conspiring to fix the price of gasoline;

2. According to Le Soleil, retailers could be overcharging by more than $100 million a year;

3. The current Competition Act has significant gaps, preventing the Competition Bureau from conducting investigations until complaints are lodged.

THEREFORE, your petitioners call upon the House of Commons to pass Bill C-452, An Act to amend the Competition Act (inquiry into industry sector), authorizing the Commissioner of Competition to conduct an inquiry of her own accord into the fluctuating price of gasoline.

I can say that this petition is very popular. People are requesting it. They get it online and sign it. People want something to be done about what happened. The Competition Bureau did manage to take action in my region. It is so difficult to do anything about this that this was only the second time the Competition Bureau was able to take action in this type of incident. The first time was in Vancouver in 1995. The second time was in 2008 because there was a complaint. We should not have to wait for a complaint before something can be done. Nonetheless, it worked out and that is how it should be, with increased powers and investigations before things get to the complaint stage.

The Competition Bureau discovered a gasoline cartel in Quebec. By cartel we mean an agreement between companies not to compete with one another. It is a rather simple definition. I will read from a Competition Bureau document, a press release that was issued on June 12, 2008:

...the Competition Bureau became aware of allegations of price-fixing at gas stations in Victoriaville, Quebec. The evidence gathered during the Victoriaville investigation led to further probes in other local markets in Quebec, namely Thetford Mines, Sherbrooke and Magog.

In conducting its investigation, the Bureau uncovered evidence of agreements between competitors to fix the price at the pump at which gasoline was sold to consumers. The evidence indicated that participants in the targeted markets carried out the conspiracy mainly by phoning each other to agree on the price of gasoline and about the timing of price increases, contrary to section 45 of the Competition Act.

A number of investigative tools were used, including wiretaps, searches and the Competition Bureau’s Immunity Program.

Some could dispute my argument since I was saying earlier that the Competition Bureau did not have enough room to manoeuvre. Some might say there was collusion, and that a cartel formed in Victoriaville, Thetford Mines, Sherbrooke, and Magog and perhaps elsewhere, but there have been no reports of this in other places.

The competition bureau was able to take action. Lawsuits were filed and some people have already pleaded guilty. So, it works. However, as I keep saying, it took a complaint. At one point, a gasoline retailer from the Victoriaville area received threats, seemingly from other retailers, because he did not want to go along with their scheme. He would keep his prices a little lower than those of the others for a while. His company supported him for a while. However, he eventually found himself all alone and he decided to expose this situation. If I am not mistaken, he talked to a local weekly newspaper. He expressed his frustration to a journalist regarding these events, the threats he had received and the fact that, as a merchant, he wanted to continue to be able to compete with the others.

That is what is wrong with the petroleum industry. If someone wants to buy a pair of shoes, he can go to two or three different stores. Chances are the price of a pair of shoes of the same brand and colour will not be the same everywhere. There may be a $5 or $10 difference. The person may even find a pair on sale, at 50% off the regular price if he is lucky. However, when it comes to gasoline, even if we look everywhere, we will rarely find much variation in prices. In the case that took place in my community, the competition bureau showed that retailers would phone each other and set prices. So, obviously, prices were the same everywhere.

That individual decided that enough was enough, and he spoke out about it. It is only when the competition bureau saw what was going on that it could take action. It reasoned that since a complaint had been filed, it could take action. Otherwise, it could not have done anything. That is why the procedure at the competition bureau must change.

As I said, a number of charges were laid. In Victoriaville, 11 companies were involved in the scheme. In Thetford Mines there were 6. In Sherbrooke there were 20, and in Magog there were 5.

As I mentioned earlier, several companies in Victoriaville, Thetford Mines and Sherbrooke pleaded guilty. The fines are rather stiff, that is $179,000 in one case, $1,850,000 for an oil company, and $600,000 and $90,000 respectively for two other companies. That is more than a slap on the wrist. The $1,850,000 fine was imposed on an oil company, not on a retailer. There is no doubt that these penalties will have a sobering effect.

Obviously, I travel a lot, like all of my colleagues here. We all travel within our ridings. When we are responsible for files, we deal with them away from here, which allows us to compare gas prices. It is interesting to note that at one time in Victoriaville, gas was always slightly more expensive than in Trois-Rivières or Drummondville. Sometimes it was less expensive than in Quebec City, but it was not the cheapest in the province, far from it. Since the Competition Bureau started its inquiry and the results came out, it is funny, but the prices are often lower. People had to be caught red-handed for others to be far more careful in terms of fixing prices. We are still the ones who are benefiting today. Luckily, the Competition Bureau's inquiry allowed us to find out what was going on.

