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House of Commons Hansard #46 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was treaties.

Topics

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I have never seen Conservative consumer legislation, ever, that does not have an offset for private business.

In this case, the government wants to turn a random inspection system done by government inspectors which the industry will trust over to the government's private sector friends who can charge an arm and a leg for the inspections. They will be making appointments, I presume, so the retailer will know when the inspector is showing up. I cannot think of a worst case scenario than what the government is proposing.

We had a very similar situation in Manitoba a number of years ago with automobile inspections. The inspections were done on a random basis over the course of several governments over many years. The public was satisfied with that system. Cars were called in on a random basis once or twice over a 10-year period and the required repairs were done. The Filmon Conservative government turned the system over to the private garages, which have a conflict of interest. Not only are they certifying the vehicles as safe, but they are also doing repairs. There is an incentive for them to drive up the repairs. When this system was brought in under the Filmon Conservative government, the cost of low-end cars doubled overnight.

The other thing is that an inspection is not done unless the car is being sold. If someone drove a car for 15 years, it would never be inspected no matter how many things need to be done to it. An inspection is only done when there is a change in ownership and the garage hits the owner up for maybe hundreds of dollars' worth of repairs.

This is the type of Conservative approach to consumer affairs. There is never an approach like defending air passengers by passing air passenger protection because there is no offset in that for private business. That is what the Conservative government is all about.

We would like to support legislation like this, but we would like to see it being fair to the public. We do not want it to be legislation that turns some of the public sector over to the private sector so that it can benefit. I do not think we are going to see a lot of happy private businesses.

I would like to know when we are going to hear from a Conservative speaker on this bill. I have been waiting three days now for one of the government members to speak because I have some interesting questions to ask about an unknown part of this bill, and that is the rollback of odometers. While it is covered under the Weights and Measures Act, this bill would actually increase the penalties which would cover the rollback of odometers. That is great news. Why is there no mention of this in the government press release? As a matter of fact, rollback of odometers probably costs the Canadian public much more than what shortages at gasoline pumps cost them.

I would like somebody to answer that question.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member for Elmwood—Transcona touched on a number of subjects in his question, but I am going to come back to the use of private sector service providers for the inspections.

There is a larger issue here. Canadians look to their government to provide some certainty around the products that they consume or fairness at the pumps. Over a number of years they have seen an erosion of that confidence in their government. We have seen toy recalls. We have seen problems with pet food. We have seen problems with cosmetics. We have seen this problem at the gas pumps. What that says to Canadians is the government is not putting the interests of Canadians first and foremost.

Private inspection agencies is simply the wrong way to go. That is a job that rightfully belongs to the government, with government inspectors and regulators.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I wish to inform the House that we are now at the point in the debate where the speeches will be 10 minutes and the question and comment period will be 5 minutes.

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Hamilton Mountain.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-14, An Act to amend the Electricity and Gas Inspection Act and the Weights and Measures Act.

When it comes to transportation, we have made monumental advances in technologies. Inventions such as the train, bus and airplane have allowed us to explore the world we live in at relatively modest prices. Industrialization gave us the ability to mass produce public transit vehicles so that everyone could be free to move, but sadly, we are still using primitive and environmentally harmful petroleum fuels to propel most of our modes of transportation.

Both gasoline prices and carbon dioxide emissions are creating a growing transportation problem. As a result, governments are being forced to consider implementing better public transportation initiatives in an effort to reduce the impact of the declining oil economy on both our environment and on financial markets. What we need now from the senior levels of governments is a meaningful funding commitment to research and develop renewable energy sources that will allow municipalities, which are already struggling, to overcome their congestion and pollution problems.

In an ideal world, cycling and walking would be the preferred options for most Canadians, but unfortunately, with urban sprawl and a growing number of people who need to commute for work, they cannot avail themselves of those options. That leaves public transit as the only other sustainable solution because it is inclusive and economical, mitigates climate change and improves air quality. But progress in this area is moving at a snail's pace and in the meantime, people have few options but to stay in their cars.

That means the price of gas is an enormous factor in the day to day lives of Canadians. Whether they commute to work, travel to visit friends and family across the country, take meals to housebound seniors, drive their kids to weekend tournaments, or need gas to transport goods for small businesses, filling the tank is a constant struggle for millions of Canadians.

