Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise today on Bill C-452. I want to congratulate my colleague, the hon. member for Shefford, for having introduced this bill to strengthen the Competition Bureau’s ability to make inquiries. We also hope that some parts of this legislation will find their way into government bill C-14 on electricity and gas inspection and on the Weights and Measures Act.
I had an opportunity earlier this week to speak on Bill C-14, and it is good that we are now going to discuss Bill C-452, which is still necessary in our view. We need to continue our efforts to deal effectively with the problem posed by the Competition Act, which still does not allow the Competition Bureau to conduct inquiries on its own initiative. It is still necessary, unfortunately, to wait for a complaint from some individual before an inquiry can be initiated.
Even though the Bloc Québécois supports Bill C-14 in principle, it is not an end in itself. With the introduction of Bill C-452, the Bloc Québécois reiterates its intention of freeing Quebec from its dependence on oil through a bold program focused on green energy and the electric car.
To do this, Bill C-452 expands on the measures the government is introducing in Bill C-14 by proposing further steps that could be taken to protect consumers.
Our bill would give the Competition Bureau the power to conduct on its own initiative real inquiries into an industry if there are reasonable grounds for doing so. At present, this is not permitted. The Bureau has to wait for complaints or for instructions from the minister before it can act.
Even though the government says it took action to correct the situation in the Budget Implementation Act of January 2009, there are no provisions in this act allowing the Competition Bureau to make inquiries on its own initiative. A complaint is still needed before an inquiry can be launched.
It is obvious that a bill like this would leave the Competition Bureau much better equipped to fight companies that want to take advantage of their dominant position in the market to fleece consumers.
The Bloc Québécois is not inventing anything new here. We have simply repeated for several years now the recommendations in the report of the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology, which was tabled in November 2003. The federal government has never done anything to help consumers in this regard. It has a fine opportunity here, though, to set up a monitoring system for the petroleum industry.
To understand the steps leading to the debate on Bill C-452, we need to go into the history of it.
In 2003, the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology tabled a study on the price of gasoline that made two recommendations to the government: create a petroleum monitoring agency and tighten up the Competition Act. The committee even specified the changes to the Competition Act that it would like to see. At the time, the Bloc was already saying that the government should implement the committee’s recommendations.
In October 2005, the Liberal government came around to the Bloc’s arguments and, as part of its plan to help curb the increase in the price of gas, it tabled amendments to the Competition Act in Bill C-19.
Unfortunately, Bill C-19 was just an election gimmick to give the impression the government was doing something to discipline the oil industry and it died on the order paper.
The Conservatives are quite enamoured of the oil industry, of course, and it is hardly surprising that they did not re-introduce the bill.
As a result, in 2007 the Bloc Québécois tabled Bill C-454, which passed second reading on April 28, 2008. But it too died on the order paper when an election was called in 2008.
In 2009, the Conservative government partly revived Bill C-454 in the Budget Implementation Act of January 27, 2009, although the Competition Bureau still was not allowed to launch inquiries on its initiative.
So here we are seven years later debating Bill C-452 to give the Competition Bureau some real teeth.
There is no doubt, in the Bloc’s view, that the Competition Bureau should have greater freedom of action and more discretionary power over its inquiries. To conduct an inquiry, the Competition Bureau needs access to all the documents so that it can do a good job of investigating and promoting competition.
The Bloc Québécois has long been pressing the government to take action in view of the rising price of petroleum products. Bill C-452 is just a first step toward countering the increase in the price of gas.
Apart from Bill C-452, the Bloc is more convinced than ever that the industry should do its fair share.
As I said at the beginning of my speech, Bill C-452 is part of a plan for sweeping change.
First, we must put a stop to the tax cuts for oil companies. In 2007 or just one year after taking power, the Conservative government gave the oil companies another tax cut in the 2007 economic update. As a result, the companies will see their tax rate fall to 15% in 2012. In that year alone, this tax break will help them pocket nearly $3.6 billion.
We also need to reduce our dependence on oil. Quebec does not produce any oil and every drop that Quebeckers consume impoverishes Quebec, in addition to contributing to global warming. The Bloc Québécois therefore wants to reduce our dependence on oil.
In 2009 alone, Quebec imported $9 billion worth of oil, less than usual because of the recession, but in 2008, oil imports totalled $17 billion. Over a period of five years, from 2003 to 2008, oil imports increased by $11 billion.
Furthermore, to reduce our dependence on oil, the Bloc has proposed substantial investments in alternative energies to create a green energy fund, launch a real initiative to reduce our consumption of oil for transportation, heating and industry, including an incentive to convert oil heating systems, and introduce a plan for electric cars.
We have to get ready, because by 2012, 11 auto manufacturers plan to introduce some 30 fully electric and hybrid models.
The objectives of Bill C-452 are clear. A bold program focused on green energies and electric cars that will allow Quebec to end its dependence on oil is urgently needed.
Until we can put an end to this dependence on oil, we must give more power to the Competition Bureau by allowing it to initiate inquiries, and by creating a petroleum monitoring agency.