As for the individuals linked to this collusion, this cartel, there were fines of $50,000, $10,000 and $5,000. For once, we caught the people and were able to make them pay. I have here a series of fines for $10,000, $20,000 and $25,000, depending on the person's involvement in the scheme.

As for how this all played out, an article in La Tribune says that the gas cartel may have cost each car owner up to $180. This whole story came to light in 2008, but prices were fixed between 2002 and 2006. The newspaper article says:

A very rough estimate [because it is difficult to know how much gas each person bought over the years] is that each year a car owner in Sherbrooke, Magog, Thetford Mines and Victoriaville paid an extra $20 to $40 to fill up their vehicle because of the cartel, which distorted gas prices for approximately four and a half years.

It is interesting to note that a class action lawsuit against the gas cartel is now before the civil division of the Quebec Superior Court, which will attempt to determine how much money should be given back to people who were swindled for four and a half years.

To date, over 12,000 people—and that number is a few months old—have signed on to the class action lawsuit authorized by Quebec Superior Court Justice Dominique Bélanger on November 30, 2010, concerning gas price fixing between January 1, 2002, and June 30, 2006, in the aforementioned cities.

According to another interesting article, this time in Le Soleil:

Plaintiffs are seeking $7.5 million plus interest as of January 1, 2002. In addition, they are seeking $500 for trouble and inconvenience for each participant in the lawsuit, as well as $1,000 in punitive damages. The Automobile Protection Association is also seeking $250,000.

That should give a sense of the amounts of money sought by this class action. It is important to note that Bill C-14 does not address these concerns at all. Conservative members should not be saying that this bill will solve all gas price fixing problems. The bill might make retailers more accountable by imposing regular mandatory inspections of measuring devices, such as gas pumps, but it will not prevent the price of gas from going up right before a long weekend for who knows what reason.

I have said this a number of times in the House and I will say it again: every time I see gas prices jump and watch television reports about it, I am always curious about what could possibly have caused gas prices to jump by 5¢, 10¢ or 12¢ per litre.

When a representative of the association of oil companies explains on television that there is a problem in Iraq or an oil rig leak, it is always rather difficult to believe him. In many cases, the facts show that the price of a barrel of oil, given that we have reserves, was a certain amount when the problem occurred. As this amount has still not gone up, the price hike should come later, but that is not what happens. As soon as a problem is announced—and we never know if it is real—the price at the pump goes up right away and never goes down as quickly as it should. Thus, we have reason to wonder.

Getting back to Bill C-14, the fines that the courts could impose pursuant to the Weights and Measures Act would increase from $1,000 to $10,000 for minor offences, and from $5,000 to $25,000 for major offences. In the case of subsequent offences, a new maximum fine of $50,000 and/or imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years could be imposed. I would be surprised to see that happen.

There are some measures like this in Bill C-14 but, I repeat, that is not what consumers asked for initially.

The member for Westmount—Ville-Marie even said that the Liberal Party, in 2005, had introduced Bill C-19. There again, the recommendations of the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology, which called for the creation of a gasoline price monitoring agency and more teeth for the Competition Act, were ignored. These two objectives were not achieved by the previous Liberal government, nor by the Conservative government. It is our responsibility to tackle this issue immediately.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Jean-Claude D'Amours Liberal Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, I remember that in my region in northern New Brunswick, as in many other rural and urban areas in the country, the price of gasoline in 2004 and 2005 was over $1.40 a litre. It almost reached $1.50. The people in my riding could hardly get over it because for them, cars are an absolute necessity. There is no public transit in rural areas. People need a car to get to work. Workers in my riding, and in many others across the country, could not afford it. They saw the price of gasoline constantly rising. It levelled off for a little while, but then it started rising again.

So far as I can see, the bill now before the House does nothing to limit such drastic and illogical increases. I would like my colleague in the Bloc Québécois to state clearly whether this bill will solve once and for all the problem of drastic increases in the price of gasoline, like those we saw in 2004 and 2005.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for his question.

I see the same thing in my region, which is also rural. There is some public transit, especially in the largest city, Victoriaville. It is a very good system of public transit, but as soon as people leave Victoriaville, they have to take their cars. All the other municipalities in my riding are rural communities, and like my colleague who just asked me this question, we have to face that reality. People need their cars. It is all very well to talk about car pooling and other efforts to reduce gasoline consumption, the reality is that people often need cars to get to work. In fact, rural people often even need somewhat larger vehicles. They need a vehicle not only to get around, but also to move their farm machinery around. It is very expensive.

