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

Pitt Meadows ball hockey goalie gets call up to Team Canada

Matteo Petrelli will mind net for U20 team at world championships in Switzerland this summer

Maple Ridge’s Brandon Yip to play in KHL all star game in Moscow Sunday morning

Yip currently captains the Kunlun Red Stars who are based in Beijing

The value of a prison education

Kevin Heinze teaches continuing education at Fraser Regional Correctional Centre in Maple Ridge.

Along the Fraser: RIP Parker (1991-2019)

The Canadian Liver Foundation raises funds by recycling or scrapping old vehicles.

Letter: Allen Way rail crossing proposed in 1980

Pitt Meadows mayor at time wanted it at north Bonson.

Vancouver police investigate after man found dead in vehicle

Man has not been identified and no one has been arrested

Canucks extend home win streak to 8 with 4-1 triumph over Sharks

Victory lifts Vancouver into top spot in NHL’s Pacific Division

BC Green Party leader visits northern B.C. pipeline protest site

Adam Olsen calls for better relationship between Canada, British Columbia and First Nations

‘Extensive’ work planned at Big Bar landslide ahead of salmon, steelhead migration

Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan visited the site of the slide from June

B.C. society calls out conservation officer after dropping off bear cub covered in ice

Ice can be seen in video matted into emaciated bear cub’s fur

Royal deal clears way for Harry, Meghan part-time Canada move: experts

Keith Roy of the Monarchist League of Canada said the deal is exactly what Harry and Meghan asked for

Most Read