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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

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Marc Garneau Liberal Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, we, as a party, are very fortunate to our colleague from Pickering—Scarborough East, who has always been an unabashed and strong defender of the consumer. He has done some great things in the time he has been in Parliament. I am sure he will very adequately address the comments of the member.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I am glad the member brought up ambient temperature. As he said, 15° is nowhere near reality in the far north where my riding is. It hurts those communities and I hope the government will take action.

The member accurately listed a bunch of instances where the government had renegued on its promises to reduces taxes on gas and reduce gas prices. One he did not mention was the fact that when we were in government, we put in place the petroleum monitoring agency. We did actually take action, in spite of the comments of the member from the NDP.

Unfortunately, when the Conservative government came in, it ceased to fund that agency, which could have had great scrutiny on retailers, refineries, et cetera. It could have made a lot of major changes in gas prices and it was totally disbanded by the government. Does he have any comment on that?

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Marc Garneau Liberal Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am glad my colleague from Yukon brought that point up about a Liberal initiative that was very important during the time we were in power.

I will also pick up on the point he made, which is the government talks about it being a friend of the consumer and yet its actual actions belie what it says. It came out with some great statements about what it would do and never did anything. It is sheer hypocrisy on its part to today pretend that it will do something important for the consumer when in fact it has renegued on many of its promises with respect to the consumer at the pumps.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is very curious that this act increases the penalties under the Weights and Measures Act, which also includes odometer rollbacks across the country. Odometer rollbacks have to be a bigger problem and a larger cost to the consumer, with people disconnecting, replacing or rolling odometers back and selling those vehicles as having less mileage, basically defrauding consumers of thousands and thousands of dollars every year. Penalities have been so minuscule that people have been violating the law. They are happy to pay the small penalty associated with it.

The government introduced this bill, which would increase the penalties drastically. When it sends out a press release, it talks about fairness at the pumps. The headline could have read, “Government takes action on odometer rollbacks”.

Does the member have any comments about why the government would be hiding such good news?

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Marc Garneau Liberal Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have no comment on why odometers were not mentioned specifically in the bill. I hope the member for Elmwood—Transcona will keep plugging away at that issue.

However, after his presentation, the hon. member from the government, when asked the question about how much this would save consumers, said about $20 million. What he did not say was how much it would cost in extra money to put in place the new legislation and the inspectors who would come from it.

I would like to ask the Conservative government what the net benefit will be. When people have to pay the extra taxes to cover the extra inspectors, I am doubtful we will be that much further ahead.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Cardin Bloc Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-14 is obviously important, but frankly, only relatively so. For the next 20 minutes, I will try to clearly explain the Bloc's position. I may not go into every detail of Bill C-14, but I will describe the Bloc's concerns about the Competition Act and the fact that successive governments have done nothing. And, of course, I will describe the Bloc's response to this bill, which is Bill C-452. I will also briefly explain a comprehensive strategy for dealing with increases in the price of petroleum products.

As the parliamentary secretary said earlier in his speech, the government introduced its bill to protect itself and consumers against negligent retailers. “Negligent” is putting it rather mildly. There will obviously be mandatory inspections, but they will be much more frequent. The government is talking about increasing the number of inspections from 8,000 to 65,000. The bill would also authorize the minister to appoint or designate professionals to conduct these inspections. In addition, there would obviously be fines that could be quite high, especially for repeat offenders. Of course, the government says that it is doing all this to protect the consumer.

Has the government, as usual, conducted an impact study of its bill to compare it to what is being done to manage or monitor gas prices at the pump? Naturally, there will be costs associated with all that. Inspections are not free, of course, and retailers will likely be stuck with the bill in the end. I imagine that retailers' costs will go up substantially, all to save consumers about $20 million, which is the estimated difference between the prices. That may seem like a lot of money, and it is, but how many litres and how many consumers are we talking about? Are all the costs of implementing Bill C-14 really worth it? I do have to say, though, that when consumers are hurt, it is our duty to try to make things right.

So I will say right away that we support Bill C-14 in principle. But it does not directly address collusion problems, like the ones that recently came to light in Quebec, nor does it effectively prevent sudden gas price hikes.

The Bloc Québécois still believes that the government needs to work toward offering an effective response to rising gas prices by passing the Bloc's Bill C-452. This bill would strengthen the Competition Act and create a petroleum monitoring agency.

