IN THE HOUSE ~ Fairness at the Pumps Act

40th Parliament, 3rd Session
Context : Debate

Mr. Peter Julian (Burnaby—New Westminster, NDP): Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise and follow my very talented colleague from Hamilton Mountain to speak on Bill C-14, which should be called the more rip-offs at the pumps act.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Context : Questions and Comments

Mr. Peter Julian: Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Elmwood—Transcona for his question. He is a strong advocate for consumers in this House.

The member has been a strong advocate for consumers, whether we are talking about the ripoffs taking place at the gas pumps or the ripoffs that take place around airline delays. He has been a consistently strong advocate for consumers right across this country. I welcome his question.

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

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

Context : Questions and Comments
Mr. Peter Julian: Mr. Speaker, the investigation showed that between 1999 and 2007 5% of gas pumps, about 1 in 20, failed the inspections by dispensing less fuel then they should.

Very clearly, that is something the government should have taken action on. These studies are available to the government. They need to take action.

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

Will the government respect—