GUEST COLUMN: The British Columbia Utilities Commission inquiry into gas prices is long overdue

Guest columnist Blair Wind wants the BC Utilitie Commission to do something about gas prices

The current British Columbia Utilities Commission (BCUC) Inquiry into Gasoline and Diesel Prices is long overdue. I am disappointed the workshops and inquiry proceedings are only offered in Vancouver. I believe other regions of the province are also affected.

I have raised serious concerns on Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s (CBC) program BC Today, prior to and after the announcement of this inquiry into the business practices of suppliers, refiners and retailers. For decades, BC has had the highest gas prices in North America which cannot be explained away by transit and carbon taxes. We have been ripped off far too long.

Let’s be clear. These are not benevolent corporations. There is no national interest. There is no sense of public good. Their only allegiance is to their shareholders. Their motivation is to maximize earnings by whatever means achievable. Favorite tactics include price fixing, gouging, and market manipulation.

Price fixing is what I have been experiencing in Smithers, where the remaining three retailers, down from six, locked the price in at 139.9 per litre for two to three months. I heard on CBC Radio a representative from Chevron tell the Inquiry Panel sometimes they change the price two to three times a day. Not in our neck of the woods. We call it the Tourist Season where they fleece the traveller and local alike. On July 19th they all dropped the price to 134.9 per litre, where it remains today, as if someone pressed a button and the price at the pump at Chevron, Esso and Petro-Canada all changed simultaneously.

Gouging is where they charge excessive rates which do not correlate with oil prices, production costs, market conditions, demand or reality. I have twice asked the listening public why the price of gasoline in Smithers was 132.9 at a time when our neighbours to the east were complaining their tar sand sludge Western Canada Select was $14 to $17 a barrel. I have yet to hear an explanation from anyone. Perhaps this inquiry will provide one.

Market manipulation is where you create your own shortages through scheduled and unscheduled maintenance of refineries and infrastructure. Price skyrocket with large-scale increases of ten to thirty cents per litre overnight, yet the correction seems to come in increments of one to three cents per litre. Scheduled maintenance should be during low-demand times with sufficient surplus inventory on hand. Unscheduled maintenance appears often to be more for market conditions than essential servicing. This joins unrest in the Middle East and a threat of a hurricane in the Gulf as their favorite excuses for exorbitant price increases.

I can offer only one explanation for the thirty cent per litre increase in Vancouver gas prices which caused public outrage when it hit $1.70 per litre. It may have been a ploy or tactic to sway public opinion for pipeline expansion. I have heard much misinformation since then suggesting the Trans Mountain/Kinder Morgan/Government of Canada project will lower prices in Vancouver.

I believe the opposite is likelier to happen. The project is entirely export driven with no domestic component outlined in their proposal for pipeline expansion. If supply and demand dictates there will be less for us and more for China. Once again, I must ask whose national interest is served under this arrangement? As one of 36 million owners of the project, given the current situation with two Canadian citizens arbitrarily detained and one on death row, restrictions on Canadian export products, with no counter actions by the current Government of Canada, I do not find it in my best interest.

I have also asked the question why we need the Energy East Pipeline when we have the Hibernia which Canadian taxpayers funded to the tune of $300 million dollars in the nineties. Answer: Because like Trans Mountain it was largely an export project with little domestic component. This is why Canada imports oil products from Venezuela and Saudi Arabia rather than using their own.

I believe industry practices in BC should face similar scrutiny and Facebook is currently receiving in Canada and abroad.

Ironically, there is a parallel inquiry currently going in Alberta to flush out foriegn environmental groups and financiers opposing oil production, transportation and exporting their products to foreign markets. Fortunately for them, it was recently revealed that the former Harper government, and possibly the current one, had CSIS level the playing field by spying on Canadian citizens and reporting to industry.

As a British Columbian with legitimate concerns, am I an engaged citizen with no political or environmental affiliation, or an enemy of the state? One way or the other I await the findings of both our and their inquiries.

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