Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to have the opportunity to speak in support of Bill C-14, the fairness at the pumps act.
I will be splitting my time with my colleague, the hard-working member for Burlington. He and I were elected at the same time. He has worked very hard to ensure fairness at the pumps and to protect consumers, as well as victims with our criminal justice legislation.
For some time now, Canadians have been calling for this important legislation. This bill would move Canada forward in establishing fairer business practices in industries that measure or weigh products they sell. Canadians continue to worry about whether retailers are improperly charging at their local gas pumps or overstating the weight of groceries purchased at the local supermarket.
Today our Conservative government is taking a bold step forward to fix this problem, hopefully once and for all.
It is the responsibility of the Industry Canada to ensure that consumers and businesses receive fair and accurate measures for the goods they purchase. Although the importance of enforcing accurate measurements may sound obvious enough, experience has shown that only through a carefully monitored regulatory regime can Measurement Canada accomplish this task. The fairness at the pumps act would provide the foundation for such enforcement.
Once this legislation becomes law, retailers will be able to build a solid track record that will go a long way toward developing renewed trust with Canadian consumers. Consumers have the right to know exactly what they are paying for each and every time. Our Conservative government's goal with Bill C-14 is clear: to give Canadians greater confidence when they purchase products and goods in the market.
I would like to remind my colleagues in the House that at present many Canadians have little faith in the measurement practices of the businesses they patronize. Who can blame them? Federal measurement standards took a drubbing in our national media in 2008. Article after article revealed that Canadians were being unfairly charged at the gas pumps.
Our Minister of Industry responded and responded quickly. After consulting broadly with stakeholders in the gas, dairy, retail food and other retail sectors, our Conservative government created legislation that placed the onus squarely on businesses to guarantee the measurement accuracy of their products.
The fairness at the pumps act would ensure compliance in part by calling for increased fines for offenders. This tool is an excellent deterrent to criminal behaviour but, perhaps more important, it also calls for mandatory inspections of measuring devices.
This would help to address a critical element of the measurement problem, namely, retailers who neglect to inspect and maintain their measurement equipment. As a result, customers are often unfairly charged for the goods they purchase. Many retailers may not mean to charge unfairly but, as the media articles of 2008 made clear, such errors happen all too often.
Previously, businesses were not required to have their measuring devices checked periodically for accuracy. Bill C-14 would require mandatory inspection frequencies. This means that inspections must be carried out every one to five years, depending on the industry.
Under Bill C-14, inspection frequencies would be first introduced in eight sectors: retail petroleum, downstream or wholesale petroleum, dairy, retail food, fishing, logging, grain and field crops, and mining. Other sectors may be added in the future based on the results of our ongoing consultations with stakeholders.
It is important to note that it would not be government that carries out these mandatory inspections. The fairness at the pumps act authorizes specially trained private sector firms to do the work on behalf of government. This means that once inspection firms have been designated, they will be available for hire whenever retailers need them.
Our research has told us that this will lead to many more inspections than we see under the current legislation. Just as important, government will not set a price for inspections. Supply and demand will determine price and also the number of firms that Industry Canada will authorize to carry out those inspections. This puts the mandatory inspection aspect of Bill C-14 firmly in the realm of market forces where it belongs.
Many other countries and jurisdictions, such as France, Germany and most of the American states, have used mandatory inspection frequencies for many years. Canada has lagged far behind. It is high time that we have a modernized law, such as the proposed fairness at the pumps act, to put our country's approach to retail measurement in line with international standards.
Clearly, there is a pressing need to give Canadians a greater sense of confidence in retail measurement standards. This need was the strong impetus behind Bill C-14 but we also drafted the fairness at the pumps act with a keen eye to the needs of other stakeholders within the industrial sectors I mentioned a moment ago. I will explain.
Canadian entrepreneurs have been working with great effort over several years to effect change on this issue. Honest and fair-minded business operators feel the sting and the opprobrium just as much as consumers when less conscious competitors do not accurately measure the products they sell.
This bill would help to level the playing field for small businesses. It finally recognizes that the large majority of retailers who are honest suffer by the actions of the unscrupulous few who do not want to follow an ethical approach to business.
In truth, our action on this issue predates the negative media coverage from 2008. We began working with stakeholders, including many business operators, on a broad range of proposed reforms back in 2006. We started this work when we saw that compliance rates for accurate measurements were actually trending downwards. Indeed, industry has had ample opportunity to provide input into the challenges it faces in the measurement and sale of good and services. Industry's input has been invaluable.
Our stakeholder consultations underscore the fact that retailers can also be victimized by inaccurate measurements, whether inadvertent or deliberate. In fact, it was our stakeholder consultations that led to a recommendation for mandatory inspection frequencies. Indeed, some stakeholders have implemented inspection frequencies voluntarily, and I commend them for being proactive. By establishing voluntary mandatory inspection regimes, these companies know beyond a doubt exactly how much they are selling and they face fewer inventory problems.
It is important to understand that the legislation before us today is not just another government imposed cost for small business. This law would protect average Canadian consumers and, yes, there would be some relatively minor costs associated with keeping measurement devices inspected and working properly, but, as I have just explained, the legislation offers tangible benefits for the small business operator, the independent gas retailer, the independent grocer, the rural lumber mill or the small scale cheese factory. All of these small businesses are owned by people who cannot afford to be undercut by unscrupulous competitors.