IN THE HOUSE ~ Resuming Debate ~ Bill C-14, An Act to amend the Electricity and Gas Inspection Act and the Weights and Measures Act

40th Parliament, 3rd Session

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Denise Savoie):
Resuming debate. The hon. member for Burnaby--New Westminster has about 13 and a half minutes left.

Mr. Peter Julian (Burnaby—New Westminster, NDP):
Madam Speaker, members will recall that when I was speaking yesterday I began by praising the member for Windsor West for his determination to force the government to take measures to stop the rip-off of ordinary Canadian families through both gas price gouging that we have seen across this country and from the whole issue of faulty gas pumps, pumps that do not give us the gas for which we are paying.

Even though the government has known about this issue for two years, and despite election promises to the contrary where it said that it would take action, rather than intervening and doing something, it has finally come forward with this bill. However, it is only because of pressure from the member for Windsor West and the entire NDP caucus pushing the Conservative government to finally take action.

As we know, the Conservatives love their gravy train and the gravy train that they give to financial institutions, the petroleum companies and telecommunications companies which does not seem to have a limit. No matter how much the public is ripped off, the Conservatives seem to feel that is okay. However, it is increasingly not okay with the public, which is why the member for Windsor West and his work is so important in this House.

Bill C-14, which is before us today, is a poor half-measure but we would not even have this poor half-measure before the House if it were not for the work of the member for Windsor West.

What we have seen from the Conservatives since they have come to power is progressively allowing the public to be ripped off and ordinary Canadian families to have their pockets picked without any sort of intervention or any sort of government responsibility being taken. We have the finance minister who, after it became clear that there was a major rip-off by financial institutions of ordinary Canadian families, wrote a letter to those financial institutions. That was the sum total of his work.

We see the same thing when we talk about gas price rip-offs. It has been very clear for years that gas prices were being manipulated. The large and incredibly profitable petroleum companies jack up world prices and automatically the retail price goes up and the retailers, the mom and pop operations, have no choice. I have talked to many of them and they say that they are being told to raise prices immediately. They have to live with that despite the fact that it is local people who are most impacted. The world prices go up on old stock and prices spike up, with windfall profits. Over the course of a weekend, particularly holiday weekends when there is a lot of travelling, those prices are maintained.

The world prices may change and they may go down. The new stock comes in at a lower wholesale price but those high prices are maintained. They are jacked up immediately on old stock, with windfall profits there, and then as new stock comes in at a lower price, the prices are maintained for more windfall profits. The petroleum companies do not want to be too greedy. They know the degree of public tolerance of their practices is really coming to an end. They are testing public tolerance every year, so reluctantly they bring the prices down to something more akin to what actually matches the wholesale price.

We have known this for years and have seen this happen for years. Ordinary Canadian families, whether they live in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, in Atlantic Canada, in central Canada in Ontario or Quebec, have to live with these rip-offs and the government has steadfastly refused to do anything to stand up for ordinary Canadian families at all, not one intervention.

We now come to the issue of the gas pump rip-offs, because this has been known for years as well. A study done by the Ottawa Citizen revealed that between 1999 and 2007, government inspections found that about 5% of pumps delivered less fuel than what was reported on the pump display, which means that 10,000 fuel pumps were overcharging hard-working ordinary Canadian families who are working harder and harder for less and less pay.

We also have seen a fall in real income over the last 20 years. The only people who are doing well in this country are the very wealthy who now take most of the income pie. That is something Conservatives do not like to talk about, but it is a reality just the same.

On the Liberal watch and on the Conservative watch, we have seen a hollowing out of the middle class. Poor Canadians have become much poorer and the wealthy now take most of that pie. They just sit down and gobble up most of the pie. What is left for the vast majority of Canadian families is a smaller and smaller piece of pie. Year after year, the wealthy take a larger and larger chunk, the middle class and poor Canadians a smaller and smaller chunk, and that is why real incomes have descended, even though the average Canadian family and the average Canadian worker is working harder than ever. Overtime has gone up over a third in the same period. We are seeing Canadian families struggling to make ends meet and working harder and harder for less and less pay.

As part of that whole dynamic, we have seen the government's inability to stand up for Canada. On the Conservative watch and the Liberal watch, we have seen the loss of half a million manufacturing jobs. Those were good, family sustaining jobs that were thrown out of the country by bad trade deals and dysfunctional trade policy. As a result, people are taking whatever job they can get, whether it is temporary or part time, which is often the case. The number of burger flippers in the country is expanding monumentally. The Conservatives love to stand up and say that, sure, we have lost half a million manufacturing jobs but we have created 400,000 burger flipper jobs. They somehow think that Canadians should praise them for replacing good, family sustaining jobs for jobs that are part time, temporary and low-paying. Somehow the Conservatives feel that they are economic geniuses in having achieved that end, the hollowing out of the Canadian economy, putting all of the Canadian economic levers into Bay Street, so that if one is a wealthy financial speculator, one is wealthier than ever, and nothing for middle class families.

