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

Landlords and renters need to work through ‘critical time,’ says Langley MLA

Evictions are suspended during provincial order of emergency

Hospital foundation seeks ventilators, respite for weary medics

The newest fundraiser for Langley Memorial targets needs of the COVID-19 crisis

LETTER: Grateful to be Canadian during this crisis

Minor inconveniences are saving many of us north of the 49th Parallel from the horrors of this virus

Layoffs at Langley Township as COVID crisis takes jobs

Full time employees have not yet been affected by the crisis

Library cards, ebooks available online in Fraser Valley

Those without a card yet won’t have to go into a branch

VIDEO: How doctors in Canada will decide who lives and dies if pandemic worsens

Officials in several provinces have been developing guides so that doctors don’t feel alone

Two people fined after B.C. police spot online ads re-selling 5,000 surgical, N95 masks

Police confiscated the masks, being sold at inflated prices, and now working with Fraser Health

Sex workers face new risks during COVID-19 pandemic

‘Desperation has kicked in’ for vulnerable, undocumented workers unable to access help

Unclear if Cowichan couple refusing to self-isolate will face penalty

No fines or charges have been laid to date, including Cowichan couple who won’t self isolate

COVID-19: Postponed surgeries will be done, B.C. health minister says

Contract with private surgical clinic to help clear backlog

Black Press Media ad sparks discussion about value of community newspapers

White Rock resident hopes front-page note shines light on revenue loss during COVID-19 crisis

Vancouver man, 21, charged after mother found dead in Squamish home

Ryan Grantham, 21, has been charged with second-degree murder

Most Read