I have been hearing from people from right across my riding of Hamilton Mountain about the hardship that is caused by the rising price of gas, but what is worse is that they have no confidence that the price they are paying at the pump actually reflects what is happening in the market. They believe they are being hosed at the pumps. Here are just a few of the stories that they shared with me.

Jeff said, “It isn't fair that I can barely pay my bills, and paying for fuel keeps me from paying off debt, while gas companies increase their profits by billions”. Vivian said, “I'm retired and finally have some time to visit friends and family. But the car sits in the driveway because I can't afford to travel. The gouging oil companies have taken away our way of life”. Dennis wrote, “If we cannot count on the huge oil conglomerates to treat us fairly and not gouge us...the government should step in and do it for them...we are all being gouged big time”. Mark said, “The oil companies are making billions, while driving has become a luxury we can't afford. Who has the power here, the government or the oil companies?”

The price of gas drives up the cost of all commodities. From food to building supplies, manufactured goods to public services, the price of gas is a key cost driver. It affects all of us, whether we drive or not. Government has a responsibility to ensure Canadian consumers are treated fairly. It is the job of government to protect Canadians from the dubious business practices of big oil companies who steal from consumers with faulty gas pumps and gouge Canadians with price hikes inexplicably tied to weekends and warm weather.

Unfortunately, if predictably, Bill C-14 addresses only one element of that complex problem. It promises to increase fines and penalties for retailers who operate gas pumps that significantly shortchange consumers. To say that this is a day late and a dollar short is a profound understatement.

It is worth reviewing how we got here, how we got to a place where years after clear fraud has been exposed, this allegedly tough on crime government is only now getting around to proposing completely inadequate, half-baked remedies. It has been two long and expensive years since the Ottawa Citizen first reported that the government knew that its friends in the oil and gas industry had been ripping off consumers for decades. When the government was finally forced to release the Industry Canada report showing that fully 14,000 gas stations in Canada have at least one inaccurate pump, the New Democrats demanded action. The government said, “Good idea. We will get right on that”, and did precisely nothing.

During the last election campaign, the government again said to Canadians that it was going to do something about fuel pumps that deliver less fuel than the consumer paid for. The Conservatives indicated that this time they really, really meant it, yet they still did nothing. Finally, with this bill, the government has proposed an increase in fines and penalties for retailers who steal from their customers, but that addresses only part of the problem.

In advancing Bill C-14, the government has completely ignored the other critical issues that need urgent attention. In fact, the list of issues that this legislation does not address is more impressive than the legislation itself. We see no mention of the price gouging policies of big oil that mean consumers pay more for gas on long weekends and over the summer. There is no means of refunding consumers for decades of overpayment resulting from faulty pumps, estimated to amount to millions of dollars a year. There is not a word about restitution for the taxes that the government has collected on those overpayments, and this legislation is silent on the repercussions of privatizing inspection services, a move that essentially leaves the gas industry to police itself. We have seen how well that works.

The government must demonstrate that it gets it, and the bill does not do that. It is so bereft of meaningful solutions to the challenges Canadians face that one cannot help but suspect it is little more than a token to consumers, while big oil is left free to operate much as it has always done.

Then again, this is a government that has chosen to spend $6 billion this year alone on corporate tax cuts to big corporations like the oil and gas industry, so I suppose I am not surprised that this is where its priorities lie. But it is adding insult to injury by punishing hard-working Canadians even further with the much hated HST, which will increase the price of gas by another 8%.

Time and again the government shovels tax dollars by the truckload into the hands of profitable corporations while it fails to stand up for consumers. Canadians want a mechanism to protect them from the excesses of the big oil companies. They want an independent arbiter who can hear their concerns and complaints and make decisions in the public interest.

That is why I introduced Bill C-286, legislation to create an oil and gas ombudsman who would be charged with providing strong, effective consumer protection to ensure no big business could swindle, cheat or rip off hardworking families.

An oil and gas ombudsman would be an independent monitoring agency where Canadians could hold oil and gas companies accountable for their business practices. The ombudsman's office would investigate consumer and business complaints relating to price fixing, gouging and cheating, and provide for remediation. Upon receipt of a complaint, the ombudsman would then challenge gas companies to respond, and could report to the Minister of Industry for action if he or she remained unsatisfied with the response. Finally, the ombudsman's office would report annually to the House of Commons on the activities and findings of the office, so that Canadians would get accountability through their elected representatives.

