British Columbia residents can cross into the United States to buy fuel and other essential supplies without having to present a negative COVID-19 test to re-enter Canada.
Catastrophic flooding has cut off fuel shipments to swaths of the province, prompting B.C. to order rationing of gasoline. Some food supplies are also running short.
Mike Farnworth, B.C. Public Safety Minister, told reporters on Saturday that he had asked Bill Blair, the federal Emergency Preparedness Minister, to accelerate the move to waive as of Nov. 30 tests for Canadians visiting the United States for fewer than 72 hours.
Ottawa won’t make a formal change to that deadline, but the federal government has now made it clear that exemptions built into current travel restrictions do allow for cross-border travel if the purpose is to purchase necessities such as fuel, food or medicine.
In a news conference on Sunday, Mr. Blair said the federal government believes existing rules exempt residents in border communities from Canada’s travel restrictions if they are making purchases of essential items. But he warned anyone who may be thinking of sneaking in a leisure trip.
“To be very clear, those exemptions do not apply to non-essential travel,” he said.
Mr. Blair added that stocks of gasoline, diesel, jet fuel and agricultural feed have been “temporarily stabilized,” but he did not provide any specifics.
In a tweet posted Sunday afternoon, the Canada Border Services Agency confirmed that Ottawa will not place testing or quarantine restrictions on any cross-border shopping trips for essentials.
“Given the situation in BC, travellers and essential workers who must travel to or through the USA for essential reasons (food, fuel, supply chains) are exempt from testing and quarantine requirements. These exemptions do not apply to non-essential travel.”
The CBSA said it did not have an immediate response when asked if it will be increasing the number of staff at border crossings in British Columbia.
The Trans Mountain Pipeline, which delivers crude oil from Alberta to refineries on the West Coast, was shut down on Nov. 14, as a precaution ahead of the intense rainstorms that triggered devastating landslides earlier this month. Parts of the buried pipeline were exposed.
The company said Sunday that it still could restart the pipeline by the end of this week. However, it has said that resuming the flow of crude depends on access for its equipment, weather conditions and no new problems.
In response to the severing of oil supplies, the B.C. government has imposed a 30-litre limit for fuel purchases for non-essential vehicles in some parts of the province, as well as imposing temporary price controls for fuel.
Those restrictions, contained in a ministerial order issued by Mr. Farnworth on Friday, prohibit wholesalers or retailers from boosting their prices for fuel to a level that would increase their gross profit margin in the 90 days preceding Nov. 19. As a result, pump prices in B.C. have barely budged, despite the collapse in supply.
Several provinces, including British Columbia, have existing legislation that bans price gouging. But the language in B.C.’s law is vague, saying that a price cannot “grossly” exceed similar prices for products or services “readily obtainable” elsewhere. By contrast, the ministerial order is strikingly specific in how it defines price gouging, said Denes Rothschild, a partner at Borden Ladner Gervais LLP.
Even with those restrictions, supplies of gasoline are running short in British Columbia. Mr. Farnworth told reporters on Saturday that the province is in talks to have supplies of fuel shipped from the United States by barge, but those deliveries would take several days to make their way north.
Lynn Smith, a supervisor at the Peninsula Co-op Gas and Convenience Centre in the town of Comox on Vancouver Island, said so far customers have been well-behaved about the rationing.
“The customers are very understanding. They know we’re just doing our job,” she said. Before the rationing went into effect on Friday things were “a little bit crazy” with people scrambling to fill their tanks, but during the weekend “everyone has been really good.”
But tempers have flared elsewhere. Chris Simmons, a mechanic who lives in Coquitlam, was screamed at by another customer as he tried to get gas on Saturday afternoon. Mr. Simmons had reversed in to the pump, and the other driver accused him of stealing his spot.
“He started screaming,” Mr. Simmons said. “He started coming at me.”
Mr. Simmons left, not wanting a confrontation, especially with his young son in the car.
“I went to the next station and they had tons of gas. There was a lineup, but there was tons of gas. This is ridiculous. Everybody is me, me, me. This is bringing out the worst in people.”
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