I, too, am worried that the oil industry has been asked to police itself. Oil companies are being asked to evaluate how well they respect the laws. That is incredible. They are both judge and judged. The Bloc Québécois has the solution and it is Bill C-452, which will be debated a little later today.
Bill C-14 is also of direct interest to me. I often travel back and forth between Ottawa and my riding of Vaudreuil-Soulanges. Obviously, I have to take my car. Every time I stop to fill it up at a gas station, I cannot help but wonder why prices vary so much from region to region. In the same city or an area of a few kilometres, the prices may be the same or they may differ, oddly enough, by a number of cents a litre.
I often wonder if the prices at the pump are accurate. Those are a few reasons why I am interested in today's debate. I think that Bill C-14 is a good start, and because of that, I agree with it in principle. It would amend the Electricity and Gas Inspection Act and the Weights and Measures Act. However, the bill does not directly address collusion problems amongst oil companies, nor does it effectively prevent sudden gas price increases. I still believe that we need to continue our efforts in this area and encourage the members to pass Bill C-452.
In order to better understand the Bloc Québécois' position, it is important to understand what this bill is proposing. As its title indicates, the bill would make two amendments to two different acts. It would amend the Electricity and Gas Inspection Act by providing for higher maximum fines for offences, as well as punishing repeat offenders. It would also amend the Weights and Measures Act to require that retailers cause any device that they use in trade or have in their possession to be examined within a prescribed period. Non-compliance could result in penalties.
Bill C-14 introduces fines for violations of the Electricity and Gas Inspection Act. An inspector who noticed a violation would be able to impose a penalty on the offender.
In addition, a person who wanted to contest a fine would have to prove that he had exercised due diligence to prevent the commission of the violation.
Another interesting point is that the penalties can be cumulative. A violation that continues for more than one day is considered a separate violation for every day during which it continues. This measure is more stringent, because it requires offenders to act quickly and make the necessary changes to comply with the act.
Still in the section on amendments to the Electricity and Gas Inspection Act, Bill C-14 would allow the Minister of Industry to make public the names and address of persons who had violated the act. The advantage of releasing this sort of information is that people could avoid offending retailers.
We noted that a violation under the act would not constitute a Criminal Code offence, which means that an individual found guilty under Bill C-14 would not have a criminal record. This should be examined in more detail in committee.
Bill C-14 also amends the Weights and Measures Act. One of these amendments would allow inspectors to enter a retailer's premises. A government-appointed inspector who had reasonable grounds to believe that a violation had been committed could examine and seize any document that could prove that there was a violation. Under this provision, the inspector could even limit access to the premises and require that the retailer stop operating faulty equipment.
Bill C-14 provides for large increases in the penalties under the Weights and Measures Act. A person found guilty under the act would not be fined $1,000, as now, but up to $10,000, in addition to being liable to imprisonment of not more than six months for a first offence.
In the case of a first offence prosecuted by indictment, the fine is increased to $25,000 and can be accompanied by a maximum prison sentence of two years. In the case of a re-offence, the bill increases the maximum fine to $20,000 and if a repeat offender is tried for another conviction on indictment, the fine can go up to $50,000 with a maximum prison sentence of two years.
I am very anxious to hear the minister's arguments on this once public servants are invited to appear before the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology to justify these sentences and elaborate on the problems at the pumps.
Much like the amendments to the Electricity and Gas Inspection Act, the proposed changes to the Weights and Measures Act will allow for cumulative sentences to be imposed for each of the days the offender is found to be in violation. The bill introduces stricter penalties and allows for cumulative sentences. Repeat offenders will be punished. That is basically what the bill aims to do.
The Bloc Québécois has several concerns. When the Conservative government prorogued Parliament in December 2009, the Bloc Québécois began a pre-budget tour. I met with many citizens and various associations from Vaudreuil-Soulanges to find out what they wanted and what they expected from the budget. These meetings confirmed that the public's main concerns are the environment and the economy. The Bloc Québécois' positions are explained in the document Saisir l'occasion pour le Québec.
