Mrs. Carol Hughes (Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, as it has been two days since I started my speech, I will take some time to refresh the House a little.
This all came about because of an investigation by the Ottawa Citizen which revealed that between 1999 and 2007, government inspections of over 200,000 fuel pumps found that about 5% of the pumps delivered less fuel than reported on the pump display. The government inspection data showed that about one-third of Canada's gas stations, which is about 14,000, had at least one faulty pump. That occurred more than three years ago and the government has waited this long to respond.
It will come as little surprise to most members that gas prices in my constituency of Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing are through the roof. When we hear Measurement Canada say that 5% of the pumps out there are delivering less fuel than reported on the pump display, we feel even more vulnerable based on the already too high gas prices we pay.
New Democrats have some problems with the bill and, by now, members will have heard most of these. Still, it is worth repeating some of them for the benefit of people who may have just begun to pay attention to this debate.
I would like to talk about some of the gas prices in my riding at this point. In Elliot Lake on Monday the price was 105.3 and today it is 104.9. In Espanola today it is 105.9. In Kapuskasing last Monday it was $1.10. Unfortunately, I could not get the price today because I did not have a chance to check. In Sault Ste. Marie on Monday it was 106.9 and in Sudbury it was 104.9.
In the rural parts of Canada we pay more for gas than in cities. I would like to read some of the emails that I have received over the last couple of years. I have just picked them randomly because it is important to show that from year to year there have been some concerns by the citizens in my area. This email is from Eric Vincent of Elliot Lake. He says:
|| The daily gas prices shown on the [member for Pickering—Scarborough East]website should be enough evidence to see that the 2 gas stations here in Elliot Lake are not lowering their gas prices when others are lowering theirs and that they are too slow to lower them when they finally do.
|| I feel that we are continuously overcharged here. For example: we are no further remote from the refineries than Ottawa is. Tankers get to Ottawa one at a time the same as the tankers that arrive here, one at a time, to deliver gas to the only 2 stations that we have. Then these two stations always sell gas at exactly the same price.
|| Every day we hear of prices falling across Ontario, yet ours stay pinned at the same price long after any lower prices appear elsewhere.
|| For example: our price here [November 21, 2008] is 91.9 cents per litre which it has been for many weeks, while the gas price in Ottawa is 73.5 cents per litre. This is a whopping 20% difference today.
|| If you were able to locate the Gas Baron by phone to advise that immediate attention is needed to remove this major discrepancy, I am certain that it would result in immediate fairness at the pumps that could result in them making changes daily here in Elliot Lake and across Your entire constituency.
That is exactly why we need a commission and exactly why we need an ombudsman.
I have another email from Maurice Drolet who says:
|| As you may have noticed, the gas price has risen quite substantially in the past month. I do not understand why here in the North East Ontario, where we depend on vehicles as there are no transit or subway, the gas is much more expensive than anywhere else. The barrels are at a price where we used to pay around $0.78 a litre [February 13, 2009] but now we are paying $0.91.9. I feel that the people in the North should be hearing on the news, and newspaper that you are screaming bloody hell to the government about this outrageous lack of concern from the government toward us.
It is the not the first time that I bring the issues of the gas prices and gas gouging to the House. This one is from Jerry Allen, who wrote on March 2, 2009:
|| I and many others are wondering how long the government is going to allow the oil companies to keep gouging the public. The price of oil per barrel has dropped dramatically, but the price of a liter of gasoline HAS NOT dropped accordingly.
On November 18, 2009, Garland Sullivan wrote:
||...I was going to Sudbury the other day and I filled the car up at Thessalon, at a buck six [$1.06]. When I got to the Espanola turnoff, it was ninety three [93¢]. When I get to Sudbury, I saw two places at ninety two [92¢]??????.
|| I have been in the transportation business most of my life, and there is no way anyone can justify that much of a difference in cost to move the stuff, and the expenses to operate a business in the Soo are no more than they are in Sudbury, SOOO back to the old adage we in the north are getting it where it hurts. Now what do we do about this, this seems to be a slap in the face to the northerners because we here in the north need our gas and fuel and I have not heard of ANYONE taking up our cause here in the north.
|| Just thought I would let you in on the secret.
I want Canadians to know that we certainly have been raising this issue here for the people in the north, and there continues to be concern that no one is being heard.
Some people say that the price of gas depends on where one is in the north and it depends on the markets and on whether the price of a barrel of oil is up. Recently I went to a reception on the Hill with some of the gas providers. I was told that it depends on whether or not a gas station sells other things, that the owner could make up the profit from those sales and lose a l bit on the gas.
My colleague, the member for Timmins—James Bay, and a provincial colleague talked about the price of gas and that a case of beer, no matter where it is bought, is the same price. Another thing I was told was that if a location sold a lot of gas, the price of gas could be reduced because it is cheaper to buy it in bulk. Well, if more beer is sold at one of the beer stores, it is still the same price no matter where one buys it.
I regularly get phone calls from people about accuracy at the pumps and, of course, the high price of gas, as I have mentioned. It is a hot button issue in my riding of Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing.
I want to read another comment, which I received on May 10. Mr. Tracy in Little Current talked about the price of crude oil and the disparity with regard to the price of crude oil when it is $20 a barrel at the well head, and the price quoted on TV is around $90. He wrote:
|| With Canada pumping 2 million barrels of crude oil per day the Canadian public are being taken for a ride.
|| Example - TV price of oil in the past year or so went down to around $40 a barrel - and the public have been told as much as $140 a barrel. YET AT THE SAME TIME A BARREL OF CRUDE OIL WAS ALWAYS LESS THAN $20 A BARREL AT THE WELL HEAD.
We need to look at what is really in this bill. This type of legislation has been needed for some time. On paper the bill seems logical, yet the bill before us is difficult to support in its present form, which is a shame. The idea is good, but it is framed inside the same old Conservative fixtures.
The way in which the private sector is being utilized in this bill seems almost quasi-official. It is the first layer of bureaucracy that will decide if the next layer will be needed. If I understand this correctly, it is little more than a screening process. The actual inspectors from Measurement Canada would be required to do the heavy lifting.
The fact that there is no ombudsman being established in this bill is a huge oversight. This leaves no method of recourse. Let us not forget that it would not always be the consumer who required the assistance of an ombudsman. Very real taxes have been paid on what amounts to phantom fuel. We can look at this any way we want to and it still amounts to taxes paid on nothing at all. Consumers who have been ripped off would have no means to regain lost money, nor would there be any refund or restitution for taxes collected for phantom gas purchases.
As I mentioned in this House in November 2008, Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing is a big riding and there is not a lot of public transportation. I have also discussed this in my speech today. Things that many Canadians take for granted, such as the ability to get to work or a doctor's appointment, can be a big deal for many of my constituents because the gas prices in the riding are much higher than they are in the major centres. This is just not right. When people have no choice but to rely on a car to get around, we can understand the frustration of those residents when they know they are being gouged at the pumps due to higher gas prices, inadequate measurement and false temperatures.