It is time to shine a light on how the petroleum industry operates in this country and to hold it to account on behalf of Canadians. In a country as vast as ours and as poorly served by public transit, the ability to fill up the tank should not be a luxury. Exorbitant profits financed by price gouging and tax subsidies must be remedied.

I urge the government to do its job, to stand up for Canadian consumers and put big oil on notice that we mean business and we will hold them to account.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, members are aware that over the last 20 years, perhaps, successive studies have been done. As a matter of fact the pile is thick. I believe about 125 studies have been done on price fixing at the gas pumps. In all cases, at the end of the day the conclusion has always been that the oil companies are doing nothing wrong, when the public knows better. The fact of the matter is that the Competition Act has to be changed. That is key to this whole business.

The Bloc has introduced a bill in private members' hour, Bill C-452, to do exactly that. Under the Competition Act, it would authorize the Commissioner of Competition to inquire into an entire industry sector.

It has been pointed out many times that gas prices are much higher here than in the United States. We know there is price gouging and price fixing going on. It has been reported many, many times by people, who actually work in the gas stations, that they get a phone call from their head office and are told to raise the price. They do this with all of their stations. They do not dare question that.

That is what is really key here, but does the government make any moves in this direction? Absolutely not. Did the Liberal government do anything about this issue during its 13 years in power? Absolutely not. At the end of the day, we can only conclude that what we need is an NDP government in this country to bring in real consumer protection, because it will not happen under Conservatives or Liberals.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I could not agree more with the conclusion of my colleague from Elmwood—Transcona. I know that is surprising.

I want to speak about his larger point because he is absolutely right. When complaints have been brought forward to the government, when there have been investigations into collusion by the oil company, the conclusion has always been that there is nothing wrong here. That simply does not pass the nod test. Canadians do not believe it and Canadians deserve confidence that their interests as consumers are being protected by the government. That is not going to happen until we have an independent review.

I would remind members of the House what happened when the government committed to Canadians that it would protect their interests during foreign takeovers. Remember that we all have to make sure foreign takeovers are to the net benefit of Canada. How many of those foreign takeovers have been turned down by the government? Only one and only at the urging of the NDP.

In the meantime, we have lost thousands and thousands of jobs from companies that have taken over what used to be solid Canadian companies with decent paying jobs. They were bought out by foreigners and we have lost the jobs. We need independent reviews.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

John Cannis Liberal Scarborough Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have a brief comment before I ask a question. The other NDP member asked a question with respect to the Liberals. When the Liberals were in government, the price was about $75 to $78 per barrel. The prices at the pump were about 55¢ to 60¢. We did conduct a review and we did find some form of collusion that we addressed.

How can the hon. member explain this scenario, where the price today per barrel is about $79 or $80 while at the pump it is an average of $1.02 to $1.05 per litre? Some time ago in the supposed crisis, the price per barrel was at $150 and they were charging us $1.04 or $1.05. How does this discrepancy match? My constituents are upset. They say they do not mind being fair.

The Conservative government promised during the election that it would eliminate the excise tax on anything above 85¢ per litre. It has not done so. Does she think that would also help the consumer?

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I absolutely agree with my Liberal colleague. We have heard the exact same consumer complaints from our constituents over and over again. The gas pricing policy simply does not make sense.

He talks about the fact that one pays the same at the pumps no matter what the cost of the barrel has been when it is compared year over year. I would make the same argument that the cost of a barrel of oil somehow does not get reflected when Canadian gas prices are compared to American gas prices. On the spot market, we are still paying the same for the same barrel of oil.

He is absolutely right. There is no consumer protection here. More importantly, Canadians are right when they say this matter deserves serious investigation. We are being hosed at the pumps. We are being gouged, and we have a government that is not doing its job.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise and follow my very talented colleague from Hamilton Mountain to speak on Bill C-14, which should be called the more rip-offs at the pumps act.