The Competition Act still does not allow the Competition Bureau to conduct an inquiry of its own accord. It has to wait until it receives a complaint before launching an inquiry. The Bloc Québécois also wants the government to establish a petroleum monitoring agency to scrutinize gas prices and to deal with attempts to collude and unjustified price hikes.

According to tools devised to measure how much this is costing consumers, the suggested figure is $20 million.

According to the April 2009 gas consumption data that I found, that $20 million corresponds to one-tenth of a cent per litre of gas purchased in Canada. The cost of gas varies from 90¢ to $1, but it always includes a decimal that people rarely look at. However, oil companies adjust their prices to a tenth of a cent, which represents an amount much higher than the $20 million per year those tools suggest.

Overall, a one-cent difference adds up to $200 million per year, not the $20 million they are trying to correct for.

The Minister of Industry introduced Bill C-14 at first reading on April 15, 2010, claiming that it will protect Canadian consumers from inaccurate measurement when they buy gas. The proposed bill would make retailers more accountable by imposing regular mandatory inspections of measuring devices, such as gas pumps.

The penalties that the courts can impose under the Weights and Measures Act will increase from $1,000 to $10,000 for minor offences and from $5,000 to $25,000 for major offences. For consumers who feel they have been wronged, this might lead them to believe they have increased protection thanks to their hallowed and benevolent government. This is just more smoke and mirrors to trick consumers who believe they are being protected from additional costs, when the government is not doing enough to protect them when it comes to gas prices.

I am going to skip the other possible fines, because I would like to get straight to the point. The new section 29.28 in the Electricity and Gas Inspection Act allows the Minister of Industry to disclose the names and addresses of people convicted under this legislation.

If the retailer can show that he did due diligence and did everything to ensure the accuracy of his equipment, his name will likely not appear on the list of those whose equipment is defective in terms of measuring the volume. We need to determine how this measure will be applied, because any retailer could wind up on that list, even by mistake.

A clarification has been made to establish that violations of this legislation are not actually offences and therefore not subject to the Criminal Code. The individual would not have a criminal record following a conviction.

If convictions are frequent, can they be subject to a prison sentence, in cases of repeat offences, of less than two years, since they are not criminal offences? Once again, the provinces and Quebec are left to pay for this. With respect to offences, recidivism and imprisonment, Quebec will have to pay, no matter what it costs to send someone to prison for less than two years.

The Bloc's main concern is that every time the price of gas skyrockets, the government invariably says the same thing, that its hands are tied because the Competition Bureau has found that there is no collusion between the oil companies to set the price of gas and therefore there is no problem.

It is always the same answer. It is never the oil companies' fault and when the Competition Bureau conducts an investigation it always comes to the same conclusion: there is no collusion.

It would be rather surprising to see representatives of all the major oil companies openly sitting around the same table at a big restaurant. It is not likely to happen. It may be more difficult, but there must be a will to find a solution.

The Competition Act has major shortcomings that prevent the Competition Bureau from initiating an investigation. Any investigation has to be requested by the department or initiated as the result of complaints. On May 5, 2003, when Konrad von Finckenstein, the then commissioner of competition and the current chair of the CRTC, appeared before the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology, he pointed out the shortcomings in the Competition Act. He said:

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

There was some borrowing from Bill C-452, and equivalent measures were put in place as part of the January 27, 2009 budget implementation act. However, these new provisions still do not give the Competition Bureau the authority to investigate on its own initiative. A complaint is still required before an investigation can begin.

In 2003, the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology concluded its study on gas prices by making two recommendations to the government: create a petroleum monitoring agency and toughen up the Competition Act.

In 2003, the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology also spelled out the changes it wanted to see made to the Competition Act. The Bloc Québécois was adamant that the government respect the committee's recommendations.

In October 2005, shortly before the election, the Liberal government finally agreed with the Bloc's arguments and, as part of its federal plan to help alleviate the impact of high gas prices, introduced Bill C-19 to amend the Competition Act. It strengthened this act by raising the maximum fine for conspiracy from $10 million to $25 million and broadening the Competition Bureau's authority to investigate, which would have allowed it to inquire into an entire industry sector.

However, the government bill ignored these recommendations from the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology: reverse the burden of proof to deal with agreements among competitors and to determine whether there is a conspiracy—the objective of this was to make it the responsibility of the party wishing to enter into an agreement to prove the ultimate social value of that agreement—as well as allow the Competition Tribunal to award damages to parties affected by restrictive trade practices, where applicable.

The Bloc Québécois had proposed numerous amendments along these lines.

