MASSE IN THE HOUSE: Speaking on Bill C-452, An Act to amend the Competition Act (Inquiry into the Industry Sector)

Private Members' Business

Bill C-452, Competition Act (Inquiry into Industry Sector)

Mr. Brian Masse (Windsor West, NDP):
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-452. The New Democratic Party will be supporting this initiative. The member should be commended for bringing this issue forward. There are those who argue that the Competition Bureau does have sufficient powers right now and does not need additional resources, but I am of a different opinion. There are a number of different products and services out there with which I will deal.
I think competition is not entirely happening the way that it should. It should be noted that the debate that will continue at committee will be very important as part of a process to review a series of sectors and I hope we can get experts and witnesses to come forward.
The sponsor of the bill made reference to the oil and gas industry in the previous debate on a government bill and mentioned the lack of competition in the oil and gas sector. There is almost a collusive element. I noted in particular the Petro-Canada situation where instead of investing in Petro-Canada refineries in Burlington, it shut down the plant and now imports gasoline from Esso and sells it in Petro-Canada stations across Ontario. So there does not necessarily have to be price fixing, but there will not be very much in variables involved with regard to trying to move into a more competitive situation.
It has always been the case, as we look at the oil and gas sector, where there is a lack of refinery capacity, vertical integration with the industry, a series of different elements that lead to basically a formula that is a recipe for disaster for Canadians and their pocketbooks. It was interesting when the government lowered the GST with regard to oil and gas, and the cost that the companies now actually get back, it was not passed on to the consumers. The prices and profits have risen significantly and not even one single organization or company took advantage of the opportunity of the 2¢ reduction to pass it on to consumers. They took it and put in their own pockets.
Because the government had no accountability whatsoever in terms of monitoring the process, or no interest whatsoever, we have lost hundreds of millions of dollars out of the coffers of this country every single year that could have gone to different things whether it be health care, or whether it be more money to the Competition Bureau to be able to examine anti-competitive practices. A whole series of things that could have been addressed are now gone, and the companies now have record profits and record tax cuts from the government which are windfalls they have enjoyed.
It is only fair that we actually examine the bill and look at the oil and gas sector as one of the variables in how it can be addressed because the bill is specifically geared to the industry sector which is a responsible way to approach it. It allows targeting to certain areas where there is a lot of interest.
We are seeing that now at committee where there are a couple of current issues that are very important. We have the entrance of new players into the Canadian market with regard to telecom and that means more communication devices, cellphones, BlackBerrys and wireless service provisions that are being expanded in Canada. There are those who feel there is no competition in that sector and relatively similar price elements make it very difficult for consumers to get a better benefit. They have also been receiving record profits and are quite lucrative. Almost all the groups and organizations of the big telecommunication companies have done well.
There are three new entrants coming into the market, so there is no question that this is timely to look at whether or not the Competition Bureau is going to be sufficient to have the independence to examine cases, have the resources to do so, and have the tools to be able to make decisions that are going to increase the competitive nature of businesses in Canada, those that are regulated and those that are non-regulated.
Another issue raised often with regard to this issue is credit cards. New Democrats have been calling for a number of credit card reforms. My good colleague from Sudbury has been pushing this issue and the Minister of Finance is basically moving for a voluntary agreement. It is clear that we have deficient credit card competition in Canada. There are some groups and organizations that are more progressive, but at the same time it is seen basically as a system that is stuck where the vast majority of credit cards have interest rates that are quite similar.
Once again, that is an area where we want to see more healthy competition, but we have not. The banks are also making record profits and we have seen the same things there. My office receives complaints with regard to how close bank fees are among different organizations.
There does not actually have to be a collusion, where there are brown envelopes changing hands and information being wired back and forth to predetermine the actual cost of items and passing them on to the consumer. There just has to be basically a general acknowledgement that they are going to stay in a certain field of play and compete in that field of play. That is not real competition.
For a few years, we used to carry out inquiries into the insurance industry as well and about the issues there. We just have to talk to people about auto insurance and a series of things, and they often find that there is not enough healthy competition or they cannot get certain services whatsoever. I know that some people are outright denied or have to pay really high fees. There are maybe only one or two companies that will provide that demographic, so the fees are through the roof with regard to costs and they really do not get into a competitive market because certain groups of people are written off altogether by these companies.
The Competition Bureau would be well-equipped to look into that because if people cannot even get quotes on insurance, they are stuck with very few recourses of action. We can just talk to young people about what they are paying for auto insurance. They in particular are scammed because I have not seen the evidence that warrants that type of behaviour.
The other issue I have been working on regarding competition is the issue with Toyota. Toyota is a company that is under criminal investigation in Japan, the United States and Europe. Yet here, the government has not even done anything, aside from having two meetings at the transport committee, which we forced the government to do.
The issue behind that is not just in regard to the safety of the vehicles. It is also an issue of competition. Did Toyota know about problems with its vehicles and choose not to fix them, to gain market share at the expense of other manufacturers? It does not matter if one makes a curling iron or a car, if one knows that the device has a problem and chooses to neglect and not fix that to gain market share, it becomes a competition issue because it runs other companies under.
I am very proud of negotiating a change in public policy here, with the Liberals at that time, a number of years ago. It used to be law in Canada that if a business was given an environmental fine or penalty, it could claim that as a business tax deduction. I viewed that as an environmental issue, health and public safety issue, but also a competition issue, and here is why.
We had a drug company, for example, which had a $10 million fine. To explain this clearly, this company was charged with something. It went to court. It was fined $14 million and at tax time, it actually got $10 million back as a business-related expense. If a company polluted the lakes, oceans and streams, and it got caught and was fined, whether it be millions of dollars or hundreds of thousands of dollars, it could claim it as a business tax deduction and get money back on that.
What was important about this change, and why I am proud of negotiating the end to it, was that the good companies were getting punished just as much as any others. They were following the law and doing the right things and they had to compete against those that were actually abusing people and the environment, and that is not right.
I welcome the member's bill here today and look forward to having the discussion at committee. I think it will be a helpful discussion at a very important time, when many products and services need to be looked at under a competitive regime.