B.C. Premier John Horgan says oil companies risk being accused of hiding something if they don’t come clean on gasoline profit margins without being forced to do so by the courts.
The premier commented Thursday on the refusal of several companies to release such data to the province’s utility regulator as it prepares for a review of high gas prices in B.C.
“I think it tells the story in and of itself when we say to the companies that have been making windfall profits, ‘How much are you making?’ And they say, ‘We’re not prepared to tell you that,’” Mr. Horgan told reporters.
Mr. Horgan said he has faith in the British Columbia Utilities Commission and noted the regulator could get the information through a court order.
He declined to encourage them to do so, but said the exercise would raise tough questions for the oil companies.
“If we end up in court over this, that tells another story. Dear oil and gas companies, why are you gouging British Columbians and not other Canadians? You should fess up and tell the public."
The NDP government ordered the review as drivers in the Vancouver region this year paid some of the highest gas prices in North America, sparking criticism from the B.C. Liberal opposition.
The utilities commission will be holding hearings on the issue starting July 17.
But Husky Energy Inc., Suncor Energy Inc., Imperial Oil Ltd., and Shell Canada Ltd. all sent the commission letters that said revealing their profit margins would expose “commercially sensitive” information.
“Shell Canada is fully participating in this process to the best of our ability,” wrote Tara Lemay, a spokesperson for Shell Canada, in a statement to The Globe and Mail. “[The company] does not publicly disclose commercially sensitive and confidential financial information such as retail margins to competitors and other commercial counterparties. Likewise, Shell Canada does not have access to its competitors’ commercially sensitive and confidential financial information.”
Jon Harding, speaking to The Globe for Imperial Oil, declined to comment on the premier’s concerns. “It’s not appropriate for Imperial to discuss the information we have submitted and related matters while the inquiry is ongoing,” Mr. Harding said.
Mr. Horgan has asked the commission to report by Aug. 30 on the factors that affect wholesale and retail gas prices – in particular, why refining margins are so much higher in the Vancouver region than in other parts of the country. He made the request in May when gas prices were about $1.70 a litre.
High gasoline prices in the province have been linked to global markets, taxes on gasoline and limited refining capacity in the province, among other factors.
The gas-price issue has caused political trouble for the NDP, which campaigned in 2017 on making life more affordable for British Columbians, and has pursued a policy agenda built on affordability.
This week, BCUC chief executive officer David Morton said in a statement the inquiry panel is reviewing responses to a survey put out to companies, and that any company data deemed “commercially sensitive” would be safeguarded in line with commission rules of practice and procedure.
The B.C. Liberal opposition has criticized the NDP for not allowing a review of its government’s fuel policies. The document establishing the review says the commission cannot inquire into the effects of provincial enactments or policy on gasoline and diesel prices in British Columbia.
Mr. Horgan played down that need, saying the province’s use of taxation is clear and not linked to to the price spike.
The premier has previously raised the issue with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, asking the federal government to open up the Trans Mountain pipeline, now owned by Ottawa, to shipping more refined fuel.
“We need to get more gasoline into the Lower Mainland, into southern Vancouver Island if we’re going to see the prices come down. The Prime Minister understands that. We’re working together on that,” Mr. Horgan said.
He also said he expects the issue to come up at next week’s premiers’ conference in Saskatoon.