June 5, 2003 (37th Parliament, 2nd Session)


Mario Laframboise

Bloc Québécois

Mr. Mario Laframboise

Six years now. In this Parliament, we have met all kinds of people who are not members, but they are here. They often have titles such as government affairs officer; they are responsible for an enterprise related to governmental affairs. They dare not even call themselves lobbyists; they dare not even say it. They have titles and business cards, and they buzz around Parliament.
That is the problem: these people have been allowed to influence power. Often, since they have budgets, they can make investments—as they would see it—in the campaign funds of members and, more often than not, these are government members. They are not rushing to invest in the opposition parties. That is the reality.
What can the public conclude? It can conclude that, today, the House of Commons is discussing lobbyist legislation. However, in the meantime, in real life, credit card interest rates have never been higher. I can guarantee that, next year, the interest rates of credit cards issued by most major stores and banks will increase another 1%. When the House of Commons starts making too much noise and talking about trying to change credit card interest rates, the major banks come out with lower interest credit cards.
Except that they will offer it to their best clients, who, for the most part, do not have a monthly balance on their credit card. That is how they do it. They would never reduce the rate for their clients who are unable to make ends meet and have to carry over a balance every month. Those are the people who see their credit card interest rate increase by 1% a year. The same thing will happen next year despite the fact that interest rates and the Bank of Canada rate have never been lower. That is the harsh reality.
What is the use in having MPs if we allow lobbyists for banks and major store chains to dictate what direction to take and maintain, in Quebec and in the rest of Canada, such high interest rates on credit cards?
I will give another example; that of oil companies. My colleague gave this example earlier. I hear the Canadian Alliance members saying that there is no collusion and that this was analyzed by the committee. The reality is that oil companies never made more money than during the last crisis when they increased the price of gas as much as they did.
If there had not been enough raw materials and if it had been so difficult, what would they have done to keep clients? They would have tried to lower the prices and show that they were having difficulties, but they did the opposite. They increased the price and have never made more money than in the past six months.
Some might try to say there is no collusion, but that is not true. A committee analyzed the situation. The oil companies' numbers come out every three months. The dividends are indicated and we can read them in all the papers. People are not naive. Oil companies have made more money than ever since the price of gas went up.
Today, in this House, we are being told there is no collusion, that nothing is going on, and that the competition commissioner need not intervene. The public is not naive. Pardon the expression, but people are not stupid. They realize that somewhere, something is not right. The oil companies have made more money than ever in the past two years, since they increased the price of gas. It is always the same thing. They all increase the price at the same time, almost to the minute.
Meanwhile, we members of Parliament want to debate in committee, regardless of the name this committee may be given; what the public wants is for us to discuss the issue of rising gasoline prices, and the fact that oil and gas companies have never made so much money at its expense. That is what it wants us to discuss.
Because of the lobbyists, the government does not dare do so. The commissioner of competition does not have the necessary powers, and the committee is unable to render a decision. We are told that there is no collusion. There is always an excuse. In the mean time, we are not resolving the real problem, the one the public has with oil prices which are excessively high given the profits the oil and gas companies are making.
There should be a way in this society to be reasonable and to prevent multinationals from having control over everything at the expense of the poor consumer.
Once again, because of lobbies, a bill is being introduced today to try and counterbalance the work of lobbyists, but that will not resolve the issue of rising oil prices and humongous profits made by oil and gas companies. That is the reality.
I will take another recent example, that of shipowners. At present, there is pilotage all along the St. Lawrence River, as there has been for hundreds of years. There is pilotage on most major seaways giving access to the heartland, and there are specialized pilots. There is pilotage on the Mississippi, in the U.S., and on other rivers in Europe.
When a seaway goes inland, pilotage is mandatory, to protect the environment. People have been trained to pilot through specific areas. We have pilots associations for the stretches between the Escoumins and Quebec City, Quebec City and Montreal, Montreal and the Great Lakes, and around the Great Lakes. These are all people who have been trained to prevent a disaster. If an oil tanker were to run aground in the St. Lawrence River, with tidal water moving toward Quebec City and the ebb and flow making water flow past Quebec City as far as Trois-Rivières, the entire river would be contaminated. That is why we have pilots.
