In response to letters received from constituents frustrated with gas prices, Rachel Blaney has appealed to Navdeep Bains — Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development — to create a petroleum monitoring agency. The independent body would oversee gas prices and report directly to Parliament to address questions of potential gouging.
“This is something that I think needs to happen, because so many people are often confused, and don’t know why gas prices are going up or down,” the North Island-Powell River MP said Thursday during a media teleconference.
In a June 3 letter to Bains, Blaney points out that B.C. gas prices had, over a 24-hour time frame, fluctuated from $145.9 to $170.9 per litre. Since 1999, she said gas consumers have been over-charged an average of $20 million per year, while the federal government provides multi-billion-dollar tax incentives, grants and subsidies to the oil and gas industry.
She realizes commuters who live in remote communities can expect to pay a bit more at the pump.
“But the difference in how much we’re paying is ridiculous,” Blaney said. “It’s a big concern, especially for rural, remote communities where we don’t have access to transit the same way, where it’s harder to move from one community to another.”
According to Gas Buddy, the lowest gas price in B.C. was 122.9 at a station in Prince George, as of Thursday. In Courtenay, Costco was the lowest at 147.9. In Port Hardy, the price at the stations was listed at 153.7 after dropping from 167.9.
Meanwhile, the Province has released terms of reference that will guide the British Columbia Utilities Commission’s (BCUC) investigation into what is driving high, volatile gasoline prices in British Columbia.
“The rapid increase in gas prices in B.C. is alarming, increasingly out of line with the rest of Canada, and people in B.C. deserve answers,” said Premier John Horgan. “We asked the BCUC to conduct a fair, transparent and comprehensive independent investigation. These terms provide the broad reach it needs to find answers and give recommendations to inform the path forward.”
The BCUC may exercise any of the powers provided to it under the Utilities Commission Act, including compelling oil companies as witnesses to explain their prices to the commission.
Through the review’s terms of reference, the BCUC has been asked to:
* examine the market factors that affect wholesale and retail prices in British Columbia;
* investigate gasoline price fluctuations, including the extent of possible competition concerns, such as price fixing and gouging;
* explain the difference in refining margins between British Columbia and the rest of Canada, including why in recent months refining margins for Vancouver were more than double the Canadian average;
* explain the difference in retail margins between British Columbia and the rest of Canada, as well as regional difference within British Columbia; and
* review the potential of regulatory measures used in other jurisdictions across Canada and North America to enhance transparency about how prices are determined.
“High and wildly fluctuating gas prices in B.C. are hurting people and B.C.’s economy,” said Bruce Ralston, Minister of Jobs, Trade and Technology. “Speculation and misinformation will not lead to solutions. The BCUC is a respected independent regulator and the appropriate body to investigate gas prices in the best interest of British Columbians. We look forward to the report and recommendations.”
The terms of reference require final report to be delivered by Aug. 30, 2019.