House of Commons Hansard #47 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was question.


A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

7:10 p.m.


Tarik Brahmi Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, in June, I asked the Minister of Industry to explain the measures being taken by the government to ensure that Canadian families across the board are not being fleeced by fluctuating gas prices. At the time, the minister told me he had referred the issue of fluctuating gas prices to the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology. Indeed, the committee agreed to study the matter, but, as the hon. member for Windsor West pointed out at the time, similar studies had already been done.

Ongoing analysis is certainly useful, but when the results do not translate into any measures for Canadians, then it is clear that the government is using delay tactics instead of taking concrete measures, such as those advocated by the NDP for Canadian families.

These are harsh economic times. Families are finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet, and thousands of jobs are being lost in Canada every day. The rising cost of living is hitting families harder all the time, and they are struggling to cope.

Unfortunately, this country does not have a national public transit strategy and communities are being underserved. For example, in my riding of Saint-Jean, we are completely dependent on cars and therefore on the price of gasoline. The same goes for most Canadians. Gasoline is not a luxury item. It is a necessity for getting to work and even for looking for work. This government keeps telling us over and over again that it was elected to create jobs, but in the meantime, it is doing nothing to make life easier for job seekers, the unemployed and workers.

We have an oil industry with very few players, and families have to endure fluctuations that have less to do with supply and demand and more to do with pure speculation. In the end, the oil companies are getting richer and families are getting poorer.

There is a serious impact on the Canadian economy, and just one example is the effect on Canadian tourism.

Let me tell the House a story. Just this morning my office heard from a woman who would soon be retiring and after many years of dedicated work, she looked forward to travelling in her RV. She has chosen to travel in the United States rather than in Canada because gas prices are simply too high in Canada.

Many Canadian families are being confronted with the reality of paying much more for gas in Canada. They choose to travel south rather than right here at home.

At a time when we want to boost our economy, inaction on this issue is not only unwise, but it is unfair when so many Canadian families are struggling.

Canadians have no choice but to live with random fluctuations and steady increases in the price of gas. We are left to wonder who in this government is doing anything to protect consumers.

It is time to act. It is time for this government to take immediate action.

Canadians want answers and they want action. What concrete measures will the government take to protect consumers from fluctuating gas prices?

7:10 p.m.

Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont


Mike Lake Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry

Madam Speaker, I would like to remind all hon. members of the House that this government is committed to taking action to ensure Canadian businesses and consumers prosper in a competitive and innovative marketplace.

The Commissioner of Competition has considerable powers to investigate the actions of all businesses and individuals when there is evidence that there may have been a violation of Canada's competition laws. These powers were strengthened by recent amendments to the Competition Act, providing the commissioner additional powers to attack cartel behaviour that is the most harmful to competition.

With regard to the petroleum industry, it is clear that when the Competition Bureau finds evidence of behaviour that violates the Competition Act, it has not hesitated to fully pursue the appropriate enforcement action allowed under the act to protect competition and consumers.

For instance, in 2008, and again in 2010, following an investigation by the Competition Bureau, charges were laid under the Competition Act against 38 individuals and 14 companies accused of fixing the price of gas at the pump in four markets in Quebec. As a result, to date, 13 individuals and 6 companies have pleaded guilty in this case, with fines totalling over $2.8 million. Six of these individuals have been sentenced to terms of imprisonment totalling 54 months.

I would also remind the House that the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology has repeatedly reviewed trends in gasoline prices in Canada.

A recommendation from a previous report of the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology concerning gasoline prices in Canada was that the Government of Canada create and fund a petroleum monitoring agency to collect and disseminate price data on crude oil, refined petroleum products and retail gasoline for all relevant North American markets.

Since that time, our government has been proactive in providing Canadians with information on gas prices and industry trends. In that regard, I would refer the hon. member and all Canadians to the energy sector of Natural Resources Canada, which acts as the lead on energy policy for the Government of Canada. It produces Fuel Focus, a report providing Canadians with valuable information on a regular basis regarding various aspects of the gasoline market in Canada and the economic factors influencing prices.