Information gathered shows that a motorist gets shortchanged at least twice a year. The results from a review of gas stations in Windsor showed that 25% of fuel pumps inspected were faulty. This study took over eight years. Again, let me remind members that not only were people shortchanged on the amount of gas they paid for, but also on the amount of tax paid on that gas.
Consumers have been gouged by millions and are now being told they will have to settle for a process that would do little to address all of the issues related to consumer gouging.
The proposed fairness at the pumps act would actually remove the federal government from the inspection process and would allow the oil industry to police itself. Can anyone imagine that?
My colleague from Windsor West, who happens to be the NDP industry, automobile and border critic, said:
|| The shocking revelation is not that this was only exposed by an access to information request by a media outlet, but that the Minister has not even met with the oil companies to correct the massive anomaly of a quarter of the fuel pumps in the Windsor and Essex area that are defrauding ordinary Canadians. This rip off needs to end now....
It is unfair that Canadians are being gouged at the pumps while big oil companies continue to reap record profits. We challenge the government to stand up to its big oil buddies and ensure fairness at the pumps.
I raised this issue in the House in November 2008 and again on February 11 in my speech on the budget. In that speech I told the government it is unacceptable that people in northern Ontario are paying ridiculously high prices for gas as the price per barrel of oil drops.
Unfortunately, there is currently no government department or watchdog that would deal with the issue of high gas prices or the gouging that makes gas more expensive from some companies but less expensive from others. This is why the creation of an ombudsman who could serve as a watchdog is so critical.
Gouging at the pumps is not fair, especially in regions such as northern Ontario, where there are no other viable methods of transportation. We need fairness at the pumps for Canadians.
I want to read a couple of sentences from an article that was in the Ottawa Citizen on Monday, May 12:
|| Most of the pump errors were small--between 30 and 60 cents' worth of gas on a fill-up at today's prices. But some pumps have shown much larger failures. Last year, a pump at a station near Chatham, Ont., was caught shorting consumers by one-and-a-half litres on a 50-litre tank, which is common to most average-sized cars. Drivers who visited one pump in Corner Brook, NL, would have had to buy an extra two litres to top up their tanks. And at a certain outlet in Yarmouth, N.S., a fill would have cost about $2.25 more than it should have.
This is going on across Canada. The articles continues:
|| Measurement Canada conducts inspections based on standards set in the Weights and Measures Act, which peg the allowable maximum error for gasoline dispensers at an internationally accepted standard of 100 millilitres for every 20 litres pumped, or 0.5%.
|| That means on an average fill-up of a 50 litre gas tank at today's prices, a pump can legally shortchange the consumer by about 30 cents' worth of gas and still fall within the allowable tolerance zone.
As I have indicated, the bill seems to be a step in the right direction on paper, but there are so many difficulties with it. There is still the issue about the privatization of the inspection service by mandating frequent inspections that must be carried out by the newly created authorized service providers of private companies. We are asking them to police themselves. That is wrong.
We know what happened in the forestry industry when we asked companies to police themselves. We might as well be telling criminals that we are going to put them in jail and when they are on probation they can regulate themselves, or we can put people under house arrest and say that we will count on them to follow the guidelines.
Ms. Meili Faille (Vaudreuil-Soulanges, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, I listened closely to the speeches about Bill C-14. The member for Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing was right to say that the bill needs to be studied in detail.
I, too, am worried that the oil industry has been asked to police itself. Oil companies are being asked to evaluate how well they respect the laws. That is incredible. They are both judge and judged. The Bloc Québécois has the solution and it is Bill C-452, which will be debated a little later today.
Bill C-14 is also of direct interest to me. I often travel back and forth between Ottawa and my riding of Vaudreuil-Soulanges. Obviously, I have to take my car. Every time I stop to fill it up at a gas station, I cannot help but wonder why prices vary so much from region to region. In the same city or an area of a few kilometres, the prices may be the same or they may differ, oddly enough, by a number of cents a litre.
I often wonder if the prices at the pump are accurate. Those are a few reasons why I am interested in today's debate. I think that Bill C-14 is a good start, and because of that, I agree with it in principle. It would amend the Electricity and Gas Inspection Act and the Weights and Measures Act. However, the bill does not directly address collusion problems amongst oil companies, nor does it effectively prevent sudden gas price increases. I still believe that we need to continue our efforts in this area and encourage the members to pass Bill C-452.
In order to better understand the Bloc Québécois' position, it is important to understand what this bill is proposing. As its title indicates, the bill would make two amendments to two different acts. It would amend the Electricity and Gas Inspection Act by providing for higher maximum fines for offences, as well as punishing repeat offenders. It would also amend the Weights and Measures Act to require that retailers cause any device that they use in trade or have in their possession to be examined within a prescribed period. Non-compliance could result in penalties.
Bill C-14 introduces fines for violations of the Electricity and Gas Inspection Act. An inspector who noticed a violation would be able to impose a penalty on the offender.
In addition, a person who wanted to contest a fine would have to prove that he had exercised due diligence to prevent the commission of the violation.
Another interesting point is that the penalties can be cumulative. A violation that continues for more than one day is considered a separate violation for every day during which it continues. This measure is more stringent, because it requires offenders to act quickly and make the necessary changes to comply with the act.
Still in the section on amendments to the Electricity and Gas Inspection Act, Bill C-14 would allow the Minister of Industry to make public the names and address of persons who had violated the act. The advantage of releasing this sort of information is that people could avoid offending retailers.
We noted that a violation under the act would not constitute a Criminal Code offence, which means that an individual found guilty under Bill C-14 would not have a criminal record. This should be examined in more detail in committee.
Bill C-14 also amends the Weights and Measures Act. One of these amendments would allow inspectors to enter a retailer's premises. A government-appointed inspector who had reasonable grounds to believe that a violation had been committed could examine and seize any document that could prove that there was a violation. Under this provision, the inspector could even limit access to the premises and require that the retailer stop operating faulty equipment.
Bill C-14 provides for large increases in the penalties under the Weights and Measures Act. A person found guilty under the act would not be fined $1,000, as now, but up to $10,000, in addition to being liable to imprisonment of not more than six months for a first offence.
In the case of a first offence prosecuted by indictment, the fine is increased to $25,000 and can be accompanied by a maximum prison sentence of two years. In the case of a re-offence, the bill increases the maximum fine to $20,000 and if a repeat offender is tried for another conviction on indictment, the fine can go up to $50,000 with a maximum prison sentence of two years.
I am very anxious to hear the minister's arguments on this once public servants are invited to appear before the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology to justify these sentences and elaborate on the problems at the pumps.
Much like the amendments to the Electricity and Gas Inspection Act, the proposed changes to the Weights and Measures Act will allow for cumulative sentences to be imposed for each of the days the offender is found to be in violation. The bill introduces stricter penalties and allows for cumulative sentences. Repeat offenders will be punished. That is basically what the bill aims to do.