As with virtually everything else the Conservative government has done, it simply does not seem to want to address Canadians' concerns. We have seen this in a number of other industries, which I will get back to in a moment. Very clearly, as the NDP critic for industry and member for Windsor West has said, the Conservative government is acting two years after the NDP first exposed the ongoing rip-offs taking place at gas pumps across the country.

Two years ago the NDP brought this forward. Two years ago the NDP started its campaign and, finally, laboriously, reluctantly, the Conservatives have brought a series of half measures to address this issue. It is simply not acceptable.

The Conservatives' underlying philosophy is that they simply do not believe in protecting Canadians. They do not believe in protecting Canadian jobs or in protecting Canadian consumers. We see this time after time.

Even with the one thing they are supposedly good at, which is their so-called anti-crime agenda, we see them cozying up to the incredibly brutal paramilitary thugs who kill people in Colombia and offering a preferential trading relationship to that regime and its secret police, paramilitaries and drug lords.

We see the difference between how Conservatives speak prior to election campaigns and what they actually do. That is why the government is in so much difficulty, not just with the repeated scandals we have seen over the past few months but also very clearly in the erosion of its support.

In British Columbia where the Conservatives brought in the HST, we are seeing a complete erosion in support. A lot of Conservative MPs from British Columbia simply will not be back in the House after the next election. British Columbians would say to bring on an election because they want to punish Conservatives for imposing the HST on them.

Getting back to Bill C-14, it is being brought forward very reluctantly by the Conservatives to address what has been a chronic mismeasurement around gas pumps. I will come back to that a little later. These faulty pumps always seem to operate against consumers. It is not as if there are cases where people are getting free gas, no siree. Consistently, hard-working Canadian consumers are being ripped off.

Two years went by before the Conservatives decided to take very reluctant action. What have they done? In this bill they have decided to, largely, privatize the inspection service. They have played around a bit with the fine component, but the problems have been inspections and the actual willingness of the government to push the industry to comply. Given that we see in this very weak bill some adjustments on fines and a privatizing of inspections, we can see that this is not an effective way of dealing with this at all.

What is not in the bill? There is no ombudsman office to evaluate problems and investigate complaints so that consumers actually have somebody to go to. The government does not want Canadian consumers to be protected in any way, whether we are talking about excessive bank fees or the rip-offs at the pumps generally and the price fixing that goes on. The government has not wanted to take action on any of those fronts. It believes in what it calls voluntary compliance, which is basically saying that we should hand over to business lobbyists the ability to determine their own rip-off regime.

In this bill there is nothing to provide consumers with an advocate to act on their behalf. It is certainly not the government. Why not an ombudsman office?

There is no refund or compensation for any consumer who has been ripped-off consistently, not only for the last two years while the NDP has been pushing this issue, but in all the investigations that have taken place over the last decade that have repeatedly found faulty pumps operating against consumers' interests. They get ripped-off because the government is not willing to act and it says that is quite all right.

The Conservatives are willing to shovel tens of billions of dollars off the back of a truck to bank lobbyists and powerful CEOs in the energy companies. They just throw money all over the place in the most irresponsible way. They never set any job targets and there is never any quid pro quo. Industry never has to respond with anything at all. However, the moment consumers are being ripped-off, all of a sudden the Conservatives say that there is no money, no refund, no compensation for them.

What about the taxes that were collected on what has been called phantom gasoline? There is no refund there either.

What we basically have through this process is a legitimization of the rip-offs that took place. This bill would just rubber stamp that. Canadian consumers have been ripped-off for years and to the government that is quite all right. It simply brings in a bill that pays some lip service to it but the Mr. and Mrs. Smiths in northern Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia are all out of luck. However, for banking CEOs, the government just shovels tens of billions of dollars toward them but because consumers come from main street they are out of luck. It is for those reasons that this bill is so lamentably inadequate.

We can look at the price-fixing that has gone on that has ripped-off Canadian consumers to a stunning degree. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives estimates that one weekend of price-fixing by Canadian oil companies takes millions of dollars out of the pockets of Canadian consumers but there has been no action from the government at all.

How does that work? It is very simple. When the price spikes on a barrel of crude oil, the oil companies immediately raise the price on old stock. They purchase it at the lower price but immediately impose a new price. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and others have investigated and explained how this takes place on a systematic basis, particularly when the weather gets nice. Any change in the international price of crude oil means an immediate spike up in the price at the pump.