As I said in my speech, the Bloc Québécois supports Bill C-14 in principle, but Bill C-452 is also a direct response to the problems related to competition. My colleagues, the hon. members for Shefford and Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, will discuss that a little later today.
The Bloc Québécois' Bill C-452 addresses the flaws in Bill C-14. At the risk of repeating myself, we have some concerns about Bill C-14, but since we are a responsible serious party, we are suggesting solutions.
In response to Bill C-14 and the shortcomings of the measures put in place by the January 2009 budget implementation bill, we have introduced Bill C-452, which would give real powers to the Competition Bureau. The Bureau could act on its own and initiate inquiries, without waiting for permission from the minister or for a complaint to be filed. If the Bureau had reasonable doubts, it could investigate.
Bill C-452 would strengthen the Competition Bureau and would better protect the public against the actions of some businesses, which might take advantage of their position to unfairly fleece and gouge consumers.
We have other possible solutions. My Bloc Québécois colleagues and I strongly believe that we must adopt a comprehensive strategy to combat the rising cost of petroleum products. There are three criteria needed to apply this comprehensive strategy.
The first criterion to make our comprehensive strategy a success is that we must continue to support initiatives that help us decrease our dependence on oil. The rising cost of oil is making Quebec poorer. Increased prices affect the economy in many other ways. Increased exports of Alberta oil tend to increase the value of the Canadian dollar. Our manufacturing companies are the ones who suffer.
The Bloc Québécois has three ideas to decrease our dependence on oil, and my colleagues can read about them in detail on the Bloc Québécois site, because the document is public.
We must increase the budget of the ecoEnergy for renewable heat program, and expand its scope to solar thermal power, to include forest biomass.
We need a program to support the use of forestry byproducts in energy and ethanol production. We have to stimulate new product research and development. We can do this by offering refundable tax credits for research and development so that companies can benefit even if they are at the development stage and are not yet making a profit.
There are many other suggestions and ways to reduce our dependence on oil. We just have to be bold and focus on the importance of acting now to help the environment. We need to think about what consumers, what our fellow citizens, what Quebeckers are really paying for when they use oil products.
Bill C-452 meets one of those criteria. Its goal is to discipline the oil industry. As parliamentarians, we have to show people that we are ready to protect their interests.
I encourage members to discipline the industry by voting for Bill C-452 because it gives more powers to the Competition Bureau. The government should commit to setting up a petroleum monitoring agency. It is time for oil companies to respect people. They have to be accountable.
The final criterion is to make the oil industry contribute. The price of oil is going up, which results in higher prices for transportation and many consumer goods. Because of this, the oil industry is raking in huge profits. The very least these companies can do is pay their fair share of taxes.
As part of our comprehensive strategy to address the rising cost of oil products, we want the government to eliminate tax breaks. In 2003, the government cut oil companies' taxes from 28% to 21%. In 2007, the Conservative government proposed another tax cut, and according to the 2007 economic update, oil companies will be taxed 15% in 2012. Why should such a rich sector of the economy benefit from so many tax breaks?
The oil industry needs to be part of the solution. The $3.6 billion pocketed by oil companies is not available to the public. That money could be reinvested in society.
Our comprehensive strategy to address rising oil costs is reasonable and feasible. There are only three ways to change the way we deal with oil. We have to reduce our dependence on oil, make the oil industry pay its share by eliminating tax breaks, and discipline the oil industry with Bill C-452.
I will give the House a short overview. In May 2003, before the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology, the commissioner of competition pointed out that the Competition Bureau did not have the authority to initiate an inquiry.
Since 2003, subsequent governments have not taken action. The government never takes action when the price of gas fluctuates. It believes its inertia is justified by the fact that the Competition Bureau is not able to prove that there are agreements among oil companies to fix the price of gas.