The Bloc Québécois has several concerns. When the Conservative government prorogued Parliament in December 2009, the Bloc Québécois began a pre-budget tour. I met with many citizens and various associations from Vaudreuil-Soulanges to find out what they wanted and what they expected from the budget. These meetings confirmed that the public's main concerns are the environment and the economy. The Bloc Québécois' positions are explained in the document Saisir l'occasion pour le Québec.
As I said in my speech, the Bloc Québécois supports Bill C-14 in principle, but Bill C-452 is also a direct response to the problems related to competition. My colleagues, the hon. members for Shefford and Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, will discuss that a little later today.
The Bloc Québécois' Bill C-452 addresses the flaws in Bill C-14. At the risk of repeating myself, we have some concerns about Bill C-14, but since we are a responsible serious party, we are suggesting solutions.
In response to Bill C-14 and the shortcomings of the measures put in place by the January 2009 budget implementation bill, we have introduced Bill C-452, which would give real powers to the Competition Bureau. The Bureau could act on its own and initiate inquiries, without waiting for permission from the minister or for a complaint to be filed. If the Bureau had reasonable doubts, it could investigate.
Bill C-452 would strengthen the Competition Bureau and would better protect the public against the actions of some businesses, which might take advantage of their position to unfairly fleece and gouge consumers.
We have other possible solutions. My Bloc Québécois colleagues and I strongly believe that we must adopt a comprehensive strategy to combat the rising cost of petroleum products. There are three criteria needed to apply this comprehensive strategy.
The first criterion to make our comprehensive strategy a success is that we must continue to support initiatives that help us decrease our dependence on oil. The rising cost of oil is making Quebec poorer. Increased prices affect the economy in many other ways. Increased exports of Alberta oil tend to increase the value of the Canadian dollar. Our manufacturing companies are the ones who suffer.
The Bloc Québécois has three ideas to decrease our dependence on oil, and my colleagues can read about them in detail on the Bloc Québécois site, because the document is public.
We must increase the budget of the ecoEnergy for renewable heat program, and expand its scope to solar thermal power, to include forest biomass.
We need a program to support the use of forestry byproducts in energy and ethanol production. We have to stimulate new product research and development. We can do this by offering refundable tax credits for research and development so that companies can benefit even if they are at the development stage and are not yet making a profit.
There are many other suggestions and ways to reduce our dependence on oil. We just have to be bold and focus on the importance of acting now to help the environment. We need to think about what consumers, what our fellow citizens, what Quebeckers are really paying for when they use oil products.
Bill C-452 meets one of those criteria. Its goal is to discipline the oil industry. As parliamentarians, we have to show people that we are ready to protect their interests.
I encourage members to discipline the industry by voting for Bill C-452 because it gives more powers to the Competition Bureau. The government should commit to setting up a petroleum monitoring agency. It is time for oil companies to respect people. They have to be accountable.
The final criterion is to make the oil industry contribute. The price of oil is going up, which results in higher prices for transportation and many consumer goods. Because of this, the oil industry is raking in huge profits. The very least these companies can do is pay their fair share of taxes.
As part of our comprehensive strategy to address the rising cost of oil products, we want the government to eliminate tax breaks. In 2003, the government cut oil companies' taxes from 28% to 21%. In 2007, the Conservative government proposed another tax cut, and according to the 2007 economic update, oil companies will be taxed 15% in 2012. Why should such a rich sector of the economy benefit from so many tax breaks?
The oil industry needs to be part of the solution. The $3.6 billion pocketed by oil companies is not available to the public. That money could be reinvested in society.
Our comprehensive strategy to address rising oil costs is reasonable and feasible. There are only three ways to change the way we deal with oil. We have to reduce our dependence on oil, make the oil industry pay its share by eliminating tax breaks, and discipline the oil industry with Bill C-452.
I will give the House a short overview. In May 2003, before the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology, the commissioner of competition pointed out that the Competition Bureau did not have the authority to initiate an inquiry.
Since 2003, subsequent governments have not taken action. The government never takes action when the price of gas fluctuates. It believes its inertia is justified by the fact that the Competition Bureau is not able to prove that there are agreements among oil companies to fix the price of gas.
An hon. member: Well, that is obvious.
Ms. Meili Faille: How can investigative powers be given to an institution when it must bow to the will of the minister or when this institution is only able to take action after receiving a complaint?
The Bloc Québécois wonders why it takes a complaint and a request by the minister to set the wheels in motion. If the Competition Bureau has information pointing to collusion, it should be able to initiate an inquiry immediately.
Still in 2003, the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology concluded its study on fluctuating gasoline prices with some recommendations. The first was to create a petroleum monitoring agency. The second was to toughen up the Competition Act.
According to the committee, this agency would have been able to clear up confusion among the general public regarding the price of gas by providing existing data to the public. The agency would have overseen all aspects of this activity.
That same year, the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology spelled out the changes it wanted to see made to the Competition Act.
Obviously the Bloc Québécois agrees with this recommendation and it pushed for the government to respect the work of the committee and agree to implement this monitoring body, something it did not do. In response to the committee, the government of the day said it did not feel it was necessary to create this monitoring agency and it argued for the status quo.
In 2005, the Liberal Party of Canada had proposed, through Bill C-19, amendments to the Competition Act allowing for measures to mitigate rising gas prices. Note that, once again, the government did not incorporate the recommendations of the Standing Committee on Industry, Natural Resources, Science and Technology into its Bill C-19. The committee had recommended reversing the burden of proof to address agreements between competitors and to make it possible for the Competition Tribunal to award damages to parties affected by restrictive trade practices, where applicable.
The purpose of the first recommendation was to make it the responsibility of the parties wishing to enter into an agreement between competitors to prove the ultimate social value of that agreement. The second recommendation of the Standing Committee on Industry, Natural Resources, Science and Technology would have made the pendulum swing back the other way since measures restricting the business practices of the guilty parties could have been imposed.
You can guess what happened. Bill C-19 died on the order paper since it was introduced just before the election. That is why, in 2007, the Bloc Québécois introduced Bill C-454. That bill made it to second reading stage, but another election saw the Bloc Québécois bill scrapped. In 2009, a little more recently, the Bloc Québécois noted that the Conservative government had adopted part of Bill C-454. Nonetheless, the government does not think it is necessary for the Competition Bureau to initiate its own investigations.
It is clear that in 2010 nothing much has changed. The flow of information has not improved much and there is no agency governing the attitude of the oil companies, quite the contrary.
The government must deal with problems of fairness swiftly and I want to know what it is waiting for to take action. Consumers are sick of bearing the cost of fluctuating prices at the pump.