What happens afterward if the reverse is true? The prices do not come down. If the price of crude oil falls, the price stays up for an extended period of time. This is all windfall profits. What we have is a spike up immediately, an immediate rip-off that is then prolonged over an extended period of time.

Hard-working Canadian consumers going to work, taking their families to events and to school and supporting their communities are getting ripped-off both at the beginning and at the end. They get ripped-off with the price spike right at the beginning as a result of whatever change has taken place and they get ripped-off at the end. The Conservatives say that the consumers are out of luck. The Conservatives do not care about main street Canadians but if they are from Bay Street the government gives them tens of billions of dollars.

It is very clear that Bill C-14 would allow for the continued rip-off of Canadian consumers at the pumps. It would privatize something that should be receiving a bolstered and robust public inspection system. What do we have? We have gas companies forming their own private arm to inspect themselves. Is that the kind of voluntary compliance that Conservatives want to bring in? Is that even acceptable to Canadians? Of course not.

Canadians want to see a robust regulatory system. They want to see the public interest protected by government. This is something that the Conservatives are simply unable to even conceive. They promise it during election campaigns, as we saw in 2006 and in 2008, but they simply have not delivered.

This bill is simply ineffective. It should be called the more rip-offs at the pumps act. That is why are opposing this bill.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, consumer advocates have known for years that, after 125 studies gathering dust and no action being taken, the Competition Act needs to be changed to allow the commissioner to inquire into the oil industry.

It is rather interesting that in other parts of the economy and in other industries, for a quite a number of years now, the fight against price-fixing is actually being won. The travel industry, the real estate industry and the insurance industry are all industries where, for a number of years now, the Competition Bureau has sent out CDs and have held seminars explaining to them how they are breaking the law if they get together in collusion, say in a travel agency business, with the neighbour to price fix in a given area.

Somehow we are having an effect on the little businesses, which is fine, and we should, but the oil industry does not seem to be part of that whole equation. The government talks about too big to fail. Is this the case of the oil industry just being too big to regulate?

Nobody in the government seems to want to take on the oil industry. The government feels totally secure chasing around little real estate agents or travel agents to ensure they do not price fix but what about the oil companies? What is the government afraid of?

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member for Elmwood—Transcona has been a strong advocate for consumers, whether we are talking about the rip-offs taking place at the gas pumps or the rip-offs that take place around airline delays. He has been a consistently strong advocate for consumers right across this country.

We had the Conservatives campaigning on the oxymoronic slogan of Conservatives standing up for Canada. We certainly have not seen that in any area when we talk about trade. We have seen the softwood sellout, the shipbuilding sellout and now they are moving to sell off more of our resources and key industries in other trade agreements. They have the worst record we have ever had, even worse than the former Liberal government, which was difficult to beat. They really had to work hard to be that incompetent.

When it comes to the issue of standing up for consumers, the Conservatives are simply unable to do so. I do not think it is because of fear. I think it is because they are in the pockets of the very wealthy corporate CEOs on—

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Questions and comments. The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission B.C.

Conservative

Randy Kamp ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans

Mr. Speaker, the member knows that nobody is in anybody's pocket as there are rules that we put in place about allowing contributions from any corporations, or unions for that matter, which probably affected his party.

I do have a question for the member. I did listen with interest and both he and his colleague from Elmwood—Transcona mentioned the 125 studies completed by the Competition Bureau, all of which I think they said came to the conclusion that there was no collusion going on.

What does the member think the reason is for those conclusions? Are the people at the Competition Bureau just a bunch of morons? Does he see something more sinister going on at the Competition Bureau? If that is what they think, they should be clear about that.

There are some provinces in Canada that do more regulation of gas prices, in the Maritimes for example, and their gas prices are very similar to all the rest. They do not change very quickly. I would ask the member if he thinks that is the solution he is looking for.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, the investigation showed that between 1999 and 2007, 5% of gas pumps, about 1 in 20, failed the inspections by dispensing less fuel then they should. Very clearly, that is something the government should have taken action on. These studies are available to the government. It does need to take action.

I do want to comment on one thing. I know the member is from British Columbia. We have the Conservatives who brought in the absolutely hated HST. We now have over 60 of the 85 ridings in British Columbia that have signed the petition campaign to force a referendum.

