Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise on behalf of the constituents of Newton--North Delta to participate in the second reading debate on Bill C-66, an act to authorize payments to provide assistance in relation to energy costs, housing energy consumption and public transit infrastructure, and to make consequential amendments to certain acts.
I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Nanaimo—Alberni.
I would like to highlight that the bill would allow the government to make a one-time energy cost benefit payment of $250 to families receiving the national child benefit supplement and $125 to recipients of the guaranteed income supplement. It also would allow the government to spend $838 million on measures to reduce housing energy consumption and it would remove the requirement that $800 million for public transit infrastructure, set out in the NDP budget bill, be contingent on the size of the surplus. The bill calls for the payments to be made in January 2006.
To assist with the background, this summer crude oil prices soared to record highs. For consumers, the effects were primarily felt at the pumps. Gasoline broke the dollar barrier earlier in the summer and kept on going up, reaching a new peak on Labour Day weekend of up to $1.40 per litre.
While both crude oil and gasoline prices have come down in recent weeks, they remain at near historic highs and this winter promises to be the most expensive ever for heating one's home.
Since June, natural gas prices across North America rose more than 30%. In British Columbia, natural gas is the dominant energy used for home heating, being used by over 800,000 households in the province. Twice in the last four months the B.C. Utilities Commission has approved a request by Terasen Gas for a natural gas commodity rate increase. In June, the commission approved a 5.6% increase. This was followed last month by a 13.3% increase.
As a result of those increases, my constituents can expect to see their annual heating bills jump by nearly $300 to over $1,500. In the last two years, the price to heat a lower mainland home with natural gas has increased by over $500 annually. If that was not bad enough, it is almost guaranteed that prices will go up again before spring.
An American government report issued earlier this month estimates that heating bills for all fuel types will cost Americans about one-third more this winter. The same is true in Canada.
The Energy Information Administration sees the cost of heat by natural gas rising 47% and heating oil 32%. The Canadian Gas Association is predicting the price of natural gas will increase from 20% to 50% this winter. This is bad news for British Columbians and for the 50% of Canadian homeowners who heat with homes with gas.
Energy prices have never been so high or increased so quickly. For some low income families, the sharp jumps could mean choosing whether to eat or keep warm.
Even more affluent Canadians will be hard hit by soaring heating costs. With today's high cost of living, particularly in urban areas like British Columbia's lower mainland, many families earning good salaries still live from paycheque to paycheque. An extra $100 a month for home heating, combined with higher gas prices and rising interest rates, could be enough to cause financial hardship or even possibly bankruptcy in some cases.
The government's rebate plan would leave thousands of low income British Columbians out in the cold. According to its own numbers, the government scheme will aid less than 10% of Canadians. Even the poor will only receive assistance if they already collect child or elderly benefits. Bill C-66 does nothing for the majority of students, many of whom live in dirty, old apartments. Students are one of the main low income groups in this country but the Liberals have forgotten about them.
As well, Canadians with disabilities who claim disability benefits will receive no help with their heating bills. Similarly, farmers and over 200,000 low income seniors who do not file for the GIS will not receive help. Bill C-66 offers no assistance to poor Canadians who are childless. Statistics Canada indicates there are nearly two million individuals under 65 who fall below the low income threshold and who have no children. These individuals will receive nothing from the government.
Now, talking about current affairs, we know that almost $45 million is missing or is unaccounted for from the sponsorship program. The people I mentioned, the seniors, farmers, people on fixed incomes or low income and students would have been better off if the government had some accountability in place. It has been confirmed that on the Liberal side there is a culture of entitlement, corruption, greed, carelessness and mismanagement. We have been saying that all along for so many years and today it has been confirmed by Justice Gomery. These are the facts. These are not only accusations.
The sponsorship program was directed politically and there have been no political consequences. Only the bureaucrats have been made the scapegoats. That program was set up by the Liberals. They ran the program. They used the program and abused the program. The kickbacks have been going to the Liberal Party for the benefit of the Liberal Party. It is important--