I agree entirely with my colleague. The bill does nothing to deal with this reality. It does nothing to prevent fluctuations. As I and other have said in the House many times, we should pass the Bloc Québécois bill that creates an agency to monitor gas prices. Then the oil companies would be forced to explain exactly why there are fluctuations in the price. They could not do whatever they like. That is what needs changing.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to the example that the hon. colleague across the floor gave in terms of how the Competition Bureau actually worked. It really created a solution to what was a big issue in Quebec.

We do have a Competition Bureau. So I would ask the member this. Is it also not very important for his constituents to be comfortable and confident when they fill up at the pumps that they are actually getting what they pay for? This is, of course, what the bill is intended to do.

The Competition Bureau did an excellent job in terms of the member's issue, and now there will be an added comfort in terms of the accuracy at the pump.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I had expected that kind of reaction after giving the example of what happened in my riding. I said that the Competition Bureau had succeeded in doing a good job. I never question that fact. The problem is that complaints have to come in first, either from the public or from someone who has witnessed an incident of fraud in the form of gas price fixing. What we want to see happen—and something needs to change for this to happen—is for the Competition Bureau to be able to act much more independently. It should not have to wait to receive a complaint, in the same way that the police do not have to. When the police suspect something, they can set up a wiretap, for example, with a judge’s permission, obviously. We are not talking about allowing just any old thing. The Competition Bureau could develop procedures in order to determine whether fraudulent acts are being committed, for example. That is part of my answer for the hon. member.

People in my riding are obviously particularly attuned to this because they have been defrauded. Everyone is very glad to be able to go and fill up at a pump with an accurate meter. That is why we are ready to see this bill go to committee, but it will not fix everything. Folks will still be watching the prices go up across the board for no particular reason, despite accurate gauges on the gas pumps. One can hope that the measurement is accurate, but that will not solve the whole problem.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by congratulating my colleague, the member for Richmond—Arthabaska, on the clarity of his remarks regarding the impact of a lack of oversight on consumers. The Competition Office should regulate these matters.

I would like the member to elaborate on the price monitoring agency proposed by the Bloc Québécois. Would it not be possible to transfer the responsibilities to be vested in the monitoring agency to the Competition Bureau so that we can better understand why such an agency is necessary and also attempt to define its role?

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Chambly—Borduas.

I would be happy to elaborate. If we go back a few years and if I am not mistaken, our former colleague Paul Crête was the first one to champion this issue in the House. He proposed the creation of a petroleum industry monitoring agency, because there was a desperate need for such an agency. People were at the mercy of the oil companies and their excuses. I gave a few examples earlier. The oil companies would give excuses about what was going on in the world: a pipeline in Afghanistan or Azerbaijan caused problems, an oil rig was hit by a hurricane off the coast of the United States, and so on. Any excuse might explain a price increase.

A petroleum monitoring agency would enable us to see the real reasons, such as the cost price and the profit margin at the refining stage. We cannot always get these explanations and understand them. They must be put together and verified by independent people who can advise consumers on what a fair price would be. If the fair price is $1.05 a litre, even if that seems expensive, consumers will understand the reasons behind that price and will accept it. It is also possible that a litre could cost 90¢ at certain times of the year. Consumers want to be certain that they are paying a fair price for their gas.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

Jean-Claude D'Amours Liberal Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, thank you for giving me a few moments to ask a question. At one time, oil companies were each a single entity. They either made a profit or ran a deficit at the end of the year. Now each oil company has split itself into several companies, which allows them to make a profit or run a deficit—and we know they always make a profit—in various entities and increase their global profits, something that used to be impossible to do.

Does the government's bill address this confirmation, this assurance? We must have some control over the companies' ability to split up into several smaller companies and thus bring in larger profits than in the past.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his second question. I did not see that in Bill C-14, but I think he makes an excellent, very relevant suggestion. This should be discussed in committee, if the bill makes it that far, which is quite possible. That would be one of the questions to consider. I am not certain that studying Bill C-14, which has to do with the accuracy of measuring gas at the pump, will be the best forum for discussing the oil companies' practice of splitting into smaller companies to spread out their profits. It would be very interesting to confirm that. The government would have to do some very precise calculations of oil companies' profits. Everyone knows they are making billions of dollars in profits.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-14 today.

I wanted to start out by making some comments about the Bloc's initiative in Bill C-452, because I really feel that that is a game-changer. That is an actual solid response to a long-term problem.

The bill is a very short bill, but it basically amends the Competition Act to authorize the commissioner to inquire into an entire industry sector. As the previous Bloc speaker has pointed out, in order to launch an investigation under the Competition Act, a complaint has to be made, and that is essentially the problem that has occurred over the years. We really need the Competition Bureau to be able to act very independently and be very proactive when it sees price-fixing going on in the gas industry.