Mr. Brian Murphy (Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise to speak to Bill C-14. I want to offer up my comments as a theme to the consumers of our country, the hard-working men and women who each day use vehicles to get to work, to take their children and their families around communities and to survive. Perhaps more than the people in the House, the issues of price of gasoline and the fairness of those prices and the lack of competition in prices of gasoline and fuel products are very important to them.
I also want to offer up my comments as a theme to the small independent retail service station owners like Lyle Hogan on St. George Street in Moncton, New Brunswick, and I will get back to that.
First is the issue of the framework of the bill. Bill C-14 is the government's highly publicized fairness at the pumps act. The legislation attempts to address tampering at the pumps and has been presented as the great hope that consumers have been waiting for across the whole stretch of issues that I mentioned. However, we have to analyze the bill to see if those expectations and hopes are met.
The Minister of Industry introduced the bill last month with much fanfare. He aimed to provide court imposed fines under the Electricity and Gas Inspection Act and the Weights and Measures Act. The bill would see higher fines for offences committed under either of these acts. As well, regular inspection and enforcement have also been heralded by the government as key elements in the proposed legislation.
The House should certainly support measures to protect the public against unfair retail practices, because confidence in the accuracy of measured goods and services is essential to a vital, efficient Canadian economy.
First, as I have briefly covered, the fairness at the pumps act would see increased fines and administrative penalties for inaccurate measurements. I do not think anybody can argue with that.
Court-imposed fines under the two acts that I mentioned would rise from $1,000 to $10,000 for minor offences and from $5,000 to $25,000 for major offences. Again, I do not think anybody quarrels with that fine imposition. It marks a change in time that these are serious offences under regulatory schemes that should be addressed. The act also addresses the need to deter repeat offences of inaccurate measurement, such that the ultimate fine is $50,000 for repeat offences. That is significant.
The act would further allow for new administrative monetary penalties to allow for graduated enforcement reflective of the severity of the various offences. With fines for minor offences and prosecution for serious and repeat offences, Canadians can be assured of appropriate and effective regulation and enforcement at the pumps.
Similarly, the use of prosecution would mean that offenders would not face tough penalties and a criminal record for minor violations, but for more serious offences.
The second item of interest in the proposed act is the much discussed introduction of mandatory and regular inspection of retail devices. This kind of accountability has no doubt been long overdue and it is high time Canadians see this sort of retailer responsibility.
Measuring device accuracy would be carried out through increased and regular inspection. At present, the bill proposes to phase in measuring of devices in the sectors of retail petroleum, wholesale petroleum, dairy, retail food, fishing, logging, grain and field crops and mining. Needless to say, the bill would seek to bring accountability to a number of economic sectors.
I fully support this amendment, because regular mandatory inspections are the norm in the G8 countries, in industrialized nations like France and Germany and nearly everywhere in the United States.
Canadians want this, even though it is a bit late in coming, because they expect to get what they pay for. With regular pump inspections, Canadians will get the goods and services they are entitled to.
I should point out that the recommended frequency of mandatory inspections is the result of consultations held across the country.
Finally, the other significant aspect of the proposed legislation would be the use of private sector service providers. The bill would provide the minister with the authority to appoint inspectors from outside the government under the Weights and Measures Act. Government has stated that this privatization of inspections would allow for Measurement Canada to “leverage its resources fully” and “enforce its mandate”. If the bill goes to committee, clearly at that stage these claims must be examined in detail.
The government would see Measurement Canada inspectors responsible only for enforcement actions. Meanwhile, independent inspectors or authorized service providers, as the government likes to call them, would be conducting the proposed increase in inspections.
I think consumers might want to be aware of the word accountability. Effective responses to complaints must be ensured as Canadians deserve this. However, ensuring these mandatory and frequent inspections are conducted with appropriate follow-ups may not necessarily be best accomplished through out-sourcing. This is but another example of matters that must be fully explored in detail in committee.
If the government is to provide independent inspection services, how much will that cost Canadian taxpayers? Bill C-14 may lead to more competitive inspection services, but that has not yet been proven.
Under this bill, the number of inspections will rise from 8,000 to 65,000 a year. Naturally, this increase will come at a cost, and the House has a duty to see that the services cost Canadians as little as possible.
The provision of the bill on independent inspectors includes small businesses that could take on this role. We have to be sure that we understand the full impact of this provision before we pass this bill.
When I first read the bill and examined the outsourcing of inspections, I could not help but think about the first experience I had on Parliament Hill as an elected person. That was not as a member of Parliament, but as a mayor of a city. I was brought up here to be a witness, under my own steam, I might add, in case there is some inquietude about that, to give evidence with respect to water quality and water management in the country as a result of what happened in Walkerton in 2000.
Members of the House will remember with regret that neither of the two men working for the Utilities Commission in the Walkerton incident had any formal training whatsoever. The tragic results of water contamination in Walkerton will not be forgotten and should teach us all a lesson about accountable and effective inspections, no matter what the industry.
I am reminded of why engineers have a steel ring on their little finger when they graduate. It is to remind them that the construction of items under their control are very important because it was linked of course to that very famous bridge collapse, which was an engineering failure.
Every time that we outsource a government service, we should be very mindful that the service serves the public and serves a very good purpose, which, we should all remember, in the Walkerton incident did not work.
The first thing we should note today in examining the preliminary evidence before it goes to committee is that industry analyst Michael Ervin made some comments about the proposed legislation. What he said, which was illuminatory to me, was that we are debating what really is, in effect, the Weights and Measures Act anyway. As he put it:
||--there are laws and regulations around the metering of gasoline through pumps already. And to my mind they are more than adequate.
The act in question requires that consumers get fair and accurate value for whatever they buy, and that measuring equipment must be held to certain standards. While the government may want to assure consumers that they are being burned by the retail gasoline industry, the effectiveness of the measures in this bill must be examined. If customers are being charged an additional $1.50 to $2 each time they fill up, they have every right to be upset. That is very unacceptable, of course. I have no doubt that in this House there is agreement that hard-working Canadians deserve that protection.
The Ottawa Citizen did a study in 2008 that revealed that of more than 200,000 government inspections in less than a decade, 6% of the pumps were inaccurate. In fact, 2% of the time, the pumps erred in favour of the consumer and 94% of inspections revealed consumers were getting what they paid for.
I likened it a little bit to my job in the House as vice-chair of the justice committee. We hear that there are vast and grave problems with the administration of justice in our community. We are beset with a new law every day, but in many cases the evidence shows that the real solution to many of the crime issues is to put in the resources with police, put in the resources with corrections officials, and I do not want to stray too far from the topic, but it is somewhat the case here. Yes, there is a problem in 4% of the cases, but is that enough to herald this as the panacea to all problems with respect to gas prices at the pumps?
Retailers evidently want a fair and level playing field with regulations that apply to all. Moreover, fair treatment of the consumer must be a priority and the amendments to regulations must be based, however, on solid evidence.