That is where we come to the issue of the fuel pumps. We have 10,000 fuel pumps pumping less fuel than ordinary, hard-working Canadian families are paying for and the government has done nothing to intervene. It says nothing about this being absolutely outrageous. It does nothing to refund the tax it is getting from the consumers who are paying for less fuel than they receive. It has done nothing to organize an ombudsman department, as the member for Windsor West has called for, so that consumers would have somebody to go to, an ombudsman who would stand up for them. No, the Conservatives do not do that. They do not talk about refunds or any sort of compensation. They allow the rip-offs to go on for years and then finally but reluctantly, faced by enormous pressure from the NDP, they decide to bring in Bill C-14.

What does that do? Does it create the ombudsman office that consumers have been calling for? No. Does it actually allow for a refund or compensation for the years of rip-offs? No. Does it allow for any sort of refund of tax for what the government received from the consumers who were being ripped off? No.

What it does do is it allows for inspection. That is important, except that in most countries there is an impartial government inspection service. The Conservatives decide that what they can see as a profit centre. These mom and pop retailers and other retailers would now have to deal with mandatory inspections, which is a good thing. We would increase the number of government inspectors who would ensure those fuel pumps are accurate, which is also a good thing. However, instead of doing that, the Conservatives said no. They said that they would allow private companies to come in and the mom and pop retailers would have to pay whatever the private companies decide they will pay so that they have these mandatory inspections. It is not as if the mom and pop operations can stop it. They do need to have the inspection, which is not a bad thing if the government provided the service out of our taxes. However, instead of doing that, the retailers would now have to pay whatever the private companies charge.

The member for Elmwood—Transcona spoke to this bill yesterday and what he said was extremely relevant.

This is just another example of how badly this government has attacked and let down rural and northern Canadians. We see it time and time again. We saw it with the softwood lumber sellout. It is as if the Conservatives did not care about the softwood lumber industry and signed the deal because they could spin it any way they wanted. It is as if they do not care how many northern and rural jobs were lost and they really do not care about northern and rural Canada. That is the Conservative message, whether we are talking about the softwood lumber sellout, about this kind of bill, or about a whole range of issues.

As we well know, the worst farmer seats in the country are in Alberta. The provincial Conservative government and the federal Conservative government are bad news for Alberta farmers. The worst farmer seats in the country are in the province of Alberta because Conservatives do not give a damn about rural or northern Canadians. They just do not.

What the Conservatives care about is Bay Street and the petroleum industry's CEOs. They care about a very narrow range of interests. They care about lobbyists. But when it comes to rural and northern Canadians, they do not give a damn. We can see this in Bill C-14, as the member for Elmwood—Transcona said.

Perhaps this idea of privatizing and allowing private companies to enforce mandatory inspections may work in urban Canada where there is some competition. In rural and northern Canada when the private companies, perhaps the petroleum companies, decide that they are going to run the inspection operations they are going to charge whatever they want. The mom and pop operations are just going to have to suck it up because that is the attitude of this Conservative government. It will make sure that the local mom and pop operations in rural and northern Canada are forced to pay whatever the big private companies want to force them to pay. Couple that with everything else that is not in this bill that should have been.

The fact is that the government waited for years and allowed the ripoffs to go on for years before it chose to do anything about it. It took goading and determination from the NDP once again to force the government to do anything. After all of that we see it is not even a half measure in dealing with gas price ripoffs.

The government, in an attempt at irony I imagine, tried to say this is the fairness at the pumps act. Very clearly, it is not fair. It does not deal with gas price gouging. Yes, it deals with mandatory inspections, but in a way that penalizes mom and pop retailers. It does not tell the petroleum companies that they were wrong to allow this practice to continue for so long. The government does not say mea culpa and that it is sorry. Consumers need the government to say it is sorry that it allowed the ripoffs and that it will make it right.

Mr. Peter Julian (Burnaby—New Westminster, NDP):
Madam Speaker, I am aware, as are all members, of the member's work on this issue. He has been very dogged. The member for Elmwood—Transcona mentioned that it is the Liberal Party that allowed this originally. I think we make a distinction between the party and the member, and the member has done an exemplary job. He has put a lot of effort into the issue of gas prices. We need more members to take an interest in this issue.

I would disagree with him on the compliance issue. I know he knows the file exceedingly well, but the reality is the compliance rate should be higher. That is why we are dealing with the bill today.

What is happening in the Lower Mainland is extremely problematic. What we have seen regularly in the Lower Mainland in British Columbia is the jacking up of prices. I described earlier, that particularly around holiday weekends we see an immediate spike up and a long and prolonged high level of what can only be called windfall profits, a high level of gas prices despite the fact that old stock is coming into the system at the lower price and then when new stock comes in at a lower price, as well, we see a maintained price level that is far higher than is justified. It is very clear from the studies that have been done by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, among others, that this leads to enormous multi-million dollar windfall profits taken from consumers, ordinary families, in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, and other parts of Canada on a regular and sustained basis. This is unacceptable. That is why we pushed the government to take action. We are going to continue to push the government to take even more action. It is unacceptable that it is allowing the ripoff of ordinary Canadian families.

