Industry minister promises action to keep gas prices accurate

The Conservative government is promising increased inspections and higher fines to protect consumers from fraud at the gasoline pumps.

Industry Minister Jim Prentice has called for increased enforcement and higher fines to ensure that consumers are not ripped off at the gas pumps this summer.

Prentice said he has instructed Measurements Canada, the government agency responsible for ensuring measurements are carried out accurately in the marketplace, to increase inspections of gasoline pumps.

Speaking in the House of Commons during question period Monday, Prentice said he has also asked that regulatory changes be prepared to increase the fines levied against gas retailers who cheat consumers.

"These will increase the onus upon gas retailers," Prentice said. "Fines will be increased from $1,000 per occurrence to $10,000 per occurrence. In addition, there will be even higher fines for aggravated circumstances."

Prentice's statements came after a report published earlier in the day stated that consumers often pay for more gas than they actually put in their tanks.

According to the Ottawa Citizen, between Jan. 1, 1999, and Aug. 28, 2007, nearly five per cent of gas pumps tested in Canada failed government inspections by dispensing less fuel than they should have.

The newspaper also reported that 30 per cent of all gas vendors tested have had at least one pump fail an inspection by shortchanging consumers.

NDP Leader Jack Layton accused the Conservative government of having known about the extent of the problem for six months without taking any action.

"The fact is they stand on the side of the big oil and gas companies and give them subsidies and tax cuts," Layton said. "They'll never stand up for the consumer until they are forced to do it by the front page of the newspapers."

Layton called for the creation of an ombudsman to protect consumers from the oil industry — an idea Prentice rejected.