I have been dealing with this issue now since probably 1988, when we went from government to opposition in Manitoba, and my job was to ask a lot of questions every day about gas prices. We looked at a whole range of ways to deal with the issue. As a matter of fact, the Conservative minister in Manitoba at the time, Jim Ernst, who was very frustrated too, I might say, was determined to follow this issue through as far as he could. He was aware that there were already 125 studies on this very topic sitting on the shelves gathering dust. Nevertheless he went and commissioned another one, so we are up to 126 now probably, and at the end of the day that study came up with the same conclusions that all the others did, that yes, in fact there was price-fixing going on but the Competition Act would have to be changed in order to get a conviction. So we found that that was not going to be the route to go.

Once again, he was the minister and I was the opposition critic, so we were not exactly working together on the subject because I was asking him questions every day as to what he was doing about the matter.

That was the issue of the study. Then we looked at the regulatory options, and we were aware that in the Maritimes there were regulatory boards available, regulating gas prices, but we watched them closely over the years and found out that they were not the answer either, because in fact they tended to regulate simply to the highest price.

I think the public would be very supportive of a monitoring agency or a regulatory agency if in fact they were going to see a regulatory agency with teeth, one that was going to be able to reduce the prices and not just approve the increases. What we will find, if we look at the Maritime regulatory boards, is that they regulate up to the higher price, and that has always been my objection to that approach.

At the end of the day of course, the gasoline prices are pretty much dependent upon world pricing, world events and availability of supplies. When there are examples of refineries impacted by severe storms and hurricanes in the southern United States, such as Louisiana, when refineries are shut down because of weather, storms, explosions or work stoppages, there comes a shortage of product and that creates problems.

We have seen a huge reduction in the number of refineries over the years. In Manitoba, as recently as 20 years ago, I believe we had 2 refineries in the province, and today we have none.

So during this period of the early 1990s, when we were looking at the whole area of studying the issue and changes to the Competition Act and we were looking at regulating gas prices, we were also observing some other developments that were happening within the market. One was to look at possibly bringing gasoline through the port of Churchill because, as members know, we have a port in Manitoba that is very underutilized. However, we have some tanker farms up there where there are a number of tanks, which hold gasoline products that are actually shipped further north. And so, we were looking into the possibility of actually shipping them down to the south by rail.

We also had a number of independent operators who were taking advantage of a very low American price at the time. There was at least one in particular, but I think there were two or three. What this operator would do was drive down to Fargo or Grand Forks, North Dakota, load up from the pipeline there, truck the gasoline up into Winnipeg and sell it at perhaps 10¢ or 20¢ less per litre. It was a substantial amount. The point was that when we turned on the evening television news on a day-by-day basis, we would see cars lined up for blocks to buy gasoline from this gas station, which was being supplied by tankers that were bringing the gas up from the States. But of course this fellow could only operate to the extent of his ability to fill up his tanker truck and bring it back up. He could not get beyond supplying the gasoline for one or two gas stations.

We did look at perhaps expanding on that a bit and trying bring in more tankers of gasoline into some other stations, and we did encounter a lot of different problems in that the transfer of gasoline is certainly not done the way it used to be done years ago. Some of the members opposite who were on farms in the 1950s would know that gasoline was transferred from a little truck that drove to the farm. It would be transferred by a hose into a big tank and then transferred from there into the farm equipment, the tractors and so on. However, things have changed and we cannot drive into town or into a big city anymore with a big tanker truck and start selling gasoline out of the tanker. We did discover that was a fact.

So, we did look at all sorts of areas to try to act on behalf of consumers at that time, and it is easy to do when the prices skyrocket very quickly.

I want to take a minute to talk about the member for Pickering—Scarborough East because he is a long-time Liberal member in this House. We have had Liberal members today talk about this issue as if it were something that they had newly discovered and other members who think it is a big Conservative problem, that this problem only surfaced since the current Prime Minister and the current Conservative government came to office and now this is all their problem.

The fact of the matter is that all through those periods of time that I spoke about earlier, the Liberals were in power, from 1993 on, and every attempt that was made to do something about high gasoline prices was thwarted. As a matter of fact, with regard to the member for Pickering—Scarborough East, his own Liberal caucus thwarted his efforts on many occasions, I believe. I used to hear him many times over the years, on the radio, being a champion of the consumer and trying to do things with regard to the Competition Bureau and trying to deal with competition and the price-fixing issues in this country, and he was getting nowhere with his own caucus, with his own government and with his own prime minister.

