Under pressure over sky-high gasoline prices, B.C.'s Premier said he will ask his top civil servant to find solutions for consumers concerned about the cost at the pump.
John Horgan said Thursday he wants his deputy minister to “look at the range of options” available to B.C. that could bring prices down. He didn’t elaborate on whether that means his government would consider cutting the provincial taxes, which are levied on every litre of gasoline. That includes the 8.89 cents a litre imposed by the province’s carbon tax, a figure that rose by a cent this month.
“Certainly the challenges the public is seeing right now with the highest gas prices in North America are the result of a whole bunch of variables. It’s not a simple question. It’s not lending itself to a simple answer,” Mr. Horgan said.
The Premier has repeatedly been asked about the issue as gas prices creep up, as they do every year when the weather warms. At the same time, Alberta premier-designate Jason Kenney has said one of his first acts after he is sworn in next week will be to enact legislation to restrict the fuel supply to British Columbia, potentially putting more pressure on prices.
“The challenge to the travelling public right now is dire. I see it every day. They see it every day,” Mr. Horgan said.
In a statement responding to Globe and Mail questions about the timeline of the deputy minister’s review, the Premier’s office said, “It’s clearly a priority but with the complexities involved we don’t yet have a date for when his work will be completed.”
In a separate statement, Jobs Minister Bruce Ralston said, “There is no silver bullet to reducing the prices at the pump, but our government is looking into regulatory options available to the province.”
The Premier said there is insufficient refining capacity in the province, with only two refineries, and B.C. gets most of its refined products from Alberta and Washington State.
According to a statement from the provincial energy and petroleum resources ministry, the two refineries in B.C. meet about 25 per cent of the province’s gasoline needs with the remaining 75 per cent of provincial demand is met by refineries outside the province. Roughly 65 per cent of the total is from Alberta and 10 per cent from the United States.
In a statement issued Thursday, Bruce Ralston, the province’s jobs, trade and technology minister, said the province would look at regulatory options in dealing with the issue, but did not elaborate.
According to Boston-based Gasbuddy.com, which monitors prices across North America, the average $1.69 price in Vancouver on Thursday is the highest on the continent.
The Premier suggested that high-occupancy vehicle lanes might reduce idling in B.C. roadways and give people the opportunity to carpool and get into transit.
B.C.'s Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson said the government needs to cut provincial motor fuel taxes in the Lower Mainland.
“John Horgan and the NDP have been scrambling in the last few weeks with silly ideas about refineries, blaming oil companies, blaming the federal government,” Mr. Wilkinson said. “They need to stop blaming everybody but themselves and take action on the 35 cents of tax on every litre of fuel."
According to the finance ministry, provincial taxes for each litre of gasoline in the Vancouver region are 34.39 cents, comprising a 17-cent tax for the regional transportation agency TransLink, a 6.75-cent BC Transportation Financing Authority tax, a 1.75-cent provincial motor fuel tax and the 8.89-cent provincial carbon tax.
Although the carbon tax is increasing, Mr. Horgan has noted the latest hike is only one cent a litre.
Dan McTeague, a senior Gasbuddy.com analyst said the “inconvenient truth” for the NDP in B.C. is that the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline would allow a greater supply of gasoline into the province.
In an interview, he said Mr. Horgan’s opposition to pipeline expansion may have appeased his base, but may also be backfiring. “The reality is that pipeline has been the lifeline of the British Columbia petroleum energy economy. For that reason, turning your back on it and opposing it comes with significant risks.”