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House of Commons Hansard #43 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

5:55 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Questions and comments. The hon. member for Pickering—Scarborough East on a very brief question as there is a minute and a half left.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

5:55 p.m.

Liberal

Dan McTeague Liberal Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Madam Speaker, I have two very brief questions. First, in his capacity as a scientist, does he agree or disagree with the 15°C temperature compensation, which is currently invoked and foisted on consumers?

Second, will he work hard to end the Enron loophole that is destroying the integrity of our markets and hurting consumers with inflated prices one way or another? It is a skew that could be 30%, 40% or 50% higher than it ought to be. Is that right for his constituents?

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

5:55 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

The hon. member for Thunder Bay—Superior North, a brief answer.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

5:55 p.m.

NDP

Bruce Hyer NDP Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Madam Speaker, I am afraid the brief answer is simple. Until today, I really had not thought about the ambient temperature by which we measure these things, so I am going to have to research that one.

On the second one, until today, this has not really been my field. I have become fascinated through this debate today and I want to investigate further into why we have the kind of obscene margins and lack of competition in this field that we seem to have.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

5:55 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Madam Speaker, one in 20 gas pumps in Canada are shortchanging consumers. People drive to their local gas station and fill up at one of the pumps. Victoria Day is coming. It is a long weekend when people tend to travel. Millions of consumers each year will drive up to gas pumps.

Government inspections do not happen very regularly. There was a big study conducted from 1999 to 2008 and Measurement Canada discovered that consumers were getting less gas than they were paying for. Consumers are being ripped off regularly. Twice a year, on average, each motorist is being shortchanged. People are driving off with less gas than they paid for. Some even have to buy an extra two litres to top up their tanks because they are being shortchanged.

One would think that if a gas pump is not functioning, consumers some time would pump more gas and at other times less gas. One would think it would even out, that some consumers lose money and others may gain more gas. Surprise, surprise, far more people, in fact three out of four consumers, get less gas at the pumps rather than retailers getting shortchanged.

Consumers are getting cheated. They are getting hosed at the pumps. Some speculate that the reason this is happening is because if a pump is malfunctioning, retailers are likely going to fix that pump first if it is pumping more gas than what consumers are paying for; whereas, if it is pumping less gas and retailers think they can get away with it, they will not fix it or it takes them quite a long time to fix it.

The report was released by Measurement Canada two years ago and yet nothing was done. The Canadian Petroleum Products Institute said it would do some work, that consumers should trust it, and it would find some ways to make the situation better. The Canadian Independent Petroleum Marketers Association said to trust it, it would do its thing and it would get fixed. Yet, again, nothing got done.

There is a report that says that if 40 billion litres are sold per year, $240 million worth of gasoline is being stolen out of consumers' pockets. This is really a theft. People pay and yet they are not getting the product they paid for.

The Conservative government talked about being tough on crime and yet consumers have been hosed at the pumps for two years, May 2008 until now, May 2010. No action has been taken. The Minister of Industry was questioned on May 12, 2008 by the member for Toronto—Danforth who asked:

--one in twenty pumps is not correctly calibrated and 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 said that he had met with the president of Measurement Canada and that he had given him instructions to increase enforcement over the course of the summer with additional inspections and that he had asked that regulatory changes be prepared. He said, “These will increase the onus on gas retailers. Fines will be increased from $1,000 per occurrence to $10,000 per occurrence”. Of course we know that did not happen for the entire two years.

Finally, the former minister of industry for the Conservative government said that he would be writing to all Canadian gas retailers asking them for their co-operation. He said that they would get the job done. We know the job did not get done and yet now, just before the summer break, the bill has finally been presented. Who knows who long the bill will take to get passed at second reading and go to committee. It will probably come back in the fall for third reading, et cetera. However, that is no excuse.

Further on, the same former minister of industry, now the Minister of the Environment, said that the government would increase the enforcement to protect consumers, et cetera, but there was no action. Consumers have $240 million a year being stolen from their pockets and yet there has been no action all this time.

