Passing the buck? B.C. minister, energy executive respond to record gas prices

B.C.’s energy minister and the CEO of a major fuel supplier were both grilled Monday on the province’s record-breaking gas prices.

At a news conference announcing a $600 million expansion project to produce cleaner diesel, question after question focused on why British Columbians pay more for fuel than nearly any jurisdiction in Canada, and what the province could do about it.

Bob Espey, the CEO of Parkland Corp., which supplies roughly a third of B.C.'s gas, was there to announce the project would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by two megatonnes per year.

That's like taking 700,000 cars off the road, he said, and the project won't cost drivers because 40 per cent of it is funded through taxpayer credits.

But the announcement was overshadowed by record-breaking prices, which some analysts caution could go even higher.

Espey said the market set the prices paid by fuel companies, and that supply was a factor. He said more fuel would lead to better "economics" for British Columbians. Other than that, he said the costs were not something companies like his could do anything about.

Asked about an inquiry into gas prices that found they were inexplicably 13 cent per litre higher in Metro Vancouver, and the suggestion by some that companies like his were gouging, Espey reiterated that “the fuel is determined by the market and Parkland is one of the suppliers in that market."

One of those suggesting gouging was at play: Energy Minister Bruce Ralson, who stood beside Espey for Monday's announcement.

Ralston was asked if the plan to create lower carbon diesel would cost drivers, and initially said no. Later, when asked if the price of fuel would go up, after several questions, he relented.

"The anticipated increase is one cent a litre, next January," said Ralston.

In 2019, Premier John Horgan promised to look into why B.C. drivers pay more for gas than virtually anywhere on the continent. That resulted in expectations the government was willing to take action.

Opposition Energy Critic Peter Milobar suggested taxes may be the answer, or at least a path to temporary relief.

"When you have the highest gas taxes in North America, it's no surprise you'd end up with the highest prices, especially with that constrained supply," he told reporters.

The review ordered by Horgan told the B.C. Utilities Commission not to look at the impact of taxation on fuel prices.

Ralston didn't outline any new relief measures, instead pointing to an ICBC rebate being repackaged as fuel relief. Drivers will start seeing that money this week.

Ralston added, "It certainly doesn't compensate for the total price but it's one step that we have taken."