OTTAWA – In last week’s column I touched on the new Conservative bill that will increase the number of inspections of gas pumps across Canada to ensure that they are working properly and dispensing the correct amount of gas. The Conservatives believe that this bill is the ‘magic bullet’ to end gas price gouging in Canada, but it’s not because it targets local operators while letting the big oil and gas companies off the hook.
I think the biggest problem with the Conservative approach is their assumption that the problem of gouging is a local one rather than national. They seem to think it is at the retail level and that cracking down on the managers and operators of individual gas stations will end it. Certainly, no one would argue that gas pumps don’t occasionally get out of whack or that that there are a few dishonest retailers out there who deliberately play with their pumps, but who really believes that fixing the odd pump or catching the odd crook will ensure that we are paying a fair price as consumers?
If they were really serious about ending gas price gouging, then the Conservatives would start by looking at why gas is 15-25% more expensive at the pumps in Atikokan, and Fort Frances, and Thunder Bay than it is in Ottawa, Hamilton, or Toronto. I know shipping large containers of gas is expensive, but it would have to cost about $15,000 – 20,000 per truck (!) to deliver a load to our region if the difference in prices is to be explained by geography alone. The load is heavy and the drivers are probably paid a fair wage, but this seems a bit steep doesn’t it?
So what else can explain the massive price difference? There may well be a good explanation for the price difference between urban Ontario and rural and northern Ontario (though I haven’t heard one yet), but many believe it is because we represent a captive market. There is no public transit, our population is spread out over a large geographic area, and there is little choice among suppliers. The big oil and gas companies know this full well and choose to exploit our circumstance by increasing the price. Now I don’t know if that is really the case, but it is the theory I hear most when I speak to people across the riding.
If the above is in fact true, then fixing a few pumps isn’t the answer to high prices and suspected gouging. While we believe that inspecting more pumps is a good idea, New Democrats also believe that there must be some federal oversight of the entire oil and gas industry to end gouging and confirm that we are paying a fair price at the pump.
Do the Conservatives really think the big oil and gas companies are blameless and have nothing but our best interests in mind when doing business? We don’t, so New Democrats have a bill in the House, C-442, that would create the position of a national ‘Oil and Gas Ombudsman.’ This Ombudsman would be in charge of investigating complaints, and monitoring gas pricing across Canada – from the extraction process to the sale of the final product at the pump – to ensure that the big companies small operators alike are not colluding to fix prices, manipulating pricing at the local or regional level, gouging on long weekends, or otherwise ripping us off.
In the end, this Conservative bill will fail to end gas price gouging in Canada or make life more affordable in northwestern Ontario. The Conservative plan lets the Alberta oil patch off the hook and cracks down on our local retailers who I believe are generally honest and take good care of their facilities. As a New Democrat I believe that our solution, monitoring the entire industry instead of targeting individual stations and operators, is superior and the best way to end gas price gouging in Canada.
John Rafferty MP
Thunder Bay Rainy River