The report, released every second Friday, provides an overview of gasoline prices in selected Canadian cities, a comparison of gasoline prices between selected Canadian and competing American centres, trends in refining and marketing margins and costs and an overview of events influencing world crude oil prices. The report also provides insight into other related topics to help better understand gasoline markets, including consumer-related information to help reduce energy costs.

Through Natural Resources Canada's energy sector, the government has taken action to assist Canadian consumers in understanding what is taking place in this complex market. In addition, the Competition Bureau, through the principled enforcement of the Competition Act, continues to guard against anti-competitive activity in this and other sectors of the Canadian economy.

This government has also acted to ensure that Canadians get what they pay for at the pump. We passed the Fairness at the Pumps Act, which will protect consumers from inaccuracies at the pump. This government has acted and we will continue to act in the best interests of Canadians.

7:15 p.m.


Tarik Brahmi Saint-Jean, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague across the floor for his answers, which are definitely concrete, but practically speaking, simply providing consumers with information regarding the state of price increases does not solve the problem. Just because the government produces reports on margins and fluctuating prices and gives that information to Canadians does not change the fact that some price fluctuations are unjustified. Canadians expect the government to take specific action in order to gain some sort of control over those fluctuations, and not simply that it give them information.

When will this government finally take action that produces results instead of simply giving information?

November 16th, 2011 / 7:15 p.m.


Mike Lake Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont, AB

Madam Speaker, I find the NDP position on this file a bit contradictory. Both the NDP and Liberals opposed the GST tax cut, the decrease from 7% to 6% to 5%, which helps to keep Canadians' money where it belongs, in their own pocket. It is also interesting that the hon. member wants to talk about high prices when he knows that his own party's policies would impose a costly carbon tax on Canadians that would see gas prices skyrocket. Jack Mintz, a respected economist, has stated that the NDP's plan would result in a 10¢ hike in gas prices.

In addition, the government has already taken action to protect consumers by recently passing the Fairness at the Pumps Act. The act protects consumers from inaccurate measurements when buying gasoline and will ensure that consumers get what they pay for.

Moreover, as we have seen with the charges laid in Quebec in 2008 and 2010, when the Competition Bureau finds evidence of behaviour that violates the Competition Act, it does not hesitate to take law enforcement action to protect competition and consumers.

Clearly, the government recognizes the importance of this issue to Canadians and is committed to ensuring a strong, independently enforced legislative framework exists to guard against anti-competitive behaviour. These are concrete measures that we are very proud of over here.

7:20 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

Since the hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier is not present in the House to raise a question during the adjournment debate, his notice is deemed to have been withdrawn

The hon. member for Terrebonne—Blainville.

7:20 p.m.


Charmaine Borg Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Madam Speaker, on October 18, I rose in the House to talk about the problem of growing poverty in the suburbs of Canadian cities, particularly in Quebec. More specifically, I rose to ask the Conservative government's Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development a very simple question: When will the government bring forward a real plan to fight poverty?

This issue is particularly close to my heart because I am proud to represent the suburban communities of Terrebonne and Blainville. What I have seen in my riding is both encouraging and discouraging. I am pleased to see the daily dedication of the many community organizations that, with limited resources and funds, provide essential services to people affected by poverty. However, I am discouraged when I hear the increasing number of stories about good citizens sucked down into poverty and when I see that these heroic community organizations do not have the resources or the time to serve everyone effectively. Of course, the minister chose to avoid answering my question and defended the government's introduction of job training programs during the recession and the 2% cut to the GST.

That response was both evasive and inadequate. It was evasive because lowering the GST is not an anti-poverty strategy since it helps only the wealthiest people. It was inadequate because, although these skills training programs are important, they do not constitute an intelligent policy to fight poverty. They are not a long-term strategy to combat poverty with measurable objectives and they do not include a plan to coordinate initiatives among all departments or to implement accountability mechanisms. The proof is in the numbers.

Let us talk about the numbers. Today, the use of food banks has gone up by 26% since 2008. The unemployment rate remains at 7.3%, and has gone down only slightly since the recession. There are 136,000 fewer jobs for people between the ages of 15 and 24 than there were before the recession. Only 50% of Canadians experienced any true increase in their income over the past 30 years, while the income of the richest 0.1% of Canadians tripled. The average household debt to income ratio is now over 150% and the poorest Canadians are the primary victims of such debt.