Bill C-452 would address the shortcomings in the measures put in place under the January 2009 budget implementation act, Bill C-10

The Competition Bureau needs true investigative powers. Bill C-452 would give the Competition Bureau the authority to carry out real investigations into the industry, if warranted, on its own initiative, something it is not currently permitted to do because it must receive a complaint first.

If this legislation were passed, the Competition Bureau would be much better equipped to take on businesses that try to use their dominant position in the market to fleece consumers.

We could implement a comprehensive strategy to deal with price hikes of petroleum products. For some time now, the Bloc Québécois has been pressuring the government to take action to address the rising cost of petroleum products.

We recommend a three-pronged approach. First, we must bring the industry into line. That is the goal of Bill C-452, which gives teeth to the Competition Act. We should also set up a true monitoring agency for the oil sector.

Second, the industry must make a contribution. With soaring energy prices and oil company profits, the economy as a whole is suffering while the oil companies are profiting. The least we can do to limit their negative impact is to ensure that they pay their fair share of taxes. The Bloc Québécois is therefore asking that the government put an end to the juicy tax breaks enjoyed by the oil companies.

Third, we must decrease our dependence on oil. Quebec does not produce oil and every drop of this viscous liquid consumed by Quebeckers impoverishes Quebec and also contributes to global warming. The Bloc Québécois is proposing to reduce our dependence on oil. All the oil Quebec consumes is imported. Every litre consumed means money leaving the province, thus making Quebec poorer and the oil industry richer.

In 2009, Quebec imported $9 billion worth of oil, a reduction because of the recession. In 2008, oil imports totalled $17 billion, an increase of $11 billion in the five years between 2003 and 2008.

At the same time, Quebec went from a trade surplus to a trade deficit of almost $12 billion, not to mention that the increase in Alberta's oil exports made the dollar soar, which hit our manufacturing companies and aggravated our trade deficit. The increase in the price of oil alone plunged Quebec into a trade deficit. It is time to put an end to the tax holiday for the oil sector.

In 2003, the Liberal government, supported by the Conservatives, introduced a vast reform of taxation for the petroleum sector. Although the oil sector had special status under the Income Tax Act, with its Bill C-48 the government reduced the overall tax rate for oil companies from 28% to 21% and also introduced many tax breaks, including accelerated capital cost allowance and preferential treatment of royalties.

This made taxes for Canada's oil sector more advantageous than in Texas. As if that were not enough, in the 2007 economic statement, the Conservatives presented additional tax reductions for oil companies, which would bring the tax rate down to only 15% by 2012. These tax breaks will enable Canadian oil companies to pocket close to $3.6 billion in 2012 alone. The Bloc Québécois thinks that these measures for the oil companies are unjustified. That it why it is proposing that we eliminate handouts to the oil companies.

I was saying that the long-term solution is to reduce our dependency on oil. We must invest considerably in alternative energies; allocate $500 million per year over five years to green energies; launch a real initiative to reduce our consumption of oil for transportation, heating and industry; introduce incentives of $500 million per year over five years to convert oil heating systems; develop a plan worth $475 million per year over five years for electric cars.

By 2012, 11 manufacturers plan on releasing some 30 fully electric or rechargeable hybrid models. These cars will be more reliable, more energy efficient and much cheaper to operate than gas-powered models.

Bill C-14 is intended to save consumers $20 million. As I was saying earlier, $20 million corresponds to one-tenth of a cent per litre of gas. Therefore, just one cent per litre could save $200 million per year. Furthermore, we must strengthen the Competition Act.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, if there were a government member speaking to this bill, I would ask him or her whether the government has done any costing for this bill. Several speakers have talked about the potential saving of $20 million for consumers, but there is the cost to business for all the inspections that are going occur. In fact, the government is going to be contracting out the inspection process to allow for private sector inspections. How that is going to play out in rural areas and northern areas of the country I am really not sure. If there is only one inspector for a huge area, the inspector potentially would be able to charge an arm and a leg for the inspections, unless the government plans to introduce a schedule of charges for the inspectors to follow, but I have not heard about that.

The member would not have the information because only the government would have it, but is he concerned about whether the government has costed out this program to see what the total benefit would be to consumers?

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Cardin Bloc Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, I must say, quite humbly, that I have no idea how much this would cost the government, but that is typical of the Conservative government.