Now we have a bill before us that is full of flaws. I want to contrast this two years versus what happens in the House when the government wants to make something law. It can be done in two days. The HST, the harmonized sales tax, is an example of what can happen. It was introduced just before Christmas last year. It was a Christmas present for people in Ontario and the good citizens of British Columbia. It was introduced in one day and the next day it was passed. In two days action was taken to take money out of the taxpayers' pocket. Whereas this bill is trying to protect the pockets of taxpayers and in two years it got no action.

It is quite amazing what kind of priorities this Conservative government is looking at, a government that has claimed to be tough on crime and yet it takes very slow steps in trying to protect the consumers.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

6 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

6:05 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Order, please. I would like to allow the member to finish her comments and then perhaps other members could ask questions or make their comments at that time.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

6:05 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Obviously I have touched a raw nerve somewhere here.

That contrast is quite stunning. We know, with the HST coming in July, that $2,000 to $5,000 will disappear from a family's pocket, and that was passed in two days. In this case, however, when millions of dollars are being lost at that pumps, no action has been taken. It takes a long time.

Maybe we should not be surprised. Even though we have raised the issue of tax subsidies to big oil and gas companies over and over again, we still see at least $1.2 billion in tax incentives going to the big oil and gas companies that are making billions of dollars of profits. We have noticed that there is a bill that is about to get third reading with the support of the Liberal party and members of Parliament here, Bill C-9, which would again give these very profitable oil companies a total of $6 billion with all the corporate tax cuts.

In the other bill, we have seen that oil companies would be able to skirt around environmental assessments. Also in that bill, environmental assessments are being removed. Companies do not need a federal environmental assessment if they get a few dollars of federal funding.

A different kind of assessment or check and balance is supposed to be done through the environment side. Instead, however, whether or it is drilling or oil sands explorations, it will to be done now through the National Energy Board. It apparently has nothing to do with the environment. We just recently had a huge oil spill that is having a devastating negative impact on the environment, wildlife, birds and the species in the water. This whole addiction to oil is really quite astounding.

Bill C-14 does not deal with the price fluctuation. Sometimes the price could be at an all-time low in terms of gasoline prices and yet at the pump it is high. All of a sudden it goes up to $1.20 for no reason. It is supposed to be about supply and demand but it seems that often there is no connection.

The bill also has no increase in the number of government inspectors. It is all done by non-governmental inspections. Government has a role to play, which is to inspect to ensure that industry is doing the right thing, and yet that is not in this bill.

The bill does not establish an ombudsperson, something that the NDP has asked for over and over again. We need an independent office to evaluate the problems, investigate complaints and to ensure consumers are given justice and fairness. It is not here in this bill and it is not fair.

What else is not fair? If people were being cheated, they would think that they would get some of that money back. In this bill, even though the government would be collecting more fines, which we support, the bill says that the government would be fining minor offences up to $10,000, major offences up to $25,000 and new fines for repeated offences up to $50,000. Hopefully the government will send a message out there and fine a few gasoline companies.

However, one would think that if the government were collecting a few dollars out of it, that it would at least compensate and ensure the gas companies compensated and refunded those who were being ripped off, but no, there is nothing in here to protect the consumers. This is, in many ways, really unfair because every dollar counts, especially if and when the price of gasoline goes up.

What else does it not do? It does not actually repay the GST. The gas tax right now is 10¢ per litre but if the consumers are being shortchanged, which the last I saw amounted to $240 million, one would think that with the taxes that are charged on these so-called phantom purchases at least there should be a refund on the taxes being collected on the purchase. The bill says nothing about a tax refund or any type of compensation for those who have been ripped off. It contains nothing to deal with the price fluctuations and nothing to protect the consumers. It says nothing about an ombudsperson and there is no place to file a complaint. It is no wonder the government is known to just make a lot of noise. It makes it appear as if something is being done but it takes very little action.

Our consumer critic and industry critic will be making a lot of amendments when this bill comes to the committee and if the Conservatives and the Liberals really want to protect consumers, they will support the kinds of recommendations and amendments that the New Democrats will be pushing.

I suspect that this bill, unfortunately, may not pass until the fall. With long weekends and the summer coming up, how will people who are travelling to visit their friends and families protect themselves? I looked up some pointers. One of the pointers that I found quite fascinating was that we should put in 10 or 20 gallons and then multiply the price by 10. We would then know precisely how much we were paying and know exactly the amount of gas that we paid for. It looks like the consumer needs to resort to those kinds of activities to protect themselves since the Conservative government, unfortunately, is dragging its feet and not taking real action.

