Port Coquitlam, B.C. -
Federal Industry Minister Tony Clement says a small portion of Canada's gasoline retailers are malicious chisellers and the government is moving to protect consumers.
But representatives of the industry say their operators are being maligned and the minister's comments are both unfair and unfortunate.
With gas pumps in the background at a gas equipment and supply company in suburban Port Coquitlam, B.C., Thursday, Clement announced legislation aimed at cracking down on gas station operators who overcharge customers.
Clement said government studies have found that six per cent of the time, pumps are not properly calibrated for the advertised price and most of the time - four per cent - it's the operator that benefits.
His Fairness at the Pumps Act will increase checks on the industry and hike the possible fines for violations.
"We expect this will reduce the amount of inaccuracy that is hitting consumers at the pumps," Clement told reporters Thursday.
The legislation won't just cover gasoline. It's also aimed at measurements of dairy products, retail food, fishing, logging, grain and field crops, and mining.
Jane Savage of the Canadian Independent Petroleum Marketers Association, which represents about 22 per cent of Canada's 12,600 operators, said even the name of the Act unfairly targets gas station owners.
"There is a sort of unfairness here in the tone of ... Clement's comments, that this is all about unscrupulous and nasty gasoline retailers," she said.
Both Savage and Tony Marcerollo, vice-president of policy for the Canadian Petroleum Products Institute, agreed that maintaining consumer confidence is the main issue.
Currently gas pumps are randomly checked, but under the proposed legislation there will be regular checks by trained and certified inspectors.
Clement said there's been a number of cases over the last few years where gas station owners have been charged where there was "malicious intent."
"I know it's a small percentage of gas station operators, but to all those chisellers who might be listening in, we're coming after you," he said.
"We're going to be fining you, we're going to be inspecting you and we just will not tolerate this in our society."
But neither Savage nor Marcerollo could recall a prosecution of a gas station operator, and an official with Industry Canada could not provide the numbers Thursday.
Marcerollo called the minister's comments about chiselling unfortunate.
"Because if there is a problem, it's going to be a function of wear and tear of equipment, not malicious intent."
In fact, Savage said it's very difficult for retailers to cheat because all inspections and calibrations are done by certified inspectors, not the retailers.
"This isn't a scenario where the gasoline retailer rolls out to his pump with a pipe wrench and does something to it. It can't be done. These are sophisticated electronic devices."
The Fairness at the Pumps Act would increase the current $1,000 fine for violations to $10,000 for a first offence and up to $50,000 for repeat offenders.
It would also mean the use of non-government inspectors, which amounts to deregulation, said New Democrat industry critic Brian Masse.
"They want to create a whole new bureaucratic system of inspectors," he said.
Masse said the government could do much of what it's proposing in the bill by simply changing regulations.
The Conservatives promised legislation during the 2008 election, after a newspaper report that looked at 200,000 inspections by Measurement Canada said three-quarters of the devices were shorting drivers.
But the legislation does not address gas prices, which has been the chief complaint among the public.