A constituent of mine, a small, independent retailer whom they call the little man, is Lyle Hogan. He is the guy who runs the station that still fills up the gas with an attendant. My 81-year-old mother searches all around town to find a gas station like that because she never quite figured out how to use those automated systems. Lyle Hogan has expressed to me some very real concerns about the laws that are applicable across this country. He told me how alarmed he was at the increased cost this legislation would visit on the independents in addition to what already occurs. His quote was, “Annual inspection is $2,000 for calibration and I am completely unaware of faulty equipment amongst others in this area”.
Mr. Hogan's worry is probably well founded because he is an honest, hard-working guy, out for the little man. It might even make it harder for the independents, who never make a lot of money in this industry, where the real problem is the concentration of ownership and the lack of competition in gas pricing in this country.
Lyle Hogan represents the hard-working Canadians whose livelihoods depend upon the retail gasoline industry. It does not matter what riding they are from. We all know them, and we also know, like the drug stores and millinery shops on Main Streets across this country, that they are a fading entity. They are the little guys. They are the Alan Jackson song, The Little Man.
We should be concentrating on the bigger issue. I hope that the debate that takes place at committee will follow a lot of the advice and information that we have received from the gas guru, my friend from Pickering—Scarborough East.
Hearsay of gross inaccuracy at the pumps in a malicious business practice about Lyle Hogan is not going to solve the issue. What is going to solve the issue about what affects Canadians is this. How often do we say the Americans are ahead of us with respect to retail price protection? They are. With respect to the Weekly Petroleum Status Reports, which come out of the energy information administration in the United States of America, they can give people like my friend from Pickering—Scarborough East the information that he needs to become the gas guru and know about the lack of competition, the wholesale industry of prices, and the substantial overvaluation of energy markets that occurs right now.
In other words, there is enough crude oil in the world. There is a supply in stock and it does not reflect the prices at the pumps. The prices at the pumps in this country are artificially high and the margin for retail operators such as Lyle Hogan might be 3¢, 4¢ or 5¢. He does not have a lot to play with.
When we talk about the retail industry, there have been mergers, acquisitions and closures to the point where in any town or city across this country, there are perhaps more gas stations, or bigger ones, but fewer owners and operators, brands, distinctions and diversification.
How is it that we can say there is probably a problem with information? We can say it because in the United States the service is there. The Americans know exactly what crude stocks there are, what prices ought to be, and what investors, through their Wall Street machinations, are doing to control upwards the price of retail gas.
Then we ask ourselves, why does any member of Parliament have to resort to an American publication and link it to Canadian stocks and the Canadian situation? The reason is because there was an idea floated around in 2005 of having a petroleum price information service for Canada, the same thing available in the United States. It has not been acted upon by the government. In fact, every inquiry to give it life has been quashed, and energy consumers, people knowledgeable in the industry, are left to use American information.
We have a situation where we do not really know what is going on in the Canadian industry. We can surmise from world crude prices. We have a concentration of ownership that is affecting the consumer dilatoriously.
Luckily enough, in my own province of New Brunswick, the provincial government saw fit to institute a regulator scheme. I am not saying it gives the right lower price that consumers deserve, because that is a Canadian issue, but it does give some regulation and some consistency over a period of time to prices, which at least allows people not to be shocked by price changes and not be subject to those long line-ups that we see in other provinces when it is announced that prices are going up or down, depending upon the market whims.
We are in May of 2010 now and the Ottawa Citizen's investigation came to light in May of 2008 with respect to pump accuracy. If Canadians had been gouged at the pumps, as the government maintained years ago, why did it not act on it sooner? I could say one word “prorogation”. That is something that we ought to bring up in this House. We ought to say that we have not been here as much as we would like to in order to speak to bills like this because the government keeps pulling the plug on legislation. It keeps pulling the plug on the democratic process and this minor fix to the bigger situation was delayed because of that.
More important, the bigger fix to the bigger issue, which is to look at the issue of concentration of ownership, the lack of information from a government agency, has been delayed even further because we have not been sitting enough. The Prime Minister and his press gang are so busy having drive-by press conferences that they do not want to really get down to the issue of prices at the pumps for Canadians.
In closing, this is a bit of a smokescreen. The bill should definitely go to committee. However, at committee, I am hoping the members of that committee discuss the real issue, which is why consumers, hard-working Canadian men and women, who have to drive their kids to school, who have to take them to minor hockey, who have to get to work, are paying too much at the pumps and why people like Lyle Hogan, who has a one-man operation, may be out of business because we have not, at this time, in this place, addressed the real issue of who is being gouged and who is doing the gouging.
I urge the government to get on this issue for the good of all Canadians.
Mr. Brian Masse (Windsor West, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-14, An Act to amend the Electricity and Gas Inspection Act and the Weights and Measures Act.
It has been termed the fairness at the pumps act but it is actually a series of different measurements for a series of different products. This is an attempt at a smokescreen by the government to try to appear tough on the oil and gas industry, in particular to the retailers in this instance, who are not the culprits at the end of the day in terms of high pricing. That comes from other parts of the industry.
It is important to note that we will not be supporting this to go to second reading because this is really about de-regulation, less accountability and would cause greater problems for the Canadian public as opposed to fixing the current system under Measurement Canada, and penalties that could be done as well.
My colleague who spoke before me was speaking out about the upcoming Memorial Cup. I can say that the Spitfires will be returning as champions. We will continue that debate another time. However, I wanted too ensure that he did not have the last word, as he thought. He was wrong on that and he is wrong on his predictions as well.
This particular bill comes about in a very interesting way. It was actually a number of years ago that there was a challenge to the industry through Measurement Canada. That information was gathered a number of years ago and did not go public. A freedom of information request by the press broke the information and the story opened. It then led to some interesting discussions.
I would remind the House that on May 12, 2008, my leader, the member for Toronto—Danforth, asked the then minister of industry at that time, who has since been punted to another department, about this issue and whether or not the government would do anything on it.
In the response to my leader, the minister at the time said:
|| Second, I have instructed regulatory changes to be prepared. These will increase the onus on gas retailers. Fines will be increased from $1,000 per occurrence to $10,000 per occurrence.
Meanwhile, it took approximately two years for this to happen, and it was under another minister.
The government was very clear about trying to distance itself from this issue by not acting on it. It is rather perplexing because what it has offered are some modest changes in terms of accountability. I do want to run through some aspects of this bill, which is very important, and some of the background to it. I will also tackle some of the deficiencies of the bill and why it is just a smokescreen for an attempt to appear accountable to Canadians about this industry when the government really is not.
As I mentioned, a media story appeared in the Ottawa Citizen after an investigation was done by Measurement Canada which found that 5% of the 200,000 fuel pumps that it investigated between 1999 and 2007 delivered less fuel than reported on the pump display. The government inspection data showed that about one-third of Canada's gas stations, about 14,000, had at least one faulty pump.
