Mr. Speaker, I must inform you that I will be sharing my time with my colleague, the member for Sherbrooke.
In bringing forward this motion, the Bloc Québécois is saying today that the government must establish an effective plan that will give Quebec consumers some relief from repeated increases in the price of fuel, be it gas or diesel.
We are now witnessing a highly predictable scenario that, unfortunately, becomes a reality every year as summer approaches. Indeed, the vast majority of Quebeckers know that the closer we get to the summer holiday season, the higher gas prices get. We are at the point where we practically know in advance when oil companies will increase gas prices at the pump.
On top of that, people know for sure that after repeated increases the prices will come down slightly, but never to the level they were initially, even though the price of crude does drop to its initial level. It is like going up five steps and coming down three. But we never do come down from the other two. A few weeks later, it is the same scenario all over again.
It is examples such as these that are making Quebeckers very cynical about the oil companies and this government, which is stubbornly not taking any effective action to help them.
Many people in my riding have written recently to tell me that the increase in the price of fuel has become intolerable and that it is affecting all sectors of the economy, every class of society and all age groups. Workers have to devote more and more of their budget to earning a living. Young people at the post-secondary level have often to travel long distances to their training. Seniors are seeing their purchasing power and their plans stifled by these dramatic increases in gasoline costs.
I will quote a few of these people to show you just how serious a crisis we are facing, a crisis that is dramatic in some cases. A resident of Sainte-Geneviève-de-Batiscan in my riding wrote the following:
When the barrel price goes up, increases at the pump follow immediately. It should be noted that when the opposite occurs, that is, when the barrel price drops, the price at the pump takes a long time to drop, sometimes nothing happens. Who benefits?
She concludes, cynically:
Oh, yes, I forgot. It is true these companies do not make big profits.
This woman in my riding no doubt learned that the combined net profits of the five major integrated oil companies in Canada were $9.65 billion in 2005, 34% higher than in 2004 and 46.9% higher than in 2003.
The people of Quebec are not fooled. They feel they are being manipulated and are at the mercy of these companies, whose hunger for profits is absolutely scandalous, especially when a refining margin of between 4¢ and 6¢ a litre is a very good figure for the oil companies, according to the Association québécoise des indépendants du pétrole. The refining margins were at 7.2¢ a litre between 1998 and 2003—and so already extremely attractive—and reached 19.5¢ a litre in early April this year.
So people's feelings about being swindled by this industry are not based solely on perceptions. Facts show clearly that the oil companies are mistreating consumers, including those whose employment is linked directly to the use of oil.
A resident of Saint-Stanislas wrote me this:
I am so fed up with the rising price of gas. My spouse has to drive to get to work; he has no choice. It is heart-wrenching to have to pay nearly $100 a week, just to get to work. And this does not include what he puts in his chain saws, since he is a logger. He spends a total of $150 to $200 a week in gas, since prices have continued to rise.
The increase in gas prices is always the source of a series of successive increases for practically all of the products we use, beginning with the food we eat, which often has to be transported long distances.
A citizen of Sainte-Thècle wrote to me about this:
We see that all market prices are going up too quickly: first gas, then everything else goes up, too. The rising price of gas must be stopped immediately.
This is urgent. The price of gas has become the starting point for an inflationary spiral that could undermine Quebec's economy.
A citizen of Shawinigan, Mr. Émilien Bergeron, is currently starting a petition that will be presented here in the House, asking the Canadian government to take action to bring down the price of gas significantly. The Service d'aide au consommateur is supporting his action. The SAC—or Consumer Aid Services—is well known throughout Quebec and across Canada, in part thanks to its founder, Senator Madeleine Plamondon.
It is therefore time to act, and this government must demonstrate through concrete measures that it is assuming not only its economic but also its social responsibilities, by introducing measures to reduce fuel prices and bring about more fairness, particularly for those citizens who are dependent on fuel in their jobs.
The paradigm of this inflationary spiral has to be replaced by a new vision of things. Citizens expect this government to introduce specific measures to counter the appetite of the oil companies, and therein lies the full significance of the Bloc Québécois' proposals.
First of all, there is no question that the time has come to discipline this industry by passing a Competition Act that assigns real powers to an independent agency, an agency that could call witnesses, gather information and above all protect witnesses and other sources of information. Bill C-19, which had the support of the Bloc Québécois, was moving in that very direction, but it died on the order paper.
In the same vein, the Bloc Québécois is also proposing the creation of a genuine petroleum monitoring agency.
In this time when access to information, transparency and accountability are becoming more than ever essential tools for the protection of our democracy, it is vital that the government move in the direction of this proposal by the Bloc Québécois, which would provide citizens with the real information on the prices of petroleum products.
So the main purpose of this agency would be to monitor the industry by collecting and disseminating data on the prices of petroleum products refined in North American markets, and to report annually on various aspects of competition. This monitoring agency would also require the capacity to summon witnesses, ensure the protection of their confidentiality, study all the aspects of the petroleum industry, and above all propose solutions to restore order to it.
It seems to me undeniable that the creation of a petroleum monitoring agency would be extremely beneficial for all consumers, because they would then have access to information to which they presently have no access at all.
Another major element of the Bloc Québécois' proposal is that the petroleum industry must also play a role in restoring a better financial balance between consumers on the one hand and producers, refiners, distributors and retailers on the other.
Oil is a natural resource that generates economic activity and wealth to a degree incomprehensible to mere mortals. But this wealth must be shared and distributed differently than it is now. This is why the Bloc Québécois is proposing a surtax on the astronomical profits of oil companies, most of which are controlled by American groups.
A surtax on oil companies' revenues would net the government $500 million per year, which it could then spend on finding new ways to reduce our dependence on oil products.
The Bloc Québécois is also proposing taking away the tax breaks granted to the oil industry, which would force the industry to pull its fair share of the weight.
Currently, the oil industry is a real boon for Alberta, but Quebec's economy is paying the price. The oil industry is responsible for a significant portion of the increase in greenhouse gases since 1990. Growing oil exports are driving the dollar up, which is wreaking havoc on Quebec's manufacturing sector. Huge increases in the price of fuel are affecting all sectors of Quebec's economy.
The Bloc Québécois is proposing a review of natural resources tax policy so we can put an end to these gifts for the oil industry.
The final solution the Bloc Québécois is proposing is to act now to find alternatives to oil.
We must focus on this if we really want to ensure a balance between developing our society and protecting our planet.
Starting now, we must make it easier for people to manufacture and purchase vehicles that pollute less.
In closing, I would like to emphasize how proud I am to have participated in this debate, whose main goal has been to let the citizens of Quebec know that the Bloc Québécois is by their side in fighting unjustified fuel price hikes. We are with them and we will not give up.