When I was a member of the international trade committee, there were never any impact studies and we had to simply proceed blindly. It is clear that this bill appears to be trying to fool consumers who are being told that they will save $20 million on gas or oil bills. I cannot say right now how much it would cost, but at the end of the day, we know that consumers will end up paying the bill, no matter what the area or industry.

And what they are paying even more for is profits because current oil company profits come out of the pockets of consumers, and obviously we have to pay what it is worth. But who here knows what it is worth?

For this reason, a petroleum price monitoring agency should be put into place to follow these prices regularly. As I said earlier, a single cent at the pump is 10 times more money than the $20 million that would be saved by doing 65,000 inspections each year instead of 8,000. Retailers will surely be the ones picking up the tab. If retailers take on these costs, they will transfer them. I have no idea how many millions of dollars it would cost to do 65,000 inspections a year. The retailer will pass on this cost, perhaps by changing the pump temperature settings marginally. For one tenth of a cent is it really worth it? The government should give us an accurate, precise impact study.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for mentioning his support for the petroleum monitoring agency, which we had put in place. I assume he is very upset that the Conservatives ceased to fund that.

Also, because he is talking about the cost to Quebec, I assume he is upset that the government did not keep its promise to decrease the cost to Quebeckers by 2¢ a litre on the tax on diesel fuels, that it did not keep its promise to cut the excise tax on gasoline when the price goes over 85¢ a litre, and that it did not keep its promise to take off the tax on the tax.

I appreciate the member's comments with regard to the Competition Act. I am a very strong supporter of changes to the Competition Act. Strong administrative penalties could also be put in place so that a criminal offence would not have to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, a less stringent administrative expense. The member's further comments with regard to the changes we could make to the Competition Act to help consumers would be helpful.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Cardin Bloc Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, the first element is the creation of a petroleum price monitoring agency. Can anyone in this House claim to know exactly how much a litre of gasoline should sell for today? Because a lot of people have their finger on the button, the price fluctuates. Confidence is also a factor in the fluctuation of gas prices.

We are constantly being taken advantage of with respect to the real price of gasoline. We need a monitoring agency to establish gas prices because those prices have a huge impact. Unless we can reduce our dependence on oil, the cost will always be monumental.

In remote regions, people use their cars to get to work. Unexpected increases in the price of gasoline, which can be short- or long-lived, mean that these people practically have to pay for the privilege of working if they live any distance from their workplace.

We have to give the Competition Bureau the power to launch inquiries of its own accord into possible incidents of collusion. Creating a petroleum price monitoring agency would make it possible to set a fair price for everyone and, rather than slowing the economy down, the price of gasoline would remain reasonable without increasing consumption.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Bloc

Meili Faille Bloc Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, I very much appreciated my colleague's speech, which I listened to carefully. I wonder if he could elaborate on the importance of defining Quebec's public policies on renewable energies. I would also like him to explain how fluctuating gas prices affect businesses in Quebec.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Cardin Bloc Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, as we begin the 21st century, we must face the fact that our oil policies are failing us, especially regarding oil dependency. Much effort has gone into maintaining this dependency so that oil companies can sell as much oil as possible, with no concern for the environment, global warming or greenhouse gas emissions.

We cannot ignore this failure. Although governments and oil companies have raked in billions of dollars in profits, they have not been smart enough to invest in research and development to find ways for vehicles—which are the biggest producers of greenhouse gas emissions—to run on renewable energy sources.

This has been a huge mistake and we will have to answer for our actions. If we do not do more to reduce our oil dependency, sooner or later, governments like the Conservative government could be prosecuted for crimes against humanity for doing nothing to protect our planet.

For many years, our policies have all focused on increasing oil consumption so that governments can collect taxes and, more importantly, so oil companies can line their pockets while doing nothing to encourage the use of renewable energies.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased today to speak to Bill C-14, a bill that has been a long time coming to the House.

On April 15, 2010 the Minister of Industry introduced Bill C-14, An Act to amend the Electricity and Gas Inspection Act and the Weights and Measures Act, which is when it was given first reading. Of course, the government calls it the fairness at the pumps act.

Bill C-14 provides for court imposed fines under the Electricity and Gas Inspection Act and the Weights and Measures Act. It also provides for higher maximum fines for offences committed under each of those acts. In fact, it increases them by quite a substantial amount, and that is a very positive thing. It creates new offence provisions for repeat offenders.

The bill also amends the Weights and Measures Act to require retailers to have their devices that they use in trade or in their possession inspected at regular intervals. That new requirement is to be enforced through a new offence provision. The enactment also provides the Minister of Industry with the authority to designate non-government inspectors or authorized service providers as inspectors to perform certain examinations.

