Good morning! It’s James Keller in Calgary.
Gasoline costs in the Vancouver region have decreased since the spring, when prices at the pump hit an eye-popping $1.70 per litre, but they haven’t quite come down to earth. Gas prices in Vancouver are about $1.50 this week, compared with less than $1.10 in Calgary and about $1.20 in Toronto, according to the website GasBuddy.ca.
B.C. Premier John Horgan promised to get to the bottom of why gas prices in the province seem so out of whack compared with elsewhere in Canada, asking the B.C. Utilities Commission in the spring to conduct a formal investigation into the issue. Theories have abounded, from allegations of price gouging to claims that the province’s opposition to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion is keeping costs high.
After months of work that has yielded two preliminary reports, public hearings begin today in Vancouver. This week’s hearings are being advertised as an “oral workshop” that will see interveners present evidence and field questions from an expert panel.
The oil companies have already signalled that they won’t be entirely forthcoming in terms of how much they’re marking up prices, arguing that profit-margin data is “commercially sensitive.” The commission could seek a court order but that would be time consuming. At any rate, Mr. Horgan says the dispute over profit data doesn’t make the oil companies look good.
The other potential problem is that the utilities commission isn’t empowered to examine the effect government policy, which critics have said leaves out a potential major factor in determining the final gas price charged to consumers.
It’s also not clear what the government will be able to do with the final report, since prices themselves are largely unregulated except for in Quebec and the Atlantic provinces.
If you want to dive into the hearings yourself, the proceedings will be streamed here: https://www.allwestbc.com/webcast.html
This is the twice-weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief James Keller. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here. This is a new project and we’ll be experimenting as we go, so let us know what you think.
Around the West
PUBLIC INQUIRY: Alberta’s public inquiry into the funding of environmental charities may ask other provinces to give it the power to compel witnesses and evidence. Inquiry commissioner Steve Allan told James Keller that he’s raised the issue with the province’s justice minister, who was open to the idea. The inquiry, which will examine Premier Jason Kenney’s contention that a foreign-funded campaign has successfully landlocked Alberta oil, doesn’t currently have any jurisdiction outside the province, even though many of the groups under scrutiny are in B.C. or Ontario.
PLASTICS: B.C. municipalities are urging the provincial government to act quickly to allow them to maintain existing bans on plastic bags or introduce new restrictions. A Court of Appeal ruling overturned Victoria’s ban because it stepped on provincial jurisdiction – a ruling that would apply to almost every city in B.C. except, notably, Vancouver. The community of Rossland passed its own ban earlier this week and has asked the provincial environment minister to do what it needs to for that to happen.
CHILD CARE: Alberta’s $25-a-day childcare pilot program will continue for at least another year, says the new United Conservative government’s children’s minister. The program stared under the previous NDP government and the New Democrats had warned that the new UCP government would kill the program. But Children’s Services Minister Rebecca Schulz says the pilot is continuing for now as the province seeks to negotiate continued funding from the federal government.
DOWNTOWN EASTSIDE: It’s been a year since two notorious hotels on the city’s Downtown Eastside were shut down but advocates and residents are frustrated that there’s been little apparent progress on the city’s attempt to expropriate them. At the same time, the Heritage Charitable Foundation says it made made unsolicited offers for both the Regent and Balmoral hotels last week with plans to repair them and turn them into low-cost rental housing.
TUGBOAT SPILL: The company responsible for a fuel spill that contaminated the fishing territory of a First Nation on British Columbia’s central coast has been fined $2.9-million after pleading guilty to a number of offences. A tug boat owned by Texas-based Kirby Corp. ran aground and sank, spilling 110,000 litres of diesel and heavy oils in October of 2016.
SYPHILIS: Alberta is in the middle of a syphilis outbreak, with rates increasing by nearly 10 times in just a few years. Provincial health officials say the increases are most prominent in Edmonton and northern communities, with men in their 30s the group most at risk.
OIL SHIPMENTS: The CEO of Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. says delays in the construction of new pipelines has allowed the company to strike more lucrative deals with oil producers to ship crude.
RABIES: A B.C. man has died from rabies after coming in contact with an infected bat on Vancouver Island – the first such case in the province since 2003.