We had a chronic situation with regard to that and it was uniform. There was a big story in my paper in Windsor West because we had some of the worst pumps in my riding. What that means is that people are not only getting ripped off by what they are paying at that time to the company, but they are also paying tax on phantom gasoline.
Despite having put this bill forward and despite having that information over all that time, the government did not use any of the available tools to either do one of two things: to fine the companies for doing that, which it could have been doing; or attempting to restore, from its own coffers, the theft from Canadians when it actually took taxes on phantom gasoline.
That is important because it just shows the lack of respect in terms of fixing the problem. We do not have a study that goes for nearly a decade which finds a significant problem across the board and then wait for a couple of years to introduce legislation. Ironically, this legislation would lead to the industry self-policing itself. Basically, it would be a wink-wink, nod-nod approach to accountability that would allow the industry to actually grow itself.
I will get into it later, but the inspectors who would be part of this process would likely come from those very companies. They would be creatures of the companies. As the testing, the equipment, the measurement and all those things are very specialized, it would be very difficult for independent companies to get into the market.
Measurement Canada would end up going to the administration of fines and penalties as a sole responsibility. It will probably be a lot less busy because it will probably get a lot less evidence about the actual situation. I have no confidence whatsoever that consumers would benefit from the particular changes outlined in this bill.
I mentioned that the bill is about other issues and I want to read them off. This is about measuring devices for a series of things: retail petroleum, downstream or wholesale petroleum, dairy, retail food, fishing, logging, grain and field crops, and mining. We are going to have deregulation in all of those elements as well. We do not accept that as a process to move forward.
I would point out that this industry has already gotten off enough with lack of regulation by not having the significant strength of a competition bureau. It does has some tools to it. In fact, a find was levied on a company just a little while ago today. It can happen but they are still not sufficient in terms of having an ombudsman office or the accountability monitoring that has been recommended since 2003.
I know the member for Pickering—Scarborough East, who has done terrific work on this file, will remember the days of coming here in the summer to have hearings and have the industry basically rule the roost and once again put this issue on the back burner. Unfortunately, we still have not seen accountability, although that member has done terrific work on this file.
I want to follow up now with the issues related to this that would change. It is important to notice in legislation that we can refer this to committee, and that is sometimes a reasonable approach to take. For ourselves, however, we will not do that because we do not want to see the use of private sector authorized service providers being activated by this legislation at the end of the day. The risk is far too great.
We have habitually seen abuse from this industry upon nations and upon customers, which is one of the reasons that we have to get off our dependency on oil and find other alternatives. We just have to look at the Gulf of Mexico right now where once again the industry was able to get its way. For those who say that it did not, that it is nonsense, because we all saw the political campaigns of the United States that said, “Drill, baby, drill”.
That has all evaporated right now but what has not evaporated is the hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude that is threatening the ecosystems that affect not only the United States but also Canada. We have asked questions about that and the Conservative members have heckled us saying that we are in Canada and not in the United States. However, those ecosystems are shared by a number of different species that have a connection to Canada. We also know that some of that oil can eventually reach into some of the international streams and eventually, if it is not plugged, reach into our own system here
This is a very serious issue and deregulation and letting industry self-police has led to that problem over there. When the “drill, baby, drill” campaigns were going on during the presidential election, the end result was that even the Obama administration loosened up standards to allow for more offshore drilling. The Americans have now put a moratorium on that, but there was enough of a penetration to open that up.
On the Canadian side, we have seen a whole debate over a number of years about the taxation policy of this issue. The taxation policy of this issue in this chamber has happened for many years and that is because there is basically a breakdown of our taxes into three taxes: the crude oil cost in terms of the price at the pump; the gross profit margins for retailers and refiners, which is around 16% to 18% for marketing; and taxation at 38%. Canada's taxation on this comes from royalty taxes, excise taxes and sales taxes.
I do not want this debate to be forgotten in terms of what members have previously said here when they talked about the cost and the price at the pump. I think the minister pointed to the cameras and warned the retailers that they were coming after them for the amount of money that they might have been scamming from not having the proper pumps fixed right, either knowingly or unknowingly.
There have often been government and opposition members talking about the cost of this to Canadians, that it is really important for our lifestyle, important for our environment and important too for how we use our natural resources.
I want to read a quote from the House of Commons on May 12, 2004:
|| Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister will know that across the country Canadians are struggling with record gas prices. Canadian businesses are being hurt. Canadian consumers are burdened with the difficulties this is causing, but the government itself is rolling in record gas tax revenue.
|| Will the Prime Minister finally do the right thing and agree to lower gas taxes for Canadians?
The member who said that was the current Prime Minister. It was the current Prime Minister who was advocating for the reduction of taxes on gasoline, something that the government really has not done.
When they tried to do that by removing the GST, there was no accountability in that for the system. What we have seen is the coffers of the nation suffer with the reduction of gasoline taxes at the pump from the GST without the savings being measured and paid back to consumers.
That is a real problem because the companies are getting record profits, record tax cuts and also extra revenue now from the taxation policies that were never followed up with proper accountability. That is because we do not have an ombudsman office. We do not have a system in place that ensures the policies are going to be fulfilled by the actual objectives and that was unacceptable.
I will read another quote:
||...when all is said and done, the government seems content with high gas prices. The reason is the government does not want to reduce gas taxes, so it actually wants high gas prices....
|| Will the government admit that the real reason it does not want to do anything is that $1.40 is its actual target price for gasoline?
That was the current Prime Minister who was once again advocating for a policy that he has never put in place, and that is the policy of reducing gas prices for Canadians.
We never saw any of that with regard to this announcement. We did not hear the Minister of Industry say the government was going to ensure that any of these savings are going to be passed on. In fact, the creation of this system and this regime that is being proposed could actually increase the cost of gasoline for the retailers and subsequently for Canadians. There is going to be an increase in inspections, which I argue is good in a sense, but at the same time those costs are going to be borne by the retailer, and the retailer will pass those on. The margin of profit for the retailers is very small, especially for an independent operation. They do not have the same luxuries as some of the larger ones.
When we go to our gas station, it is almost like a drug store these days. They sell chocolate bars, pop, chips, coffee, and they partner with different organizations to run small businesses out of their stations. They have a whole series of different products and services, because gasoline has such a small margin of profit that they end up having to rely on other measures.
When this issue is going to be passed on to the inspectors, when they have to pay the fees for it, it will be interesting. They will be able to set their own prices for this. They will be able to keep a system in place that will be very difficult to challenge. As I mentioned earlier, the industry will have a key advantage. Who has the training, who has the equipment, who has the knowledge, who has the skill set to be able to do the type of testing that is necessary and make a business out of it?
They will have behind them a wealth of backing in terms of loans as well as operating costs that will give them a strategic advantage over any independent business or organization that may want to bring about accountability by being independent and doing that measuring outside the realm of the industry itself.