We also know that housing prices and rents have risen dramatically across Canada, especially in downtown areas. Therefore, it is not surprising that pockets of poverty are becoming more common in the suburbs, where low-income families can find slightly less expensive housing. However, they still cannot make ends meet. A study conducted by the Vieille-Capitale health and social service centre reported this trend in Quebec City.

What are the effects of such growing inequality and increasing poverty? Scientific research has concluded that there is a direct link between income disparity and poor mental and physical health, addiction, poor school performance and increased crime. Faced with this compelling evidence and the complete failure of this government to bring forward a plan to tackle increasing poverty and inequality, the minister had no choice but to avoid my question.

7:20 p.m.

Cypress Hills—Grasslands


David Anderson Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources and for the Canadian Wheat Board

Madam Speaker, I am pleased that the member for Terrebonne—Blainville has given me this opportunity to explain our government's recovery plan.

I could not help but notice the difference between our party and theirs. She talks about more meetings, discussions and debates; we actually prefer action, and that is what we have done.

The Canadian economy is emerging from one of the worst economic crises that we have seen since the Great Depression. It is obvious that Canada's recovery is the strongest among all the G7 countries. In other words, the targeted measures in the first phase of our economic action plan are working, and we are on the right road.

That is not to say that the economic problems other countries are facing will not have repercussions on our own economy. The recovery is still fragile.

The best protection against poverty is a strong economy, not more meetings and more discussion, and the best guarantee of a strong economy is job creation. That is why jobs and the economy are going to continue to be our priority.

We want the best for our fellow Canadians. We are investing in programs to promote growth and create jobs, programs such as the one-time hiring credit for small business.

We are investing in programs for Canadian families. We provide over $14 billion per year in benefits for families with children.

We are investing in programs for caregivers. For example, we estimate that more than 500,000 caregivers will benefit from the family caregiver tax credit.

We are investing in programs for the working poor. We provide over $1 billion per year in the working income tax benefit, which helps to ensure that low-income Canadians are financially better off when they get a job.

We are investing in programs for our seniors, who have worked hard to build our country. For example, budget 2011 increased the guarantee income supplement for seniors who have little or no income, and that will benefit more than 680,000 seniors.

We are investing in programs for Canadian workers who have been laid off with measures such as the targeted initiative for older workers, which has helped close to 16,000 people.

We are investing in programs that promote education and skills training, because those are the key to economic independence and prosperity for everyone.

We are looking for ways to harmonize these investments with balanced budgets, yet without imposing a tax hike on hard-working Canadians.

The unfortunate thing is that the member opposite and her party have opposed virtually every one of these initiatives.

7:25 p.m.


Charmaine Borg Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Madam Speaker, we have voted against them because tax credits are of absolutely no help to people who have no income. These are people who are living on the streets, who cannot work, who cannot find jobs.

I am sorry, but this plan does not work; just look at the 76,000 jobs that were lost in a month. They do not have a plan, but they do not want to admit it. The government's obsession with tax credits and reductions does nothing for low-income Canadians because these people do not pay taxes. The government's tax reduction program for big business has done nothing to reduce the unemployment rate or improve the quality of jobs. What is more, this government has not invested any new money in social housing to improve social and urban diversity and reduce the tax burden.

I am proud to be part of the NDP, which introduced real plans to fight poverty during the last Parliament, such as Bill C-545 and Bill C-304.

7:25 p.m.


David Anderson Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Madam Speaker, Canadians gave us a clear, strong mandate.

They want us to respect the money they make and they want us to respect the money that we receive in taxes. They want us to spend it very wisely.

The best way to fight poverty is to get Canadians working. Our government is doing that: 656,000 new jobs have been created since July 2009.

Our government is reaching out to help families right across the country, especially those in need. That is one of the reasons we introduced measures such as the universal child care benefit. As well, we have increased the national child benefit.

Every action that we take is to help Canadians and their families become independent and help them contribute to the economy and the community.

It is unfortunate that the NDP seems to want people to be dependent on government rather than independent from it. Sadly the NDP, as I have pointed out, has voted against every one of those initiatives that we have brought in to help the most vulnerable families.

7:25 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 7:29 p.m.)