Mr. Speaker, I cannot really say that I am pleased to be debating Bill C-14 because, in actual fact, the bill has very little substance.
Let us be frank: as it currently stands the bill is not very credible because it is a bare bones proposal in response to something the Prime Minister himself observed during the 2008 election campaign. If he believes that consumers are being totally ripped off at the pump, why wait two years? The fact is that the government is acting grudgingly, and so the bill, as it currently stands, is mere window dressing and will simply shift the financial burden of the rising cost of gas onto retailers.
The Conservatives are on a witch hunt and are cracking down on independent retailers who, in their eyes, are alleged fraudsters. It is nothing but smoke and mirrors. Why does the bill not contain measures to support healthy competition rather than volume-based measures that would be extremely expensive for consumers?
The bill does not appear to deal with the real problem. There are few documented cases of retailers tampering with gas pumps, and they have no incentive to do so.
Let me share a few telling facts with you. The oil sector is ranked second when it comes to playing by the rules. So why would these kinds of measures apply only to this sector and not others? Are my colleagues aware that losses due to meter issues are in the order of $8 million, not $20 million as the government asserts? Currently, Measurement Canada inspects 34,000 gas pumps nationwide every two years, which accounts for a quarter of the 130,000 pumps across Canada. Enforcing this bill would mean hiring some 300 additional inspectors under contract to retailers. This would cost independent retailers between $50 and $200 per pump. Who will the bill be passed on to?
Most gasoline retailers are small, independent businesses, which in fact operate on very small margins, as we know. The additional cost of these inspections would certainly hurt their bottom line. In switching the onus of inspection to the retailer, the demand for private inspectors would increase drastically. I and many of my Liberal colleagues are concerned that retailers in northern and rural communities may not have access to the private inspectors required to ensure that they can stay within the letter and the spirit of the law.
If the government wants to keep going in this direction, would it not be better to review the way in which the law is enforced in order to ensure that the cost is not simply passed along to consumers? The ideal would probably be to increase the resources at Measurement Canada’s disposal. We need to face facts. Does the government have the resources or the money necessary to implement a measure like this? Independent retailers and consumers should not have to pay for this bill.
We will also have to ensure that it is uniformly enforced. My fear is that the penalties could be arbitrary, and that is why the inspectors should be trained according to very specific guidelines. The inspectors should definitely be under a very clear code of practice.
There is another point. In order to reduce certain difficulties for retailers, why not provide a 30-day grace period, as suggested by my colleague from Pickering—Scarborough East? The equipment these retailers use is not infallible, and sometimes they may not know that the readings are faulty. They should not be considered automatically guilty.
If the government were truly concerned with helping Canadians at the pumps, it could turn its attention to any number of issues, such as refinery closures and the anemic state of competition at the refinery level. In fact, when it comes to higher gasoline prices, the Prime Minister himself has said that there is nothing the government can do to help Canadians.
In the three elections since the Prime Minister has been leader of the Conservative Party, he has made no less than three specific commitments to help Canadians with ever-increasing fuel prices. Members will remember that in 2004, lest we forget, the Conservatives promised to eliminate the GST on gasoline prices above 85¢ a litre when they came to power. I do not think that happened. In 2008, they promised to lower the diesel excise tax. I do not believe that happened either.
I think the real reason behind the legislation being introduced right now is so the government can pretend to be helping consumers while they complain that prices are rising.
At this stage and in its current form, I see the fairness at the pumps act more like the Conservative farce at the pumps act.
A responsible government that really had Canadians’ interests at heart, including the price of fuel, would focus in particular on the competition among the refineries and look at the Competition Act. The important thing is to make the market more effective and competitive, as the Liberal government proposed in 2005.
How is it that despite the increase in prices and the industry’s claims that supply is very low, we see refineries closing? Why does the Conservative government remain impassive in the face of such a situation?
It is in the interests of Canadians that the House review whole parts of this bill and tailor them to deal with the real problem, which the Conservative government is trying to hide.
When a sampling was done of the gas pumps in this country, it was discovered that 94% of them were within specifications and only 6% were out of tolerance. Out of that 6%, one-third, or 2%, were actually delivering a little too much fuel to the consumer. The other 4%, in other words, 4% out of 100%, were delivering a little less fuel and a little outside of tolerance.
In terms of the devices that Measurement Canada is responsible for monitoring, measuring and inspecting, gas pumps are among the most reliable devices in this country. The question is why the government felt that it needed to legislate, through Bill C-14, the need to measure pump accuracy when the numbers were certainly extremely respectable. My guess is that the government wanted to do some grandstanding. It even gave it the name, “fairness at the pumps act”, which sort of left a hint that somebody was being unfair. Unfortunately, the retailers had to wear that name when, in reality, the situation was really very respectable.
From my point of view, the government has created a bill and has put us through the hoops when in reality there was very little need to create such a bill as Bill C-14. In the end, it has smeared retailers and will end up costing Canadians additional sums because of all the inspectors required to carry out the aim of this legislation.