This has been a longstanding problem. Price-fixing is not something that is just peculiar to the gasoline industry. Since the mid-1980s to the present, we have seen at least two major initiatives on the part of the federal government against price-fixing in the real estate industry. The latest one is being resolved as we speak. Within a number of weeks, the real estate boards across Canada will be getting together to ratify a deal that was made to prevent price-fixing. If that deal is not ratified then, of course, they will proceed through court action.

There are anti-competitive activities that have been around in our society for many years and they have been allowed to foster over the years. It takes strong initiatives on the part of government and law enforcement to attack this and try to break it up, so that the public is better served by true competition.

It is not only real estate agents that have been dealt with over the years but the travel agency business and the property and casualty insurance business. I believe the Toyota Motor Corporation was challenged when it tried to set a fixed price. I am sure members will recall five or six years ago when Toyota tried to dictate to its dealers that in fact there was a fixed price, there was a no-haggle pricing and they could not cut the price. That was dealt with by the government in a positive way.

This is not exciting stuff for the average member of the public, but it is very crucial to a proper competitive environment in which business has to compete. A series of monopolies governing the country is not the way our system is supposed to be operating. We try a lot of things, like monitoring. People think it is a good idea, but we have proven it does not work. However, there are a lot of other things we could look at here.

I want to talk about some of the elements of this bill that people on our side of the House have found objectionable. I do not think we would have a problem if, in fact, these gas pumps across the country were being inspected by government inspectors.

I mentioned earlier that for many years in the province of Manitoba, and maybe some other provinces too, we had a system of random inspections of cars. If a car was bought today, owned for 10 years, it would probably be called in once or twice for an inspection and repairs would have to be made to keep the car in good shape to keep it on the road. People trusted that system because they knew it was government inspectors who were doing the inspecting.

Around 1995, the Conservative government of the day decided to turn the whole inspection system over to private garages. The economy was probably tight, they were not making enough money and this was a way to give them a bit of a cash cow. When cars needed inspecting, they would have to go to a local garage and it was up to the garage to tell the owners what was wrong with their cars. We have seen many terrible examples of gouging, where people have bought a car, taken it to a garage, and found out they have to spend hundreds if not thousands of dollars for repairs before they could put that car on the road. We have seen totally different examples of people who have taken cars in and have found out later from a friend in the business that in fact cars that are really not safe at all are being approved, are being certified as safe and being allowed to be driven on the road, because someone has an in with somebody or has a relative in the garage or dealership.

This system was brought in as a sop to the car industry, and overnight the price of used cars went up. We used to see $50 cars, $100 cars, back in the early 1990s. Then, overnight, because of the safety inspection system, the worst-looking car on the road was a $1,000 vehicle.

After a couple of years, the CBC and other news outlets, based on complaints, started to do investigations of what was happening. They found all sorts of examples of gouging in Manitoba, where people were being taken advantage of. The CBC would take in cars that they had previously had inspected; they knew what was wrong with them. I will not mention the garages, but some of them hon. members would know, because they are nationally known chains. The cars would be taken to five or six different garages, and most of the garages, if not all of them, would find huge problems with the cars, when there was nothing wrong with them. That was a blatant example of gouging. Some of the garages lost their licences because of this. Then, a year or two later, a follow-up was done. They found still more cases of gouging. In fact, the second time around, some of the same garages that were caught the first time were cited once again.

Hon. members should know that we cannot get rid of the system once it is in place. The NDP, under Gary Doer, became the government in 1999. It did not get rid of this system and go back to a centralized government inspection system. In fact, it changed the safety inspection period, from two years to one.

As for keeping cars safe on the road, safety inspections are required only when we sell our car. If we have a car and it is sold three or four times in the first two or three years, it will have safety inspections over and over again. However, if we buy the car and drive it ourselves and keep it, we could drive the car forever and it will never be called in for a safety inspection. Potentially, we may have many unsafe cars on our roads. This is a result of turning a perfectly functioning system over to the private sector.

Let us take a look at what could happen and probably will. Members have already said that, if we are dealing with rural areas, northern areas, then we are talking about the private sector. Who will be doing the inspections of the pumps in Yukon? Who will be doing them in the Northwestern Territories, northern B.C., in rural areas? It is a licence to print money. It is a recipe for abuse to have a system like this.

I also want to deal with some aspects of the weights and measures issue. But this is not the way to go. The public and the retailers would accept it if the government were to do the inspections. The inspections should be done over a period of time, but the government should do them. We should not allow the private sector to do these inspections.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, this bill has come before us because over two years ago an investigation by The Ottawa Citizen revealed that, between 1999 and 2007, government inspections of over 200,000 fuel pumps found that about 5% of pumps delivered less fuel than reported on the pump display.