At the outset, we are certainly looking for some amendments to this particular bill. As I had indicated, two years ago an Ottawa Citizen report on a Measurement Canada investigation 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. 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. A motorist who fills up at various stations and pumps is likely to be short-changed about twice a year. This means that Canadians have been paying for gasoline they did not receive and the government was collecting tax revenue based on phantom gasoline purchases.

At the time the story came out, our critic questioned the minister, and he indicated that he would change the regulations to impose higher fines and have more inspections. In fact, nothing happened at that time. During the election campaign of 2008, the Conservatives made a promise to bring about changes to increase the monitoring of fuel pumps across the country and increase the fines for violations. Once again, nothing happened until now with the introduction of the bill. We could always say better late than never, but it certainly has been late.

No resolution or corrective action has been taken since the original report back in 2008, which means that the faulty pumps the government is talking about have been overcharging customers across the country and the violators have not been punished, even though the data from Measurement Canada would indicate the locations of repeat offenders. In addition, the question of government collecting taxes on these phantom purchases or overcharges has never actually been resolved.

Bill C-14 will, as I had indicated, increase fines and introduce administrative monetary penalties. The fairness at the pumps act proposes to strengthen consumer protection and provide greater deterrents against inaccurate measurement by increasing the court imposed fines under the Electricity and Gas Inspection Act and the Weights and Measurements Act. The fines on the two acts would rise from $1,000 to $10,000 for minor offences and from $5,000 to $25,000 for major offences. The amendments also introduce a new fine of up to $50,000 for repeat offences.

The fines under the Weights and Measurements Act would also cover odometer rollbacks. We say that is a good thing, but interestingly enough, no mention has been made of that. It is listed further on the sections that will be impacted by the bill.

At no point does it mention that the issue of the rollback and tampering of odometers is now going to meet with the same penalties and severity that is being used for this issue of the gas pumps. I wonder why that is the case. Perhaps it is an oversight that no one over there noticed, though I find that hard to believe. It seems to me that odometer rollbacks would be an even bigger and more popular issue for a government that wants to act on behalf of consumers.

For many generations now, since the invention of the automobile, people have been disconnecting their odometers. Both private individuals and car industry people have been replacing their odometers and rolling their odometers back. That has resulted in huge consumer losses. Many people listening today and even people in this chamber may not know that in the past they may have purchased a vehicle with a certain mileage on it. In fact, it may have been a vehicle that had many more miles on it, but the odometer had been disconnected, replaced or rolled back. They will never know that this has happened to them.

To me, that is a big exposure. We dealt with this issue in Manitoba a number of years ago under the previous Filmon government. The owner of a garage had been convicted under the Weights and Measures Act 25 years prior. It did not stop him because the penalties were just not there. He just kept doing what he was doing. He was buying cars in auctions in Toronto. They were cars that had maybe 300,000 kilometres on them. He was systematically rolling them back and putting them at 80,000 kilometres so that these four year or five year old cars would not draw attention.

He was buying them for $4,000 and selling them for $8,000. That seemed to be the formula he was using so that people would not be suspicious of the amount of mileage on the car. As a matter of fact, police officers told me at the time that they just had to go to the lot to spot dealerships that were rolling back odometers. If pretty much all the cars on the lot were all around the 80,000 kilometre mark, they knew that they had somebody who was rolling back odometers.

We know that this was a big, widespread activity. In fact, when this gentleman was caught for the second time, the Weights and Measures Act penalties were once again not sufficient to really cause him huge concern. I am even happier now to have the penalties we see under this act raised knowing that they will cover the issue with odometers.

The government is also looking at setting private inspectors up to do inspections. We wonder how much that is going to impact the cost to business. In Manitoba, a number of years ago under the previous Filmon government and at about the same time as the gentleman I just spoke about was rolling back odometers, the government decided to change the provincial rules and require the new odometer readings to be put into the computer and onto the system each time a car was sold.

Also around that time, because of lobbying on the part of the Manitoba Motor Dealers Association, the government of the day decided to make safety inspections mandatory. Up to that time, previous governments simply did it on a random basis. Cars would be called in for a safety inspection every two, three or four years. The government changed the rule that said that private garages had to inspect cars every time the cars were sold. Now, if a car had been owned for 10 years, it never received an inspection at all until it was sold, whereas the old system had a random approach and the inspection one received was for two years.