We will support different aspects of this bill, such as the mandatory inspection frequencies and the additional fines, but we will not support using private sector authorized service providers. We will not support the kind of privatization of inspections that we see in front of us because we believe that regulations put out by government should be done by government. We have seen far too many times that when we privatize inspections, it just means that the retailers end up having to pay more and the consumers continue to get ripped off and hosed.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

Dan McTeague Liberal Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Madam Speaker, I found it interesting to listen to some of the comments the hon. member made, including dealing with issues of transit. She would not have complimented the Liberal Party for being the one that initiated the GST tax on tax to be used for the very purpose which she well knows as a former councillor in Toronto is extremely beneficial and helpful in the early days of pioneering transit as an alternative.

The hon. member also may have erred on a number of occasions about the facts, that 5% of the pumps that were the target of the study by Measurements Canada was in fact only 4%.

The hon. member seems to suggest that there is a problem. I am concerned as she is with the fact that we are asked to measure on our own to see if these things work. The reality is if we put something in a plastic container that is 10 litres or 20 litres, or whatever the case may be, there is room for expansion, as well. Exposing gasoline from ambient temperature in the tanks eight or ten feet below ground versus the temperature outside may contract or in fact expand the volume. Those are not effective measures.

I want to ask the member this one thing because I think she is concerned, as I am, about what impact this is going to have on gas retailers, as well as on consumers.

The theory goes that some things that are too onerous, like spill containment and environmental standards that have been advocated in the past, have had the unintended effect of actually reducing the number of retailers in this country.

I wonder if, as a councillor, or now as a member of Parliament, she might not take into consideration the actions of municipalities that have had a devastating impact on the licensing and zoning and the ability for small independents and other retailers to survive. This may in fact have contributed to the demise of many retailers, many wholesalers and, at the same time, may have driven up prices.

I wonder if she would like to comment on that, given her experience on Toronto council.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

6:15 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Madam Speaker, I believe that if the government did the inspections, it would give the retailers a bit more protection regarding price fluctuations.

However, I noticed that when the Liberals were in government, they tended to adopt an approach of everything being done in a voluntary way. If toxic toys were the concern, they tended not to do a mandatory recall but would let the industry regulate itself and check whether or not the toys were toxic. If they were toxic, industry would tell Health Canada, but Health Canada would not do a mandatory recall. It was all about voluntary enforcement, which is no enforcement at all.

In many ways, there has to be firm guidelines, regulations or policies that if retailers are cheating consumers, they will be fined. There needs to be accurate measurements. There should be performance follow-up inspections. All of that is really important. Inspectors at Measurements Canada, which is the federal agency, should be solely responsible for the enforcement actions. All of those are important.

Also, increasing the number of annual inspections of gas pumps to approximately 65,000 is important. Right now there are only 8,000 inspections. I do not think that is anywhere near enough.

As for the 5%, I thought that between 1999 and 2007 the government's inspection of over 200,000 fuel pumps found that about 5% of the pumps delivered less fuel than reported on the pump display. In some places like Windsor, almost 25% of the fuel pumps inspected were discovered to be faulty.

As for the question in terms of the gas tax, right now 5¢ goes to municipalities. We think there should be an extra 1¢ gas tax, which would be about 440 million per 1¢ of gas tax. We think that at least 1¢ or 2¢ of that should be designated for public transit. Right now it is done per capita, which means that the city of Toronto, for example, where there is a large number of people taking public transit, is not getting the share it needs in order to fund public transit projects, such as the Transit City.

As a result, we have in the city of Toronto a lack of public transit. To go from one part of the city to another part sometimes takes two hours one way. Imagine people spending four hours taking public transit from home to work if they live in different parts of the city. That is not good enough. Traffic clogs the highways and the roads. It is important for us to invest in public transit

This bill does not deal with the gas tax. It does not deal with the price of gasoline. It just deals with the inspections and fairness for the consumers.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

6:20 p.m.