The government inspection data showed that about one-third of Canada's gas stations, or about 14,000 of them, had at least one faulty pump. Therefore, a motorist who fills up at various stations and pumps is likely being short-changed about twice a year.

The gas pump problems were exposed more than two years ago by a media investigation, and the government waited far too long to respond. Now the government is allowing thieves to keep what they stole over the past few years.

What is outrageous is that government potentially collected taxes from consumers who were paying for phantom gasoline. Talk about adding insult to injury. Talk about hot air.

Questions must be asked, but I have not heard any of them answered by the Conservative members in the House. Let me give a couple of examples.

Questions must be asked about whether the government earned tax revenues from the short-changing of Canadian motorists. If so, how much? Will this law-and-order government charge the criminals who stole Canadians' money?

I know that the member for Elmwood—Transcona has been here throughout the debate, and I wonder whether he even once heard the Conservatives acknowledge that they benefited from those tax revenues, and whether they have given any indication that they would be amenable to repaying Canadian customers who have been gouged by these faulty pumps.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member is 100% correct.

I have been waiting to hear from one of the government members for some time, so that I could ask him questions. For example, I know the penalties are being increased under the Weights and Measures Act.

Under weights and measures legislation, we have the whole issue of odometer rollbacks. This is important. Everyone here understands what happens when unscrupulous people roll back odometers or replace odometers and sell cars that have 300,000 kilometres on them as 80,000-kilometre cars.

It is big-time theft. Yet, this is something that would be covered under the increased weights and measures penalties.

I would think it would be a good news story. I would think the government should be issuing a press release confirming that it is moving against people rolling back odometers. However, I cannot find anyone in the government to ask, because there are no speakers who want to get up and talk about this issue.

If anyone is listening over there, I would ask him or her to get back to me and let me know about this. Under this bill, are we taking tough action against odometer rollbacks that occur every day right across the country? The Weights and Measures Act is increasing the penalties by quite a substantial amount.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, the bill proposes a system under which all the inspections of these pumps would be done by the private sector.

The government is contending that the inspections will go up from about 8,000 inspections to approximately 65,000. But the reality is that the government itself will not be enforcing standards. It is going to privatize the enforcement.

I wonder whether the member has had assurances from the government that we will not end up with the oil industry policing itself. It seems to me that as soon as we privatize those services there would be nothing to stop the oil industry from setting up a full inspection system and looking after its own.

Could the member comment on that?

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, that is absolutely correct. Actually, it is worse than that: not only would it be privatizing the inspector services for gas pumps; it would also be dealing with wholesale petroleum, dairy, retail food, fishing, logging, grain and field crops, and mining. So the government has gone the whole hog. It did not stop with the inspection of gasoline pumps; it is trying to privatize inspection services in a whole host of other parts of the economy.

I have already stated the abuses that occurred when Manitoba privatized its car inspection system. Under the proposed system, this would be even worse. We are going to see the Manitoba abuses multiplied by all the other eight different areas in which the government is planning to privatize inspection services.

No one yet has been able to tell me how someone in a remote area will be able to afford to bring in a private sector inspector who can charge what the market will bear. We are not going to have much competition in many rural and northern areas. That is just not going to happen. We have seen that in other areas as well. Maybe the system would work reasonably well in a huge metropolitan area like Toronto, but it is not going to work in rural and northern areas.

Not only that, it is going to be a severe detriment to independence. This is all in favour of the big multinationals, the big chains. But the little mom and pop stores, of which there are fewer every year, are going to be hard pressed to come up with $2,000 for inspection bills, which they will have to pay on a regular basis. Never mind that we have problems with ambient temperature and are not sure whether a lot of this calibration equipment is actually accurate.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, the government has framed this debate in the naming of the bill so as to give Canadians the impression that, once this becomes law, they will get a better deal at the gas pump and will not get ripped off anymore. Actually, this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to consumer protection, particularly with respect to the oil and gas industry.

All along the way, we see the present government and the previous Liberal one offer subsidies to the oil and gas firms, regardless of the price of oil or extraction. Then, when the product moves all the way down the chain, the subsidies come along and the profits leave the country. Canadians become concerned when they see prices in their local gas stations all elevate magically together, while the price of a barrel of oil on the stock exchange has not moved at all. Yet the gas companies are asking us to believe that there is no conversation going on when the prices all of a sudden move in coordination in one town, but not in another town 50 kilometres down the road. This is our experience in northwest of B.C. We see this time and time again. I drive the highway quite a bit, because that is our job as members of Parliament, and the price will move 5¢, 10¢, or 12¢ in communities that are 20 minutes apart. Yet apparently there is no collusion.

Is that not what we should be getting at in legislation, rather than this window dressing that the government has offered?