That led to a lot of abuses. In many cases, garages would take advantage of the consumers and could spot all sorts of defects in the car. Alternatively, the media, which did some checking of different garages, found that some garages wanted to fix many more items than needed to be fixed. In other cases, people would simply approve a car because they knew somebody. Therefore, this system did not work that great.

However, the point is it was brought in not because of any huge consumer demand for it, but because industry wanted it. Industry wanted to be able to inspect those used cars. What it did, almost overnight, was drive the cost of used cars up, at least at the low end. Once it was institutionalized, when the government changed in 1999 and the NDP came back in power, not only did it not remove it and go back to the old random inspections on behalf of the government, but it changed the rules once again. Under lobbying from the Motor Dealers Association, it changed the rules so it was no longer a two-year inspection but a one-year inspection. We have had this system now for a number of years.

I only relate this experience because of potentially what can happen in a case like this. The last two speakers to the bill have mentioned the fact that this will save the consumers roughly $20 million, but the cost to business has not been quantified. The government is planning to increase the number of inspections. More important, it is planning to allow the private sector to start conducting the inspections.

For rural areas and areas up north, this may mean greatly increased costs. My friend from Yukon will be up asking me a question about this in short order. In areas such as Yukon and the Northwest Territories, how is the government going to deal with that situation? To have an inspection done now may literally cost the little retailer hundreds and hundreds of dollars.

It remains to be seen what is being unleashed here. I am certainly sympathetic and agreeable to the idea because it should be done. In terms of having private inspection services involved, I see a lot of potential for abuse. I do not know whether the government is going to mandate the fee schedule that these inspectors have to charge or whether it is going to mandate the training that the inspectors need to have. We do not know any of that at this point.

The privatization of this inspection service by mandating these frequent inspections is going to be carried out by these newly authorized service providers or private companies. I guess it is basically another privatization effort. The Filmon government took a functioning government program in Manitoba, and changed it. It was a fair system that had been functioning for probably 20 years. On a random basis, people's cars would be called in for an inspection. The inspection would be done by a government motor vehicles inspector, who the public would trust. The member for Yukon can appreciate that. If people had been driving their cars for 10 years and all of a sudden they received a notice in the mail to bring them in to be inspected, they knew it was a government inspector, a qualified motor vehicles inspector, who would inspect the car and who had no incentive to do bad things. If something needed to be replaced, it would be written up and it would have to be replaced.

The Filmon government changed that inspection system and turned it over to the private sector, to private garages. Overnight we saw examples of gouging the public. The same garage doing the inspection report was also doing the repairs. It was very easy to take a car, find a dozen things wrong with it and then repair them and bill the customer. Not only now were people making money for doing the inspections, they were also making money for the repairs.

CBC did an indepth study with a ghost car program. I went to Canadian Tire and other garages. By the way, this was not done only once, it was done over a period of time. It did one series of inspections and a year later, guess what? It was the same garages doing the very same thing to the public. Some of the better known names fared worse in the study than some of the little mom and pop garages that were involved in the investigation.

What are we going to do? The private inspections are going to be increased from 8,000 to 65,000 a year. Perhaps the member for Yukon will put forward an amendment to revisit this after a number of years to see how the system has worked. I am not suggesting a sunset clause, but some sort of amendment that we would have a mandatory review after a three year period, a cost benefit analysis to see how well the system had worked.

There is no ombudsman office to evaluate problems or investigate complaints. There is no refund or compensation for consumers who are ripped off. There is no refund or restitution on the taxes collected by the phantom gasoline purchases.

I know a number of speakers want to talk about gas prices and that certainly is an issue. However, I want to talk about the fairness at the pumps act, which proposes to increase retailer accountability for measuring device accuracy by requiring retailers to have the devices inspected at regular intervals. I am not certain what those regular intervals would be, whether it would be six months or an annual inspection.

I believe the Liberal member talked about the inspection not being random any more. Right now there are random inspections. In many cases, a random inspection would be the best idea. However, if an inspection is appointment-based, if any skullduggery goes on in the system, what will stop the retailer from simply making certain the problem is fixed the day the inspector shows up and then change the pumps back after the inspector leaves. I am not certain how these things work. If people know when the inspector is coming, they can set up the pumps to ensure they pass the inspection. If that is the case, what is the point of doing this? I would think the random inspection is probably enough to keep people honest.

Let us assume the government is on the right track on the fines. I believe that to be the case. Let us congratulate it for the fines, but maybe we should look at leaving the inspections on a random basis so retailers are unaware when the inspector will come.