They have existed for 150 years. This was decided back then. These days, there is the shipowners' lobby. Just last week, it got an opposition member to move a motion in the Standing Committee on Transport to abolish pilotage for Canadian ships. Canadian shipowners, clearly, have decided that they had better help themselves before the future Prime Minister arrives on the scene, since the member for LaSalle—Émard is himself a shipowner. They tried to solve the problem. It makes no sense. For ten years, we have been trying to get risk assessments. They have yet to be done. Transport Canada is still in the process of doing risk assessment studies for the whole St. Lawrence seaway, all the way up to the Great Lakes. They are still not finished.
In the meantime, because there are political deadlines looming—a new Prime Minister who will surely be chosen in the fall—they want to solve the shipowners' problem. Once again, the shipowners' lobby is trying to get its idea through. We have seen them prowling the halls for about a month now; they have probably visited the office of every member. They arrive with their cards that say government liaison officer for the shipowners' association and they try to pressure us.
The problem is that today, we are debating a bill on lobbyists, when this lobbying should have been done, and should be done by every member in this House. We are here to represent the public. Lobbyists were not elected to defend the interests of constituents. They are paid to defend private interests. That is reality for lobbyists. Politicians are here to defend the interests of their constituents, and that is what we must do. Today, we need to be much stricter with lobbyists and try to regulate them as much as possible to prevent Parliament from becoming a useless institution.
I have mentioned three examples. It is not true that the House acted on the issue of interest rates on credit cards. That is wrong; the House of Commons has never done anything for consumers with respect to credit card interest rates. That is the case, nor will we ever do anything either. As long as there are lobbyists, this will be a problem.
With respect to the oil companies, we in this House will never succeed in regulating gasoline price increases or the astounding increases in oil company profits. You will never do it; the Liberal members will never do it. Why not? Because the lobbyists come and try to explain that it is much more profitable to support them rather than regulate their activities.
It is the same thing for the shipowners. The abolition of pilotage on the St. Lawrence will probably happen one day. I hope it never does. But then you see the strength of the lobbyists and the way they want to act quickly before the new Liberal Party leader, the member for LaSalle—Émard, takes over. Once more, I think all the people who live along the St. Lawrence River will be the ones to pay the price. One day, they will be victims of a catastrophe, because Parliament—the hon. members in this House—did not do what they should. They caved in to pressure from lobbyists and eventually there will be a catastrophe on the St. Lawrence.
It is hard for people who love their work. I hope that all of us, in this House, love what we do; we love politics. It is hard to realize that we are limited, but it is even more difficult to realize that we are limiting ourselves. We let the lobbyists in. We let them do their work, defending private interests against the common good of the people. That is what we are doing. We are all guilty.
Today, we are trying to make amendments, and the amendments proposed by the Bloc have been rejected because they are too strict, that this should not be permitted, that they must not tsay what needs watching, that they must not explain who they have met with, and so on. We can never be strict enough with lobbyists because they are only in it for the money. They are paid to do their work. And the better they do it, the higher their salaries. That is reality for a lobbyist.
It will not change. We are the only ones who can set limits to tell them that, if they are that good, they can tell us who they have been meeting with, and why. And we can tell the people that such and such a company uses the top lobbyists who defend certain kinds of interests.
Once again, the Bloc Quebecois will support this since it is a bit better than what we had before. I hope that, one day, we will be able to regulate, on our own and without the involvement of lobbies, consumer credit card interest rates, which have increased by 1% per year over the past three years, although the interest rate set by the Bank of Canada has never been lower. That is the reality.
I hope too that we will be able to regulate the astronomical profits being made by the oil and gas companies at the expense of consumers. This can be called collusion or competition. No matter what you call it, what people, drivers, taxi drivers and truckers are going through is not human: they see the oil and gas companies getting rich while their income is decreasing. Something must be done.
The same is true of the shipowners. An effort must be made to control this powerful lobby. Pilotage on the St. Lawrence is an institution that has existed for more than 150 years. Some people are trying to protect the environment and are acting as the public's eyes and ears to avoid an environmental catastrophe. Once again, we will not let the shipowners resort to powerful lobbying to try to destroy this tradition of safety, on behalf of an industry that would like to resolve its problem before the hon. member for LaSalle—Émard becomes the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada and the next Prime Minister.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Lobbyists Registration Act
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