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, we have uncovered instances in the past where people who have worked in the gas stations have come forward and said that they had been ordered to change the prices. So this is well documented. They cannot hide this forever. There are gas station employees whose job it is to climb up and change the prices. They do this based on a phone call that comes from their management.

This is a well-organized effort. Somebody has to go out and document it and start taking the initiative. The Bloc's bill was a good start. I hope that somehow in this minority Parliament we can get this bill passed and start to see some more initiatives that would help to stop the collusion in the retail gas business.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

5:55 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Bloc Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-14, which deals with an amendment to the Electricity and Gas Inspection Act and the Weights and Measures Act.

As my colleague before me, the member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord and Bloc Québécois industry critic, said, the Bloc Québécois will support this bill in principle. However, I would like to say that this has been a lot of work for not much result. I will explain why. If the government thinks that with this bill it has done a bold stroke of business, to bring the oil companies into line, that it has come up with the most important thing since sliced bread, it is sadly mistaken. That is why we will agree that it should be considered in committee, subject to our later position over the stages to come.

I listened with interest to the discussions—if I may put it that way, the puck passing—among the NDP members in their speeches and questions and comments. Those discussions were very appropriate, very much on point, and very much in tune. My NDP colleagues have also recognized the private member’s bill introduced by my colleague in the Bloc Québécois. However, everyone will acknowledge that Bill C-14 does not allow for a direct response to the problems of collusion such as have recently been brought to light in Quebec, or for effective prevention of sudden gas price increases. The government thinks the solution is inspections of the pumps and penalties imposed by the courts, ranging from $1,000 to $10,000 for minor offences and from $5,000 to $25,000 for major offences. We should not be fooled. Those fines are peanuts for oil companies raking in billions of dollars in profits. I certainly do not think the oil companies deliberately alter the way the pumps work, to steal a half-cent more per litre sold from us. I certainly do not think that is done. But we do agree that there should be more in-depth inspections. We are not against motherhood, any more than we are against apple pie. With fall upon us, we all agree that apple pie is a good thing. During apple season, I have the apple growers on Île d'Orléans and Isle-aux-Coudres in my riding, and they are very skilled and efficient.

All kidding aside, this is not the discovery of the century. The Bloc Québécois would have expected the government to take responsibility, pull up its socks and address the root of the problem in the oil industry, namely collusion between companies. We did not expect to be told that the Competition Bureau looked into the situation and it cannot conduct an investigation itself because that requires accusations and well-documented cases. As far as the case brought to light in Lotbinière, Arthabaska and the Eastern Townships is concerned, fortunately someone from the oil sector blew the whistle. That is how we came to find out about this. However, it is just the tip of the iceberg.

The problem is much more serious. I hope no one will be surprised to learn that the Conservatives are doing nothing to rein in the oil companies and to discipline them. Just look at who is financing the Conservative Party. It is mostly the oil companies. Who needs tax benefits to explore and exploit the oil sands in Alberta? The Conservatives need the oil companies to finance them in the next election campaign as they needed them in previous elections.

Increasing the retailers' responsibility by imposing mandatory periodic inspections of the measuring devices is truly very important, without a doubt, but it is also highly ineffective. We were hoping and we continue to hope that the competition commissioner would be given more powers. The Bloc Québécois has introduced Bill C-452 as a clear response to gasoline price increases.

Mr. Speaker, I hope you understand. I know that your role as Speaker requires you to be completely neutral. You are listening to what I say. You can do two things at once: speak to your colleague on the left and listen to me. You are clearly talented. I will continue to address you, but I will also address the people watching us at home. Do they realize that in Quebec, increases in the price of gas generally happen on Thursdays, when people get paid? Increases can be seen before a long weekend, when there is a statutory holiday. Before Thanksgiving, prices in Montreal jumped by 10¢ or 12¢ just like that. Nothing happened, and the price per barrel around the world is decreasing. Why did the price in Montreal jump by 10¢, 12¢ and even 15¢?

In the past, the oil companies would tell us that the prices were based on what was going on around the world, on the rising price of a barrel of oil, on the wars in Iraq and the invasion of Kuwait. Any excuse would do. We could understand it if there were instability in the countries that produce oil, or if something specific happened. But in this case, nothing happened. On the contrary, the price per barrel is decreasing, but the price at the pump is going up. That is what makes us say that the oil companies are gouging us.

I will give some more examples for the people at home and for my colleagues in the House who are listening. I do not think there is an equivalent in the other provinces, but in Quebec, the last two weeks of July—sometimes up to the beginning of August—are usually what we call the construction holidays. Hundreds of thousands of construction workers are on vacation at the same time. Generally, construction workers are people who work hard. They get up early, and they are at the mercy of the elements and the weather. They are subject to stress on the construction site, and must meet the deadlines on these construction sites, whether they are residential, commercial or industrial. They must complete the buildings and finish their work on time. In Quebec, construction workers take the last two weeks of July to unwind, and many take that opportunity to travel throughout Quebec.

