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Little hope that record gas prices will ease anytime soon


Prices for regular gas at some stations in Metro Vancouver rose to $1.949 per litre on Thursday.

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British Columbians feeling the pinch at the pump were told by Premier John Horgan on Thursday that help is on the way.

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However, critics are skeptical that the B.C. NDP’s solutions, currently being drafted with help from the province’s independent watchdog on gasoline prices, will be able to address the issues that make local fuel some of the costliest in the country.

Prices for regular gas at some stations in Metro Vancouver rose to $1.949 per litre on Thursday. Petroleum analyst Dan McTeague predicted they could rise to $2.009 cents per litre by Friday.

Gas prices were front and centre in the legislature this week as government leaders debated whether climbing costs were due to the Russia-Ukraine conflict or B.C.’s increased taxation on carbon-based fuels.

Horgan told reporters on Thursday the free market was to blame for record-breaking prices.

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“An 18-cent increase in a litre of gas is not about taxation, it’s about uncertainty in the marketplace. It’s about instability as a result of the Russian invasion,” said the premier, claiming the New Democrats have cut back insurance costs for drivers and introduced new rebates.

“Affordability is an issue in a whole bunch of places. We try to address those areas where we can, but gasoline is in the free market.”

The NDP’s proposed solution to the price spike comes out of the Fuel Price Transparency Act, which requires retailers to disclose the reason behind rising gas prices to B.C.’s Utilities Commission (BCUC).

Energy Minister Bruce Ralston said in the legislature Wednesday that B.C. Liberals opposed the November 2019 implementation of the policy and “efforts of the government to bring transparency and defended the interests of the big oil companies to hide this information.”

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“We look forward to the B.C. Utilities Commission, the energy watchdog, reporting — expanded public reporting — on the causes of higher gas prices,” Ralston said. “We will have solutions coming forward very soon.”

Liberal financial critic Peter Milobar said Horgan has turned a blind eye to provincial policies that could be contributing to B.C. having some of the highest gasoline prices in all of Canada — policies including carbon taxes and its low-carbon fuel standard.

“We’ve had record gas prices before the conflict in Ukraine, and we continue to have the highest gas prices in North America, despite the conflict,” Milobar said. “The BCUC report … they were forbidden from looking at any government taxation or regulations as part of the cross-pressures of gas prices.”

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Canadian Taxpayers Federation spokesperson Kris Sims told Postmedia on Thursday that B.C.’s dual carbon taxes are at the root of rising gas costs.

“Right now, the first B.C. carbon tax is 10 cents per litre of gasoline,” Sims said. “The second carbon tax is a fuel standard regulation that increases the cost of gasoline by roughly 17 cents per litre. By the year 2030, those two combined carbon taxes will cost B.C. drivers more than 50 cents per litre of gasoline.”

Ralston stood firm that B.C. has no plans to pause a one-cent-per-litre carbon tax increase set to kick in on April 1.

The carbon tax “doesn’t explain the increases that British Columbians are seeing at the pump,” said the minister, claiming the tax has “proven to lower emissions and funds that continuous investment in low-carbon innovation.”

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Customers in Vancouver line up to fill their tanks as fears grow that gas prices will continue to rise.
Customers in Vancouver line up to fill their tanks as fears grow that gas prices will continue to rise. Photo by Francis Georgian /PNG

Horgan told reporters Thursday that although the carbon tax is provincial, it is mandated by the federal government’s carbon tax regime.

Last week, when asked about increasing gas prices, he said, “I’m certainly prepared to look at any opportunity we have to make life better for British Columbians,” encouraging the use of public transit if people are unable to afford to fill up their tanks.

B.C. Liberal leader Kevin Falcon told media Thursday that he is doubtful that “the NDP wants to do anything to try to keep gas prices down.”

“They talk about how they care about gas prices, and the premier said they would use every tool in the toolbox to stop the Trans Mountain Pipeline, and they did slow it down. And they wonder why we have, because of constraints of supply, the highest gas prices in North America.”

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Crown corporations have resorted to adding fees to cover fuel costs for their fleets. B.C. Ferries implemented a one-per-cent fuel surcharge Tuesday, adding 15 cents for adult passengers and 55 cents for a vehicle, to the cost of sailings.

“When fuel prices are lower, B.C. Ferries passes lower fuel prices on to customers through a fuel rebate. When fuel prices are higher, B.C. Ferries charges a fuel surcharge specifically designed to cover the additional cost,” it said in a news release.

TransLink, which in its annual budget prepares contingencies to account for diesel price fluctuations for its fleet of 2,000 buses and vehicles, said the recent gas price hike does not pose a significant risk to its budget.

“We haven’t been affected by this recent price increase (because) we negotiate prices under long-term contracts,” said spokesperson Jill Drews.

However, the corporation’s 2040 goal is to convert its entire bus fleet to zero-emission battery-electric buses because of volatility in the fuel markets and to meet its emissions targets.

sgrochowski@postmedia.com

Even higher prices are likely on the way.
Even higher prices are likely on the way. Photo by Francis Georgian /PNG

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