Conservative

LaVar Payne Conservative Medicine Hat, AB

Madam Speaker, I have been listening quite intently to the blustering of the hon. member from the NDP party. It is quite amazing some of the things the NDP party members try to purport as facts, such as the HST. I do not know if they really understand that it is up to the province to decide whether in fact it wants to bring in the HST.

Those members did not support our budgets which meant that they did not support any of the activities and the building Canada projects which would have been in their own ridings. I am wondering why they try to confuse the issue with non-facts.

In terms of protection of consumers in Canada, in fact it was the Liberal Party and the Senate that blocked Bill C-6 which would have afforded Canadians protection with respect to dangerous products in Canada.

Why have the NDP members been fighting our budget, fighting their own constituents? Why do they not want to have projects done in their own backyard?

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

6:20 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Madam Speaker, that is a very good question. First, NDP stands for the New Democratic Party of Canada. The extra “P” that the member added could stand for protection. That is what we want to do. We want to protect the consumers, unlike the Conservatives and the Liberals.

We supported Bill C-6. We supported making sure there are clear mandatory regulations governing toxic toys and making sure that Health Canada has the power for mandatory recalls. Yes, it was unfortunate that it was shot down in the Senate.

I want to know why the Conservative government is not bringing back a bill that would protect the children of Canada. Because right now--

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

LaVar Payne Conservative Medicine Hat, AB

We will.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

6:25 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Well, we haven't seen it yet.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

6:25 p.m.

Liberal

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

Prorogation.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

6:25 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Oh, that is what happened. It was prorogation that actually made Bill C-6--

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

6:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

6:25 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Order, please. The hon. member for Trinity—Spadina.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

6:25 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

It was prorogation that killed Bill C-6 in the Senate. It was not just a senator. I thank the member. That was the real reason. Where is that bill? It has not come back here.

If we are talking about consumer protection, whether it is hockey sticks, gas pumps, toxic toys, all of those things, we have to be tough on crime because it is a theft from the pockets of consumers. They need to get the gasoline they pay for, every drop of it. If not, it is not fair.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

6:25 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Madam Speaker, the speech by my colleague from Trinity—Spadina was all about accountability, which we have not seen from the Conservative government. The deregulation of Measurement Canada and having industry investigate itself is the same as the Conservatives saying they are going to be tough on crime and then turning around and saying that the offenders should regulate themselves.

I am pleased to have an opportunity to comment on Bill C-14, the fairness at the pumps act. As members of the House may remember, 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 the 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, had at least one faulty pump.

New Democrats certainly have some concerns with this bill. Most of them have been heard by now. Still, it is certainly worth repeating some of them for the benefit of the people who may have just tuned into this debate.

When we hear Measurement Canada say that 5% of the pumps are delivering less fuel than reported on the pump display, we feel even more vulnerable. There are major concerns with what is happening. I hear it constantly from people in my riding with regard to the price of gas, the fact that the measurements are not correct, and temperature comes into play as well.

It will come as little surprise to most of us that gas prices in my constituency are through the roof. In the rural parts of Canada, people pay more for gas than people pay in the cities. Today the price of gas in Elliot Lake is $1.053. In Kapuskasing it was $1.10 this morning. In Sault Ste. Marie it was around $1.069 and in Sudbury it was around $1.049.

I travel a lot. My riding is over 102,000 square kilometres in size. I still cannot figure it out because I can drive from Sudbury, where the price is anywhere from 99¢ to $1.03, but when I get to Nairn Centre, which is not even an hour away, the price of gas there will be either 2¢ higher or 2¢ lower than the price in Sudbury. Then another 20-minute drive away and the price of gas will have jumped by 5¢. Is that fair?

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

6:25 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

I regret to interrupt the hon. member, but she may continue her comments when this debate resumes. She will have about 17 minutes for her comments.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

6:30 p.m.

Liberal

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

Madam Speaker, this adjournment debate follows up on a question I asked on March 24, a question about the environment that the Minister of Industry was keen to answer.

As we know, many programs are being attacked by this Conservative government. We see it every day, every week and every month. One program that seems to be a particular pet peeve of the Conservatives is the Atlantic coastal action program.