In Quebec, we are naturally attracted to New England, the coast of Maine and the beaches. Some construction workers take long distance or interprovincial buses, some take the train or plane, but the vast majority generally travel by car. If my colleagues would like proof, they need only travel on Quebec roads during the construction holidays.

It is funny that a few days before July 15, 16 or 17, poof, prices suddenly go up. How can that be? What happens?

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

6:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

6:05 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Bloc Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Some NDP members did not like my “poof”. I do not know what else I could have said. Whether by magic or miracle, there is a major hike in gas prices on the eve of the construction holidays. Why?

Here is further proof of collusion. In a number of medium-sized or large cities, it is commonplace to have gas stations on each corner of a traffic circle or other intersection. I see my colleague from Trois-Rivières behind me. I regularly pass through Trois-Rivières as I travel from my riding, on the Beaupré coast, to Ottawa by car. I often stop to fill up in Trois-Rivières, a magnificent city with very welcoming people. There are often gas stations on every corner of an intersection.

She and I could go there together, stopwatches in hand. When one station increases its price by 3¢, 5¢, 10¢, 12¢ or 15¢ per litre, we could count the number of seconds that elapse before the other three increase their prices. Is that open competition? Why does Shell feel the need to increase its price at the same time as Esso? Why increase the price at the same time as Petro-Canada? Why do the increases happen almost simultaneously within a span of seconds? If we had real competition, one service station would charge $1.038 per litre, another would charge $1.019 per litre, and yet another would have a different price. Then we would have real competition.

Let us take a look at food and clothing. Food is a good example of a sector where we can compare the price of identical products. We will not look at products such as beer or milk, as their prices are regulated. I believe that they do not have the right to sell milk for a very low price. Milk is a bad example. Take, for instance, Oasis orange juice. If we checked with the four largest food chains, it is very likely that the prices would be different. That is true competition because there is not necessarily collusion among the four major grocers in Quebec.

And that is what we are seeing with gas prices, which is why I began my speech by saying that there has been a lot of work for not much of a result. Bill C-14 is better than nothing, but the government is not addressing the root of the issue. For one, we hoped that the government would use this bill to propose that the Competition Act allow the Competition Bureau to conduct inquiries on its own initiative, as I mentioned earlier, instead of always having to wait for a private complaint before beginning an inquiry.

In addition, the Bloc Québécois has proposed that a petroleum agency be created to monitor gasoline prices and respond to any attempt at collusion or unjustified price hikes. I gave our reasoning earlier. With this type of agency, we could act as soon as prices increase. Instead, the Conservative government keeps telling us—and it was no different under the Liberals—that there is nothing that can be done because the Competition Bureau found that there was no agreement among oil companies to fix prices; therefore, there is no problem. The Bloc Québécois was hoping that the bill would address the real issue.

On May 5, 2003, Konrad von Finckenstein, then the Commissioner of Competition, now chairman of the CRTC, told the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology that even though there were problems with the law, as Commissioner of Competition, he had no choice but to enforce it. Like us, he recognized that the law had loopholes. What we need is a government with the political will to take action and stop oil companies from doing this.

Mr. von Finckenstein said:

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

That is basically the point I wanted to make. Once again, I would like to congratulate my colleague from Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, the Bloc Québécois industry critic, for his work on this file and for keeping the people of Quebec and Canada informed about loopholes with respect to the price of gas, loopholes that Bill C-14 does nothing to close, unfortunately.

The Bloc Québécois supports the bill in principle and will send it to committee. We will see what happens after that. We should not just be talking about the system of measures at the pump and silly fine increases. Oil companies make multi-billion-dollar profits. This bill would fine them $25,000 instead of $10,000, yet they will have made millions using these tactics. We do not think that this bill goes far enough.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

6:15 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I really enjoyed the speech of the hon. member for Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord. He said the government refuses to do what is necessary to prevent large oil companies from increasing gas prices without valid reasons. Every spring and every fall, around the holiday season, prices go up worldwide, even though we are talking about oil that is already in stock. A few weeks later, it is still oil that was bought at a lower cost, but the price still does not go down for several weeks, or even months.

If we look at various studies, we see that consumers are treated badly. Yet, there is nothing in this government bill to put an end to these practices.

Why does the hon. member believe that the Conservatives refuse to protect the middle class and consumers, who constantly see their money disappear, because oil companies are abusing them?