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

UFV wrestler Jason Bains receives four-year suspension for using banned substance

Surrey native tests positive for oral steroid Turinabol, silver national medal removed for violation

Fraser Valley foursome to hike 70km over mountains in memory of friend

Friends from Abbotsford and Langley to hike from Hope to Tulameen for Brook Morrison

PBR Canada cancels Abbotsford event

COVID-19 concerns end multi-year run for event at Abbotsford Centre

‘Not criminally responsible’ hearing slated for man convicted of Abbotsford school stabbing

Gabriel Klein was found guilty in March of killing Letisha Reimer, 13, in 2016

Bottles of Love fundraiser supports Abbotsford Hospice Society

Agency hopes to raise $10,000 through returns of bottles and cans

Record-breaking 165 new COVID-19 cases diagnosed in B.C. in 24-hour period

Fifty-seven people are in hospital battling the novel coronavirus

One injured in South Surrey shooting

Shots reported in area of 194 Street and 34 Avenue

Report raises questions about COVID outbreak that killed 25 seniors at Langley Lodge

CEO defends leaked document that’s igniting queries about BC’s most deadly COVID outbreak

PHOTO: RCMP escort beaver across busy Chilliwack road

Motorists had to exercise patience as the slow-moving creature crossed several lanes of traffic

March to protect old growth, stop industrial logging coming to B.C. Legislature

Organizers say they want to give frontline communities a bigger say in nearby logging

B.C. releases details of $1.5B economic recovery plan, $660M in business tax incentives

Economic plan includes support for employers, as well as training for workers

Man arrested in New Westminster pier park fire

Investigators don’t believe the public are at further risk and are not looking for any other suspects

Most Read