The bill would apply to retail food, dairy, logging, retail, petroleum, a whole number of areas, including the area of the odometer rollbacks, which is not mentioned in the process. The point is mandatory inspections are being done in other countries such as France, Germany and the United States.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, the member made some very good suggestions as to what the committee should look at to improve the bill and the effects of it.

I particularly appreciated his comments with respect to the effects on rural operators who are hundreds of miles out of the way after going on a very lengthy plane flight to get there. His point on odometers was also very good.

Could the member comment on things that would have a much larger effect to help the consumers? As people have said, this would save $20 million minus the amount for the 40,000-some extra inspections. There may not be a huge net gain.

What would make a huge net gain is if the Conservatives came through on the promises they made on reducing the various taxes on gasolines. What would make a huge difference in the member's riding of Elmwood—Transcona and our ridings in the north is if they corrected the ambient temperature problem. We are certainly not at 15° average over the year. Other things that could make a huge difference would be keeping the Petroleum Monitoring Agency open and making changes to the Competition Act.

Would the member like to comment on any of those areas?

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, whenever the Conservatives, whether it is federal or provincial Conservatives, talk about consumer protection or bringing in a type of consumer protection, it always seems to coincide with some offset to business lobbying.

In the case of the vehicle inspections in Manitoba, it was cloaked in the argument of driver safety and safer cars. What it was really about was taking a government inspection service and turning it over to the private sector.

We do not see the Conservatives supporting the air passengers' bill of rights because there is nothing in it for the private sector. Once again, any time we see any consumer initiatives coming from the Conservatives, we know there has to be some sort of hidden trade-off to private sector. In this case the government is looking at private sector inspectors.

In terms of ambient temperature, members clearly have a point on this. We dealt with this issue in the 1990s in Manitoba.

In terms of gas prices, 125 studies have gone nowhere. For the last 10 or 15 years, the member for Pickering—Scarborough East has been a leader in that caucus, going against his government when the Liberals were in power. He has demanded changes to the Competition Act. That is the only way we will start to get convictions on price fixing at the pumps.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

1:45 p.m.

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, I, too, would like to add my comments. My colleague from Yukon talked about some of these points. Many retailers in the smaller regions will have some concerns. Take for example one town on an island where only one retailer is relied upon 24/7. We now have a highly mobile workforce out there, especially in rural areas. The need for these necessities is that much greater on a 24/7 basis. In this situation, it would be cumbersome if the inspectors came in and the retailer was fined. What kind of repercussions would that have for not just that retailer but the entire community? Also we must bear in mind that for a particular inspector to get to that area will be a cumbersome task in and of itself.

In his speech the member talked about a mandated fee structure, which piqued my interest. Not to be overly prescriptive in what we would like to do, there probably should be a way of looking at this to help those small businesses that are basically encumbered by so many other fees throughout the structure of a small business, whether it be payroll or the like.

Could the member comment on that? Would his party entertain the idea of including, as an amendment in committee, the rolling back of odometers?

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

1:45 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I will deal with the question of odometers first. Odometers are already included so no amendment would need to be added.

My argument for the member would be this. A private business anywhere in this country would, I believe, trust a government inspector over a private sector inspector who approaches the business on the basis of making a profit.

The other issue that we need to deal with is the question of whether there should be set appointment dates or whether there should be surprise inspections. We perhaps should be looking at doubling the number of government inspectors and have them do random inspections so operators are not tipped off, but keep the good part of the bill that deals with increased penalties.

I like what the government has done with the penalties because they would not only help with the gas pump issue but also deal with odometers. I like all of what the government is proposing to do with regard to the penalties. I just do not like the idea of the government privatizing the inspection process, because people being inspected would know when the inspector was going to show up and they would be charged an arm and a leg for the inspection. That is what I do not like about the bill.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

1:45 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is totally unfair for consumers to be ripped off at the pumps. In some cities almost 25% of the fuel pumps inspected were discovered to be faulty.

What is amazing about this bill is that it does not talk about the taxes that these people pay. Starting on July 1, the HST will be included, along with the GST.

Does the member think it is fair that in this bill there is no ombudsperson to evaluate problems or investigate complaints, no refund or compensation for consumers who get ripped off and no refund on the taxes collected on phantom gasoline purchases? Are those matters important and should they be included in this bill?

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

1:50 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I agree with the member. All of those items should be included in the bill and we will be dealing with them at committee.