Mr. Jim Maloway (Elmwood—Transcona, NDP):
Madam Speaker, the member made an excellent presentation on Bill C-14.

Clearly, the issue here is the empowering of the Commissioner of Competition to act against price fixing. The government has moved against monopolistic practices in real estate at least twice in the last 20 years, and against travel agents and other groups. The question is, if the government can enforce competition in real estate, travel and other industries, why can it not do something about price fixing in retail gas pricing?

To that end, the Bloc has introduced Bill C-452 which accomplishes exactly that. If the government is interested in actually doing something that would get to the root of the problem in this country, then perhaps the government should be looking at supporting the Bloc bill and allowing the Commissioner of Competition to conduct an inquiry into this issue.

Over 125 studies have been done over the last 20 years in the area of price fixing at the pump. The fact of the matter is pretty much everybody concludes that we cannot get a conviction under the current legislation. The key is to change the legislation. That is what we should be doing in this House.

Mr. Peter Julian (Burnaby—New Westminster, NDP):
Madam Speaker, the member for Elmwood—Transcona is absolutely right.

I think what bothers most Canadian families is the government's absolute refusal to act and its refusal to allow a real attempt to shut down what is monopolistic practices. There is no other way to put it when we see all the major petroleum companies moving their prices in sync. Even though there me be a few hours' difference from one to the other, there is very clearly a problem.

The Competition Bureau has to be beefed up. These kinds of practices have to stop. Yet we are seeing a government that simply refuses to act. When the big companies and corporate lobbyists come cap in hand, the government is ready to shell out tens of billions of dollars at the drop of a hat. We have seen that. It is willing to spend a billion dollars for a fake lake in a few minutes. It is willing to spend $16 billion to $19 billion on jets, even though those fighter jets have problematic financial repercussions. We are seeing a number of other countries starting to back off on the purchase because of the concern around open-ended financial liability.

The government takes all kinds of decisions every day that are worth billions of dollars, without any understanding of the impact. Having been a financial administrator before I was elected to Parliament, I can say that these folks do not know how to manage money. The Conservatives have no idea how to manage money. That is why we have record deficits. They are unable to say no to a corporate lobbyist. That is part of the problem and they are financially inept. That is the other part of the problem.

That is why Conservative governments simply do not manage money as well as NDP governments do. That is understandable. NDP governments are composed of ordinary Canadians and ordinary Canadians know how to manage money. They are not corporate CEOs; they are not high flyers or jet setters. They sit down and get to work, just like Tommy Douglas did, and make sure that budgets are balanced. That is why over a 20-year period, Madam Speaker, as you well know, NDP governments have the best record of fiscal management and balance the budget far more than Conservative governments do and far, far more than Liberal governments do. It is because we are composed of ordinary Canadians and ordinary Canadians manage money better than they do.

Mr. Bruce Hyer (Thunder Bay—Superior North, NDP):
Madam Speaker, as I understand it, there are now going to be private inspections. This will be another privatization move by the Conservatives. Inspections will increase from 8,000 to over 65,000 per year. There will be no ombudsperson's office to evaluate any problems or investigate complaints. There will be no refund or compensation for the consumers who have been abused by these problems and no refund or restitution of the taxes collected.

I would like to ask the hon. member whether I understand this correctly.

Mr. Peter Julian (Burnaby—New Westminster, NDP):
Madam Speaker, as always, the member for Thunder Bay—Superior North has perfectly understood the legislation. I guess the question has to be why the Conservatives would move this bill forward. Have they not read the legislation? Do they understand the legislation? Why would Conservatives vote for legislation that is, as the member for Windsor West said, years late and millions short?

As the member for Thunder Bay--Superior North has said very eloquently, there is no ombudsman's office. There is no refund or compensation for the years of ripoffs. There is no refund or restitution on taxes collected.

There is an increase in inspections which we certainly agree with, but because the Conservatives are trying to find in a shell game some way to benefit, I guess their supporters, they are saying private companies have to do it and they can charge the price they want. This means that in a riding as far flung as Thunder Bay--Superior North, if a private company is set up it will be able to enforce on mom and pop operations any price it wants.

The inspections are mandatory. We will have a situation where a mom and pop retailer will not have a choice and the price will be set by the person providing the service, particularly in rural and northern Canada. This is yet another example of the contempt the Conservative government has for rural and northern Canadians. It is not just the softwood lumber sellout. It is not just the collapse in farm incomes, particularly in Alberta. For an Alberta farmer to vote Conservative I gather after their inept policies would be a sore mistake. It is a series of measures that go against what rural and northern Canadians stand for and what is good for them.