As soon as we talk about the environment and improving life for our constituents, it seems as though a little bell goes off in their heads and it bugs them. But let us look at reality. If we do not take care of our environment, we are putting our future and the future of our children and future generations at risk. We are talking about the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat. These three elements are closely linked to the environment and who better, in most cases, than those in rural areas to understand that without this environment, we cannot move forward or develop economically.

We know that the Conservatives are not interested in the environment. That is nothing new. The Prime Minister has already said that the science was not valid and that people should consider something else. However, as I said, the truth is that dismissing the environment means dismissing our planet and future generations.

Projects funded in my riding focus on natural resource conservation and wood turtle protection as well as on blue-green algae in the Lac Temiscouata and Madawaska River region, including Lac Baker. We know how important these issues are, but the third example is one that many people know about and fear will have a negative impact in the future. We have to keep working and funding various organizations to make sure that we continue to protect our environment. We also need to know how to deal with contaminated environments and how to respond quickly to events that cause pollution. We have to know how to remedy these situations.

Unfortunately, the Conservative government seems to have a peculiar illness. It is afflicted with a propensity for last-minute announcements or worse, a simple refusal to continue supporting these organizations. This is a very serious illness and it seems to be spreading. The Conservatives seem to take a perverse delight in waiting until the last second to tell our people, our fellow citizens, our organizations and our companies whether they will receive any federal government support. The federal government should take the opposite approach. It should announce funding in advance so that people can get their projects ready ahead of time and know exactly what to expect in the future. But the Conservatives have this disease, and it causes them to simply eliminate programs, turn groups down or wait until the last minute, forcing people to beg and plead for help.

I hope that the Conservatives will give us a clear answer about whether they plan to continue funding the environment in the long term.

6:30 p.m.

South Shore—St. Margaret's Nova Scotia

Conservative

Gerald Keddy ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade

Madam Speaker, I think the hon. member may have forgotten what his question was.

His question was about environmental groups in New Brunswick that he was alleging were not going to receive funding from the federal government. Those environmental groups would be under the Atlantic coastal action plan program, a program that I am very familiar with, a program that Bluenose Coastal Action Foundation group in my riding of South Shore—St. Margaret's does a great job delivering.

On April 7, it was announced that all 16 Atlantic coastal action program organizations would receive funding through the 2010-11 year, while making the transition to an ecosystem based model of environmental management.

Environment Canada is committed to ensuring that Canadian ecosystems are healthy, prosperous and sustainable and the government has taken enormous steps to protect sensitive ecosystems for present and future generations. For example, in Atlantic Canada we are moving forward with the protection of Sable island through a consultation program process that will see the important natural treasure and its many ecosystems protected for all Canadian forever.

Every year Environment Canada spends millions and millions of dollars on restoring habitat, addressing other threats to recover species at risk under the habitat stewardship program as well as taking action at the community level under the eco-action program to provide for clean air, water and land.

We are proud of our history with these community based organizations and the environmental successes that we have realized together.

We regret the time it took to fully review the Atlantic coastal action program and any undue burden that this placed on the ACAP organizations. However, the important issue is the result of this review is the transition to an integrated approach to environmental management that will offer greater benefits to Atlantic Canadians consistent with the approach taken across the country.

We certainly know and understand that all environmental policies are important. We also know there is a greater environmental awareness, not only from members in this place but from the general public and a demand that we preserve and protect the environment for future generations.

That is why we supported the ACAP group again for this 2010-11 year and that is why the Atlantic coastal action program will be transferred over to an ecosystem based approach. That approach, while it is not simple to do, is a good approach and will serve future generations well.

6:35 p.m.

Liberal

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

Madam Speaker, I realize that the parliamentary secretary did not understand what I just said. It is obvious that the three elements I mentioned were tied to one of the organizations that received funding in the past and that was directly connected to the Atlantic coastal action program.

The parliamentary secretary identified groups in the Atlantic, for which funding was announced on April 7. This funding was obtained because the opposition exerted the required pressure last March 24 on the Conservative government.

Every time the public is told that the Conservative government will not fund certain groups, individuals or organizations, the government reacts instantly. It is a Conservative illness: they cancel funding or they wait until the last minute. Had they been proactive at the right time, we would not have had to remind them that they cannot cut funding to these organizations this year. They will have to continue in the long-term.

I need the answer. I need to know whether there will be long-term funding.