"They're out of touch": BC slow on response to gas prices and rebates

Jun 15 2022, 5:19 pm

BC motorists waiting for the province to intervene after Metro Vancouver posted yet another record-high price for gasoline last week, shouldn’t get their hopes up. After all, the government still hasn’t mailed out most of the rebate cheques from the last time it pledged to act, three months ago.

More than 81% of drivers promised a $110 rebate by ICBC in March have still yet to get the money.

The rebate cheques to the majority of drivers who pay their insurance by debit, cash or payment plan only started flowing Monday, reports ICBC.

In total, 652,000 of the 3.5 million drivers eligible for a rebate have actually received one — mainly people who paid via direct deposit or credit card. It will be another month, to mid-July, before most British Columbians get anything.

By then, experts are predicting gas prices could rise even higher, as part of continued escalation in world commodity prices caused by Russia’s invasion into Ukraine, as well as inflation.

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The gas price hikes have come in waves for several months, impacting many other Canadian and US cities but leaving Vancouver with the highest prices in North America.

That government’s solution of cheques in March has subsequently been overtaken by at least two additional waves of price increases, serves to illustrate how the fast-moving issue has befuddled the John Horgan administration.

Horgan has claimed BC’s gas prices are an international problem, with few levers available for the province to respond. His critics have argued he could temporarily cut some of the more than 60 cents per litre in taxes on the price at the pump, or offer up rebates from the more than $3.3 billion the province collects annually in fuel and carbon taxes.

Yet the government insists its snail’s pace, four-month, rollout of rebate cheques is all by design.

“When the rebate was announced, it was scheduled to begin disbursements in mid-May and be completed by the end of July,” Solicitor General Mike Farnworth said in a statement to Daily Hive Urbanized.

“So far, about 600,000 rebates have already gone out, totalling over $76 million. ICBC remains on track to distribute all of the rebates by the end of July.”

The $396-million rebate program is coming from excess insurance premiums ICBC collected during the pandemic, which many have argued is money motorists already overpaid, should have been refunded anyway, and is being used for political purposes to give the appearance of a response to gasoline prices.

They’re out of touch on a lot of issues and they’re out of touch on this issue,” BC Green leader Sonia Furstenau said in an interview.

“The one time rebate, $400 million out of ICBC, how could that have been used for collective action that would have actually provided longer term relief, longer term solutions.”

Instead, the Horgan government lurches forward with reactive, one-off, responses, said Furstenau, who has proposed a national tax on profits of oil and gas companies. BC’s response is the political equivalent of “throwing something at the wall, typically in the form of a cheque to individuals, which isn’t going to solve these big systemic problems,” she said.

The Opposition BC Liberals have called on government to temporarily halt provincial fuel taxes, like in Alberta, as well as boost climate action rebates to low-income motorists from the carbon tax.

“This second-term NDP government has utterly failed to deliver on their core promise to make life more affordable for British Columbians in 2017,” Falcon said recently.

“Since then, the costs of rent and housing have skyrocketed, people now face the highest gas prices anywhere in North America, and the cost of goods and groceries are higher than ever.”

Horgan said earlier this month that he’s asked Finance Minister Selina Robinson to research ways to provide financial relief for British Columbians during rising inflation, but there’s no timeline on when she’ll return her options or when government might act.

Rob Shaw is Daily Hive’s Political Columnist, tackling the biggest political stories in BC. You can catch him on CHEK News as their on-air Political Correspondent.

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