I suspect it will be a subsidiary, or it could be a spin-off, or it could end up being relied upon to get training, equipment and a series of things that will create a dependency model. We will not see the type of innovation that we will need on this issue.
We will see a continuation of deregulation. We will see the industry police itself and it is an industry, once again, that has shown no support whatsoever to being more competitive. That is critical. When we look at supply and demand we know that right now we have a record high supply of a number of different gasoline and fuel products, yet pricing still remains above a certain level. That is unacceptable.
We also do not necessarily have to have collusion in this industry, because there is a lack of competition with the vertical integration that has taken place. I would look to the issue, for example, of the Burlington refinery station that was shut down by Petro-Canada. Instead of investing in that facility and ensuring more competition for refining, it mothballed it and shut it down and then bought Esso gasoline to put in Ontario Petro-Canada sites. So there is no competition with regard to the product and the actual use of it on the open market. It is important because it does affect daily lives for a number of people.
We have everything from low income people who are very significantly affected by gasoline prices to truckers, in particular, who are dependent upon this. We have been talking about this issue since 2002-03 when it went to committee. Many truckers have moved into more independent operations and are getting squeezed right now. There is also the rural element where they have to traverse over a greater distance and have no choice but to use private transportation to ensure getting to a destination to be able to work or whatever it may be. They also have stronger winter conditions, using more fuel for a series of things.
When we look at this act being supposedly more accountability for consumers at the gas pump, in Ontario they will wake up on July 1. I do not know why the Prime Minister and Mr. McGuinty cannot leave Canada Day alone when bringing in a new tax. This is Mr. McGuinty's second taxation date on Canada Day. First it was for health care and now it is for this. Maybe we need an act of Parliament to stop taxation from starting on Canada Day. But when the HST comes into effect in Ontario, there is going to be a windfall for the McGuinty provincial government.
I had parliamentary research do some work for me. For those out there, parliamentary research is available for all members of the House. It is a very important part of our democracy. It allows economists, lawyers and other types of researchers to do independent work for members who may want to share it later on, but it is independent from an MP's office, other members and the government, and it is critical.
I asked for a breakdown on the HST in a responsible way. Researchers looked at 13 major cities across Ontario and the average price of gasoline over a number of years, I believe five years. Under the regime right now, they expect the provincial government to bring in an additional $1.2 billion in gasoline tax, and another $500 million is going to come in, so $1.7 billion in total, just for gasoline and diesel for the province of Ontario next year. That is if the price remains just under $1 a litre.
This windfall the provincial government is stepping into is available only because the Conservative government has agreed with the harmonized sales tax, and we can quote the finance minister talking about policies on this and wanting to bring it to other provinces. Ironically, we are borrowing $4 billion to bring this into Ontario. So we are borrowing money, we are going to pay interest on that money as we are in a deficit right now and we are then going to ask Ontarians to pay an additional $1.7 billion more in taxation at the pump this summer.
In conclusion, we need to have real accountability. We do not need deregulation in this industry. We need to make sure it is going to be held accountable. Every time anything is brought up, the government claims foul, that there are no issues, but I can say there is an issue and it is that Canadians have been getting hosed at the pumps not only by the retailers having poor equipment but also by the government's not living up to what it said when it was in opposition and introducing policies that increase taxation on people.
Ms. Jean Crowder (Nanaimo—Cowichan, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this bill. I acknowledge the good work the member for Windsor West has done on this. I know many members in the House have probably followed his conversation on this over a number of years. However, I want to highlight the fact that back in 2008 the member for Windsor West raised this issue a number of times, including in question period.
A report was done on this and then a lot of media coverage followed. I will touch on some of the media coverage of a moment.
An article from May 12, 2008 Ottawa Citizen, entitled “Hosed at the pumps”, says, “Across Canada, about one gas pump in 20 shortchanges consumers”.
It goes on to talk about the fact that they were looking at a May long weekend and during that period of time:
||—fuel prices scraping up against their all-time highs, and some will pay for more gas than they actually put in their tanks. An investigation shows that between Jan. 1, 1999, and Aug. 28, 2007, nearly 5% of gas pumps tested in Canada -- about one pump in 20 -- failed government inspections by dispensing less fuel than they should.
|| And while some faulty pumps give out more fuel than they charge for, more often than not, it is the consumers -- not the retailers -- who get hosed, government inspection records show.
The government clearly identified that there were some serious problems at the pumps. The article goes on to say:
|| The problem of faulty pumps appears to be an industry-wide phenomenon. About 30% of all gas vendors tested have had at least one pump flunk an inspection by shortchanging consumers, according to the inspection reports.
|| Based on those rates, motorists who fill their tanks at different pumps each week were, on average, likely to drive off with less gas than they paid for at least twice a year. And those who gassed up at the same pump every time could have been hit far more often.
|| Most of the pump errors were small - between 30 and 60 cents' worth of gas on a fill-up at today's prices. But some pumps have shown far larger failures. Last year, a pump at a station near Chatham, Ont., was caught shortchanging consumers by 1.5 litres on a 50-litre tank, which is common to most average size cars. Drivers who visited one pump on Corner Brook, N.L., would have had to buy an extra two litres to top up their tanks. And at a certain outlet at Yarmouth, N.S., a fill-up would have cost about $2.25 more than it should have.
This is a very lengthy report, but it goes on to say:
|| But the inspection reports reveal a puzzling trend: Canadian consumers are squeezed by faulty pumps far more often than vendors. When a gas pump fails a measurement test, 74% of the time it is the motorist who is disadvantaged by the error, and not the retailer, according to inspection data.
In its conclusion, it says:
|| On more than 1,100 occasions since 1999, inspectors have shut down pumps altogether because they were giving out as much as nine per cent less gas than the consumer paid for. Although the measurement mechanisms inside pumps are sealed to prevent tampering, Measurement Canada has found cases of suspected fraud more than 100 times. The agency can refer cases to the police if warranted.
In 2008 a government report identified some serious problems. The member for Windsor West raised it in the House of Commons and in other venues. Of course we had no response. We are now in 2010.
The bill outlines some cases of increased fines, introduction of administrative monetary policies, mandatory inspection frequencies, use of private sector authorized service providers and so on. I know the member for Windsor West has raised some concerns about this process, but I will talk a little about why this is so important to Canadians.
The government side says that we have been through an economic recession and that we are in a recovery. However, this kind of initiative is very important for consumers in Canada. Part of the reason for that is many families in Nanaimo—Cowichan and in other parts of the country still suffer the impacts of the recession.
I point to a report from Citizens for Public Justice, titled “Bearing the Brunt: How the 2008-2009 Recession Created Poverty for Canadian Families”. These are the very families who will often fill up at these pumps. Some may say that maybe a $1 or $2 is not that big of a deal. However, when people are cash-strapped and wonder whether they can feed their families, that $1 or $2 makes a difference.
