A new provincial law that requires oil and gas companies to share information about how they set fuel prices passed in the BC Legislature on November 27, ahead of a gas price town hall meeting taking place in Powell River on Sunday, December 15.
Bill 42-2019, the Fuel Price Transparency Act, allows the BC Utilities Commission (BCUC) to collect data on fuel imports, and wholesale and retail prices from oil and gas companies.
“People can expect more transparency in the prices of gasoline and diesel fuel,” stated minister of jobs, trade and technology Bruce Ralston in a media release. “The Fuel Price Transparency Act will allow the British Columbia Utilities Commission to collect information from oil and gas companies on the market conditions involved in setting prices.”
The new law follows a BCUC report, published August 30, which found an unexplained 10 to 13 cent-per-litre price difference in BC gas prices compared with Pacific Northwest wholesale prices.
“It’s been in the works for a while,” Powell River-Sunshine Coast MLA Nicholas Simons told the Peak. “I think minister Ralston felt it was important to do what some other jurisdictions do.”
A supplementary report, published November 12, noted that 70 per cent of all letters regarding high gas prices BCUC received came from Powell River, where prices have for months been static at or around $1.59.9 per litre, the highest in BC. The report stated that none of the five companies that intervened in the inquiry “chose to respond to any of these concerns raised in the letters of comment or at least acknowledge them.”
Meanwhile, oil and gas companies refused to provide information accounting for the particularly high prices in Powell River. Fuel companies argue that such information is competitively sensitive, and that low-carbon fuel standards and high transportation costs are to blame for the disproportionate prices.
However, Simons, who spoke in favour of Bill 42-2019 in the BC Legislature last week, believes the new law will shed more light on the price differentials and make companies more accountable.
“They say sunlight is a disinfectant,” said Simons. “The ability to request more information will require a little more accountability. One of the things I’m most excited about is that I believe it gives us the opportunity to request a specific review for this area.”
Simons said while it is not clear whether or not the new legislation will lead to a price drop at the pump, he hopes it will prevent future jumps.
“I don’t know if I can be as confident as to say [companies] will roll back the prices, but having to explain how they come to their price may have a mitigating impact on their desire to jack it up,” he added.
Next month’s town hall meeting invites participants to prepare and read one-page statements explaining the impact of high gas prices on their lives. Simons and North Island-Powell River MP Rachel Blaney will then respond to the statements.
“When I hear the stories and examples of the impact, it helps me when I make the argument for further action, and further investigation,” said Simons. “I hope it’s seen as a constructive opportunity.”
The meeting will run from 1:30 to 3:30 pm at Evergreen Theatre in Powell River Recreation Complex.