B.C. VIEWS: Regulating fuel prices not a new idea

Fuel prices seem to remain stubbornly high in many places of B.C.

Premier John Horgan’s NDP government is going full tilt against oil companies, bringing in a bill last week to require companies to hand over import, pricing and supply data to the B.C. Utilities Commission.

The proposed legislation is eerily similar to a move to regulate fuel prices more than 80 years ago by Horgan’s predecessor, Liberal Premier Duff Pattullo. While Horgan may be unfamiliar with that move in the depths of the Depression, it is worthwhile noting that Pattullo’s bid to regulate retail and wholesale fuel prices ended very badly for him.

His two-term government failed to win a majority government in the next election in 1941. His own party deposed him so a coalition government of Liberals and Conservatives could take over under former finance minister, John Hart. Pattullo put down the loss at least partially to the battle with big oil, writing to a friend (as quoted in Martin Robin’s Pillars of Profit) “This antagonized some very powerful interests. From that day to this, a constant campaign has been waged against me personally.”

The prime motivation for this latter-day assault on oil companies is the successful campaign the NDP mounted in the 2017 election to make life more affordable for British Columbians. Promises to end Medical Service Plan premiums (the final bills are now in the mail) and get rid of tolls on two bridges in the Lower Mainland were enough to give the NDP extra seats in Surrey, Delta, Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows. It’s having more challenges controlling higher ICBC premiums, caused by the “raging dumpster fire” that shows no sign of easing up.

The shockingly high price of gas in the spring months (it jumped to over $1.70 per litre) promoted Horgan to ask the B.C. Utilities Commission to investigate. The commission could find no rational explanation for about 10 to 13 cents of the per litre price – leading to the latest legislation.

Of course, there are many factors in B.C.’s high gas prices. Taxes are one – in particular the carbon tax (which the NDP has raised) and the TransLink fuel tax in the Metro Vancouver region. Another factor is transportation – there are just two small oil refineries in B.C., one in Burnaby and one in Prince George, so most fuel sold here is refined in Edmonton or Washington state.

GAS PRICES 101: Where B.C. drivers’ pretty pennies are going at the pump

Fuel prices seem to remain stubbornly high in many places, particularly more remote areas. Recently, Squamish residents mounted a protest against high prices in their community, which is just outside Metro Vancouver. Powell River residents also say that prices there remain stubbornly high. This may at least partially due to reduced competition and the fact that two ferry rides are needed for fuel to be delivered there.

The government wants to move rapidly to carbon-free transportation (it has a goal of banning the sale of new gas-powered vehicles by 2040), the reality is most people require gasoline or diesel fuel to power their vehicles. Horgan’s government may be on to something – but they also should consider that fuel prices in Quebec and the Atlantic provinces, which regulate gas prices, are sometimes among the highest in Canada. This is despite the fact that Canada’s largest oil refinery is Irving Oil in Saint John, New Brunswick.

Mixing oil and politics can become messy.

Frank Bucholtz is a columnist and former editor with Black Press Media. Email him at frank.bucholtz@blackpress.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Some Cowichan schools to reopen for children of essential-services workers

Cowichan Valley will open 8 elementary schools this week

Residents urged to stay close to home over the holiday weekend

Time to be extra vigilant during the COVID-19 crisis

Vandekamp moving on from Cowichan Capitals

Head coach returns to AJHL’s Grande Prairie Storm

Not to become bored the game plan for COVID-19

Board game developed by Crofton family just the remedy for filling time at home

Nanaimo, Royal Jubilee to be Vancouver Island’s COVID-19 frontline hospitals

Other Island hospitals will be admitting COVID-19 patients and will be used in a support role

COVID-19: 4 new deaths, 25 new cases but only in Vancouver Coastal, Fraser Health

A total of 1,291 people have tested positive for the novel coronavirus

Long list of events disrupted by COVID-19 around the community

Challenging situation affecting fundraisers, entertainment, sports and more

COVID-19: Don’t get away for Easter weekend, Dr. Bonnie Henry warns

John Horgan, Adrian Dix call 130 faith leaders as holidays approach

COVID-19: Trudeau says 30K ventilators on the way; 3.6M Canadians claim benefits

Canada has seen more than 17,000 cases and at least 345 deaths due to COVID-19

Comox spring training cancelled for Snowbirds next month

The team announced that due to ongoing travel restrictions they will not be training in the Valley

Some Cowichan schools to reopen for children of essential-services workers

Cowichan Valley will open 8 elementary schools this week

RCMP call on kids to name latest foal recruits

The baby horses names are to start with the letter ‘S’

Physiotherapists turn to technology to reach patients during COVID-19

Just because services, jobs, and socializing have been put on hold, it… Continue reading

As Canadians return home amid pandemic, border crossings dip to just 5% of usual traffic

Non-commercial land crossing dipped by 95%, air travel dropped by 96 per cent, according to the CBSA

Most Read