My Liberal friends and I are cross-debating the whole idea. If we assume for a moment that the penalties are a big improvement, long overdue and required, then perhaps we should be looking at not hiring the private inspection team and just simply beefing up the existing government inspection team and have it inspect on a random basis. Rather than conducting the number of inspections being done right now, perhaps over the next year we could double or triple the number of inspections. The private sector should not be involved in inspections that risk gouging the retailer.

There is a smart way to do this and we can probably resolve this at committee.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

1:50 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Conservative Abbotsford, BC

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.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

2 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

The hon. member is not out of time but, unfortunately, the debate has to end at this point. He will have a minute and a half or so when the debate resumes to conclude his remarks in a gripping way I know.

In the meantime, we will proceed with statements by members.

Canadian Hockey League Memorial CupStatements By Members

2 p.m.

Conservative

Merv Tweed Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Mr. Speaker, Brandon was recently named the seventh best Canadian city in which to live. During the next 13 days of the Memorial Cup, Brandon will be the number one place in Canada for hockey.

From May 14 to May 23, Brandon will host the Canadian Hockey League's Memorial Cup in remembrance of the young Canadian men and women who died in service for their country during the first world war. The Memorial Cup will be officially re-dedicated to all fallen soldiers at CFB Shilo as part of the 2010 Memorial Cup in Brandon.

The Wheat Kings are led by recently named Western Hockey League executive of the year, Kelly McCrimmon. A former Wheat Kings player, he is now the coach, GM and owner. Kelly built the Wheat Kings into a perennial powerhouse and was instrumental in bringing the Memorial Cup to Brandon.

The city of Brandon and surrounding area have embraced this event, and the volunteer commitment has been overwhelming. This event is a great reward for a city that has supported its Wheat Kings so faithfully for so many years.

Congratulations to Brandon. Go Wheat Kings.

The HolocaustStatements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

Anita Neville Liberal Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, in recent weeks, I had the first-hand opportunity to bear witness to the reality of man's inhumanity to man.

In late March I was part of an eclectic and diverse delegation of Canadians who went on a deeply moving mission to Poland with Friends of Simon Wiesenthal. It was a journey of remembrance, of honour and of learning. It was a journey that took us not only to Auschwitz-Birkenau, but included the Majdanek concentration camp, Schindler's factory, and the Plaszow concentration camp. Throughout the trip, we were accompanied by Max Eisen of Toronto who, at age 15 and a half, survived the brutality of Auschwitz.

In Winnipeg in mid-April, a unique book was launched, Voices of Winnipeg Holocaust Survivors, recording the singular story of 73 Holocaust survivors who found their way to Winnipeg. Survivors and their families remain haunted by their losses. To them we must express our thanks for what they do and say publicly, for it is through their stories we learn the real consequences of hate. They remind us of the importance of naming human rights abuses for what they are, investing in peace, and standing up against hatred wherever we find it.

National Patriotes MuseumStatements By Members

2 p.m.

Bloc

Luc Malo Bloc Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Maison nationale des Patriotes in Saint-Denis-sur-Richelieu is currently displaying one of its greatest private collections, which pertains to an important time in our history: the 1837-38 rebellion.

This new exhibition, which was made possible by an agreement between the museum and area collector Denis St-Martin, includes a number of authentic objects and papers from the time, some of which have never been seen before. They will be exhibited in stages for visitors over the next three years.

Thanks to this invaluable addition and the recent updating of its permanent exhibition, the Maison nationale des Patriotes, which is run by dedicated employees and volunteers, is doing its part to preserve our heritage and help people better understand this pivotal point in our history, because it is important that every generation know about the events that shaped the world in which we live.

Prison FarmsStatements By Members

May 10th, 2010 / 2 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, the government has called for the closure of all six Canadian prison farms.

All six prison farms, including Rockwood Institution in Manitoba, which I recently visited, have been functioning farms for many decades, providing food to prisons and communities. The prison farm operations provide rehabilitation and training for prisoners through working with and caring for plants and animals. The work ethic and rehabilitation benefit of waking up at 6 a.m. and working outdoors is a discipline Canadians can appreciate. Closing these farms would mean a loss of the infrastructure and would make it too expensive to reopen them in the future.

It seems the government is willing to close these Canadian prison farm operations across Canada when clearly, the work and rehabilitative benefit to prisoners of the farm operations is actually a positive thing and its own Conservative supporters think we should have even more prison farms, not less.