I point out that many of these families are still bearing the effects of the recession. In this report, it states:
|| THE 2008-2009 RECESSION created poverty and economic insecurity for Canadian families. While we have to wait until 2011 for most published measures of poverty to show the recession's impact, there are a number of key economic indicators that already show the trends of increased poverty and economic insecurity throughout the recession....
|| Evidence from the last two recessions demonstrate that recessions can have a long-term detrimental impact on the poverty rate and well-being of low income Canadians....
|| Between 2007 and 2009, there was a significant increase in the poverty rate and the child poverty rate. This increase mirrored the considerable rise in unemployment, caused by the recession. The number of EI recipients increased, but so did the number of unemployed Canadians not receiving EI benefits. In fact, despite the steep plummet in employment, the rate of EI coverage only increased to 51%. This meant that social assistance had to fill in the gaps created by EI, leading to mounting welfare caseloads.
|| Those in low wage jobs who were most vulnerable before the recession began were the most likely to lose their job, but those lucky enough to keep their job or find a new job were not untouched by the recession as the proportion of precarious jobs increased.
In ridings like mine in Nanaimo—Cowichan, many workers, for example, forestry workers, fishing workers, are in and out of work. I hear consistently from forestry workers in my area that the way the employment insurance scheme is set up, they get less weeks than the unemployment rate in our area demonstrates they should get. Therefore, we have long-term workers in a particular sector who are struggling to pay their bills. When we have those kinds of things happening at the gas pumps, that has a direct impact on their ability to raise their family in a reasonable way.
This report goes on to talk about unemployment. It says:
|| Job losses during the recession disproportionately affected those most economically vulnerable, as 1 in 4 workers making $10 an hour or less lost their job....It took almost 8 years after the last recession for unemployment to decline to its pre-recession rate. Without a concerted government effort, it could take years for unemployment and poverty to decline to their 2008 rate.
It goes on to highlight a number of other details around what happens post-recession.
The kinds of initiatives that have been proposed could go a long way toward closing that gap. However, as the member for Windsor West points out, part of these inspections and those kinds of things are outsourced to private companies and what we have is another system that does not give any degree of confidence to consumers that their rights will be protected. This follows on in kind of a legacy we see from the Conservatives.
On May 12, 2008, in the 39th Parliament, the member for Toronto—Danforth raised the issue around the Ottawa Citizen report. He said:
||—the Ottawa Citizen has reported that one in twenty pumps is not correctly calibrated and that consumers are paying the price. In addition to shortchanging people at the pumps, the big oil companies are not even giving people the gas they paid for. At $1.30 a litre, every cent counts.
|| When will this government create an ombudsman position to protect consumers from the big oil companies?
The response from the minister of industry of the day was that the government would not create the position for ombudsperson to look at what had happened to consumers and whether they were protected. This is an ongoing pattern.
I want to touch on other consumer protection issues, because this is all part and parcel. New Democrats have consistently been calling for consumer protection, whether it is gas pumps, whether it is product safety, whether it is credit cards or cellphones. It goes on and on. A number of matters have been raised in the House about protection for Canadian consumers and they have been completely ignored or paid lip service to by the members of government. It is pretty shocking.
I will touch on credit cards. The member for Sudbury has raised this issue a number of times. I will talk a bit about the time frame.
On November 24, 2008, New Democrats were the first to raise the alarm bells over Canadians being gouged by outrageous credit card rates. We see a bit of a pattern here. The member for Windsor West raised the issue around what is happening at the gas pumps, and the member for Sudbury raised what is happening with credit cards.
On March 27, 2009, a nationwide poll showed a whopping 82% of Canadians with credit cards support tighter rules for the credit card industry.
On April 27, 2009, listening to Canadians, New Democrats passed a motion in Parliament calling on the government to protect consumers from credit card gouging. The New Democrats' plan called for legislation to end abusive fees and interest rate hikes. We are protecting young people and those who pay their bills on time. A majority of MPs voted in support of the New Democrat motion.
On May 8, 2009, the Conservatives introduced their own credit card reform, which turned out to be little more than an information campaign to better show Canadians just how they are getting gouged.
On June 30, 2009, the Senate committee report recommended that consumers have their pockets picked even further. The report suggests that merchants be allowed to charge an extra fee to consumers who use premium credit cards.
On October 27, 2009, the deadline set out in the New Democrat credit card motion came and went with no action from the government. Consumers were again left out in the cold by a government that puts banks and credit card companies first.
On November 19, 2009, the government once again sided with its corporate friends by passing a toothless voluntary code of conduct for credit and debit card industries as a way of consumer protection.
We see a pattern here. The private sector will be doing the inspections for the industry that are outlined in Bill C-14. There is a credit card voluntary code of compliance, which we know has no teeth. I am continuing to hear mainly from small businesses in my riding that they have no guarantee when somebody pays with a credit card that they are not going to pay some outrageous sum as a credit card transaction fee. They cannot tell by looking at the cards. These businesses often operate close to their margin and simply cannot afford to pay that extra charge.
Financial literacy workshops are happening across this country. Working families and poorer families in my riding say that they do not know what the government is hoping to achieve with a financial literacy workshop. Their problem is that they only make $10 an hour. They are financially literate with that $10 an hour. They know how to stretch it so that they can pay their rent, feed their children and maybe if they are lucky, run their car. They do not need a financial literacy workshop to tell them how to manage their finances. What they need are decent paying jobs. That is where the Conservative government has fallen down.
New Democrats bring things forward. They talk about credit cards. They talk about the need for a financial plan for Canada. They talk about gas prices and the gouging that goes on at the pumps. What we get from the government is a financial literacy consultation process, or we get a voluntary compliance on credit cards. That will not put food on the table for people in my riding of Nanaimo—Cowichan.
What we need is some meaningful action. What we need is the kind of reform we have been talking about in terms of providing income security to people.
Who gets hurt by high gas prices? I have talked a little about the low income families. I have talked about working families, some of whom have seasonal employment, like many of the forestry workers in my riding and some who are in low wage jobs and are trying to make ends meet, but I have not talked about seniors. Many, many seniors in this country are on fixed incomes. Many seniors in this country had investments or perhaps they were lucky enough to have a pension plan. However, there are seniors who have been collecting their pensions from companies that they thought would be in business forever and they are watching those companies go bankrupt.
I was at a heartbreaking meeting a number of weeks ago. I will not mention the company, but a large company in my riding is teetering on the edge. I met with a roomful of men who were between 65 years and 70 years of age. They had worked their entire life for that company and they are wondering if they will have enough pension left. One man said to me, “I am 70 years old. How can I go out and find a job to support my wife?” That is an important question for that 70-year-old man who had worked in forestry all his life.
I urge the government to put in consumer protection programs, whether they be programs to provide credit card protection or pension protection for workers, so that we do not have to work with pensioners to find a plan that will enable them to support their families in their declining years.
I was pleased to speak to this bill. I am hopeful that members of the House will take to heart what the member for Windsor West said when they are considering this bill.