Will the government respect—

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, I thank the House for its indulgence in allowing me to speak since I just gave notice a short time ago. I thank the parliamentary secretary in particular because he is such a fan, albeit a moderate fan.

I have some great concerns about this particular bill. Looking at the surface of it, one can see that the bill has some great merits. It would cut down on potential gouging. It is not a tremendous part of the market, but nonetheless, in some instances it is a way to be more fair. It would also impose fines that are more dramatic and therefore may act as a larger deterrent.

In certain instances, we need to be concerned about the enforcement measures by which we want to put this out there. In order for it to be effective, it obviously needs to have some teeth. This bill does deserve more study. I support that measure, in and of itself, because this is an issue. As consumers go, it has become a larger demand as energy prices rise and as we have become far more dependent upon fuels for the sake of transportation.

I say that because I am from a rural riding that does not have the benefit of mass transit and therefore people rely more on singular vehicles and drive longer distances because of the distance between communities. I have 171 communities in my riding and close to half of the people in my riding do not work in their own community and sometimes drive to other communities. Therefore, the price they pay at the pumps is something that concerns them greatly.

When this bill was first introduced, the intention was one that merited a lot of attention because there are measures in it to protect consumers. I received an email from a person I know in my hometown of Bishop's Falls. He is not only a concerned consumer but he is the former petroleum commissioner of Newfoundland and Labrador. As a matter of fact, he was the one who originated the office in Newfoundland and Labrador to help regulate gas prices.

I want to pass along to the House some of his thoughts in his email because I think they are relevant. These are the types of questions we should be asking within the context of the committee. He uses a consumer in rural Newfoundland as an example. He says:

For example, a consumer in rural Newfoundland who buys fuel at a local general merchant with a single gas pump in his community, and feels he has received too little product for the price paid, decides to report his complaint. Who does he call? What official? If he does reach someone, what would they do? Who would investigate? Who would contact the consumer and what procedure would be followed? What investigative tools would be used to prove that his pump is inaccurate? What means would be employed to enforce the act? What court is used to challenge the charge? How will it be administered? The list of questions go on and on.

I wanted to read that to the House because his questions are quite pertinent in this particular situation. On the surface, the spirit is great, but the problem is that in practice it will be a little harder to enforce. I will get to that in a moment.

Mr. Saunders goes on to say that he is a little worried about the absence of a supportive bureaucracy and a regulatory system. He also wishes us all the best in putting this through. Not only was he the commissioner, but he started the office and knows quite a bit about the particular industry.

On the other side of this thing, I am concerned about the enforcement of this and how it would be put toward the private sector. In this particular situation, it all sounds great when we have fines that are levied and fines that are severe and doubled in many cases, but one of the issues becomes that they have put it to the private sector for the sake of enforcement.

What is troubling is the cost of enforcing this may come back to the consumer. This issue has been brought up in the debate already and I share that view. I gave an example of one retailer, the one gas pump in a smaller town in a rural community. Where would the retailer go to find an inspector if no inspectors were available? Who pays? The inspectors come at a cost. They perhaps have to travel a great distance. It is harder to find qualified inspectors in a much larger rural area.

What bothers me is this situation is similar to the rebates for heating homes. Rebates are available for people who insulate their homes for more efficient heating. How do people become eligible for these rebates? They have to hire an inspector to tell them what rebates they qualify for. They pay some to get some. I do not think that was the spirit of government legislation from the very beginning.

These questions should be posed at committee. On the surface, a lot of this is put upon the private sector, which in many cases would be the one to follow through with the enforcement and enactment of this measure. It may be something that is great for the consumer. It sounds nice, but in practice it could be complicated for areas of greater distance, areas with smaller communities, especially in the case where there is only one pump or where there are independent retailers.

I would like to bring up some other situations. Some communities' pumps are not used as much. Therefore, little things end up making this complicated. For example, because the pumps are not used as much, the introduction of ethanol could have an impact. Where we have higher use, there is a probability of breakdown and it is not really someone's fault. It is the result of wear and tear on the machines like any other machine that depreciates. It is a guarantee that goes on forever. With the introduction of elements such as ethanol, some of these older pumps may be affected as a result. Again, someone will have to pay for this. The inspector is brought in, the inspector finds something the government finds fault in and the fine is levied. What happens to that one independent retailer in that situation? Things get complicated. It is not only about the consumer, it is about the smaller retailer as well. I hope this will be addressed at committee.

