Of all the tone-deaf things BC’s energy minister could have done on the day Metro Vancouverites were furious at another jump in record-high gas prices — loading up more costs onto the price of fuel would probably have been the worst.
But there was Bruce Ralston on Monday, trying to explain why BC was pushing forward with cleaner requirements for gas and diesel, which will ultimately increase costs at the pump. Standing beside him: the CEO of the province’s largest gas refinery that is raking in enormous profits off the financial misery facing British Columbia drivers.
Ralston is a tall older man, and at first glance, you wouldn’t think him very flexible.
But he put on quite the showcase in political dodgeball, executing all five Ds – dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodge again – in response to half an hour of pointed questions by journalists about what the government is doing, or more accurately, not doing, to ease the price at the pump.
Ralston took a shellacking.
He had nothing to offer BC motorists, which continue to face the highest gas prices in North America.
The BC government’s response has been so slow that it’s only this month mailing out $110 rebate cheques from ICBC in response to high gas prices from early March. Those March prices of around $2 a litre look quaint compared to the $2.22 many stations were charging in Metro Vancouver on Monday and up to $2.40 a litre projected for this summer.
“I’m acutely aware of the impact increased prices are having, whether it’s on businesses or households where you have to get kids to soccer or to school,” Ralston said. “We’re doing what we can. And we’ll consider other measures.”
Premier John Horgan has in the past ruled out cutting taxes on gasoline or capping prices. Both, he argued, would distort the market and be ineffective against the worldwide supply pressures caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
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But BC’s prices remain consistently higher than elsewhere.
Part of why was again highlighted in Ralston’s press conference, as he announced an expansion of the “low carbon fuel standard” – a measure on companies to produce cleaner gas and diesel. It’s key to BC reaching its climate change targets of 2030 but also causes them to produce more renewable fuels that are three to four times the price of conventional gas and diesel.
BC taxpayers are helping subsidize a $600 million investment by Parkland Refinery in Burnaby – which refines roughly 30 percent of the province’s gasoline – to produce cleaner diesel that will be much more expensive than traditional fuel.
The government billed the investment as good for the economy. But Parkland last week announced quarterly profits were up 23 percent, to $387 million, from producing, refining and feeding thirsty drivers at record-high prices, including at its 129 Chevron-brand gas stations across Metro Vancouver.
The optics were terrible. Public support for a major oil and gas company already reaping enormous profits so that it can produce more expensive, albeit cleaner, fuel.
Parkland CEO Bob Espey had little to offer to BC motorists at the press conference. He was left to stand awkwardly at the podium beside Ralston while repeatedly insisting that his company and others have their hands tied by global forces.
“The price of fuel is dictated by the market,” he said.
BC’s “low carbon fuel standard” already adds 11 cents per litre to the price of gasoline at the pump and will rise to 12 cents next January.
That’s on top of the 56 cents per litre Metro Vancouver drivers pay in taxes for things like TransLink, the carbon tax, the BC motor fuel tax, the federal excise tax and the federal GST.
Somewhere in that, almost 70 cents per litre of taxes, surcharges, and additional costs are where Premier Horgan and his cabinet are going to be forced to go next if the province wants to respond to angry motorists and provide some sort of financial relief.
The Opposition BC Liberals are already beating that drum.
“You have the highest gas taxes in North America, so it’s not a surprise you’d end up with the highest gas prices, especially with that constrained supply,” said Liberal critic Peter Milobar.
Milobar suggested BC implement “short-term relief” as Alberta did in March when that province dropped its 13-cent-per-litre provincial gas tax.
But Horgan has rejected the idea in the past, arguing gas companies will move in quickly to jack prices back up and absorb the savings as profit. Alberta also has a better supply of gasoline direct from refineries via the oil patch. The price of gas in Calgary on Monday was almost $1.59 per litre – 62 cents cheaper than in BC.
As BC dithers, the price of high gas is also bleeding into other areas, including transportation, BC Ferries and food delivery. That dovetails with record inflation, creating immense pressure on the wallets of British Columbians. It might even cause people to curb summer travel plans, cascading losses through the province’s tourism sector.
All of this is a political headache for a Horgan government that has long billed itself to voters as the party of affordability.
The only thing rising faster than the price of gas in Metro Vancouver right now is the pressure on the Horgan government to do something to help motorists.
Rob 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.