I am also concerned that the legislation could also be a distraction in a small way, and this goes to the political realm. It could be dealt with by regulation, if there is the presence of a problem. The minister admitted that only 6% of the pumps were found to be faulty. Of that 6%, 4% of the 100% that were tested did not favour the consumer. Therefore, that makes it even more minuscule at that point. Just because the number is small does not mean it should be ignored and we should throw this out. What I am saying is it is going to be an onerous way of enforcing certain rules. Therefore, I am highly concerned about how we are throwing this on the private sector, as my hon. colleague in the NDP has pointed out on several occasions, and I agree with him.

Finally, I will quote from the member for Pickering—Scarborough East who said:

Let us deal with some real issues in this House for once and not go around contenting ourselves with some idea that we have a better widget than the people who preceded us or than the ones who preceded them. The reality is far more serious.

I know that members on the industry committee should have the benefit of all the questions, not just Measurement Canada, but to look beyond this first step. I am hoping it is a first step, because members will recall that, in the 2008 campaign, the Conservative Party pledged to deal with the issue of potential problems at the gas pumps...

We hope they will follow through on that.

Again, the hon. member has said this is a first step. At the second step in committee, I would implore all members of the House, and certainly the members of the industry committee, to look at this and fully analyze what is about to come down the pipe as it were.

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11 a.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I know the member is absolutely right about the proposed inspection system.

If the Conservatives had done proper consultations on the bill with the industry and with the independents, I am sure the independents would be more than willing to see the government inspection team beefed up and perhaps over a period of a couple of years we could double or triple the number of inspections. However, I think those independents would trust a government inspector over a privatized inspector.

Let me tell the House what can happen with a privatized inspection system. It is contemplated that the privatized inspectors will be able to set their own prices. The member talked about a small town with a single gas pump. The operator will have to pay for that inspector, who might have to drive a couple of hundred miles. Since the inspector can set his own prices, he can charge an arm and a leg for that inspection.

The other issue is there now will be random inspections. Therefore, the operator will never know when the inspector will show up. We will have a system where the inspector will phone first, tip the operator off and then charge the operator triple the price that would be paid under a government program.

This is all messed up. This is typical Conservative consumer legislation, always an offset to private business.

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11:05 a.m.

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, earlier I listened to the member's speech. He brought forward his experience in the Manitoba legislature, and I thank for that.

I have witnessed this in the past six years since being elected as a member of Parliament. Some programs, as I have said before, have been thrust upon the private market. I do not want to mislead anyone by thinking this is the wrong way to go in all general circumstances. In certain cases, we talk about public-private partnerships. Some of them have effective measures and some work substantially in many areas. However, the problem is the oversight and enforcement involved, or lack thereof. Even if that element is put upon the private sector, we could run into some problems as the member pointed out.

Private inspectors in rural areas have to travel and that costs money. They have to stay overnight in hotels, which costs money. All these costs, one after another, are thrown at the consumer.

I go back to the example about applying for rebates to make homes more energy efficient. The problem was with the inspectors. The government said that the inspectors would only cost a couple of hundred dollars. It was more than that in rural areas. People had to pay for the inspector's gas mileage and they had to pay for the hotel if the inspector had to stay overnight. They were lucky enough to share these costs with other people, but it became that much more complicated. The private sector decided the price. Let us face it, when it comes to setting the prices, inspectors will charge whatever the market will bear. Therefore, that makes its way up the scale. It was harder for people with low incomes to avail themselves of the program because they could not afford the inspection process.

I bring that up as an example only because we may have the same situation. I know the Conservatives scoff at the idea, but I hope they bear this in mind. It could become a problem for the consumers in the near future. I hope they will come up with suggestions to change the legislation so we protect the consumers from being gouged in more ways than just one.

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11:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Is the House ready for the question?

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11:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

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11:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

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11:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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11:05 a.m.

An hon. member

On division.

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11:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Accordingly the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

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May 13th, 2010 / 11:05 a.m.

Conservative