VANCOUVER — One of the largest fuel companies in B.C. said Wednesday there is no retail market in Canada more competitive than gasoline as it denied price-setting between competitors.
Ian White, senior vice-president of marketing and innovation for Parkland Fuel Corp., told a three-member panel leading a public inquiry into the province’s gas prices that a price difference of one-tenth of a cent per litre can be enough to lose customers.
Parkland operates gas stations under Chevron and other banners, supplies fuel to airlines and B.C. Ferries, and owns and operates one of B.C.’s only refineries in Burnaby.
White said while factors such as clean washrooms and convenience stores can influence consumers, they simply won’t visit your gas station if you don’t have a competitive price.
Economist Henry Kahwaty, who was hired by Parkland, said that environment leads retailers into a race to the bottom until they reach unprofitable prices, at which point there is typically a price jump and the process repeats itself.
But, Kahwaty added, controlling that process would require a significant level of co-ordination, considering almost half of the gas stations in B.C. are run by independent dealers rather than companies. “This is not evidence of collusion,” Kahwaty said.
The inquiry in Vancouver will hear up to four days of oral evidence. Premier John Horgan called the public inquiry in May as prices at the pump reached a record-breaking $1.70 per litre.
At the time, the B.C. Liberals and Alberta government bought advertising blaming Horgan and linking his government’s resistance to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and taxes to the surging costs.
Jean-Denis Charlebois, chief economist for the National Energy Board, told the panel he can’t account for an independent report that contradicts its claim that the Trans Mountain pipeline is operating at capacity.
Charlebois said in the first quarter of 2019, the Trans Mountain pipeline was operating at 98 per cent capacity.
The panel asked if he could shed light on a report by economists Robyn Allan and Marc Eliesen, the former president of the Insurance Corp. of B.C. and chief executive of B.C. Hydro, respectively.
Allan and Eliesen say their analysis found the Trans Mountain capacity is 400,000 barrels a day, falling to 300,000 barrels a day only if 20 per cent of the capacity is taken up by heavy oil. But it rarely reaches that threshold of heavy oil, and Allan and Eliesen said there were 97,000 barrels a day of capacity in the first quarter of 2019 that were not used.
Earlier, Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson issued a statement criticizing the government for the inquiry’s short timeline and terms of reference that limit it from investigating government activity that affects gas prices.
“It is outrageous that an investigation into fuel costs would be barred from considering the impacts of fuel taxes, transit taxes, and the government’s opposition to increasing pipeline capacity,” Wilkinson said.
The inquiry will conclude with a final report by the panel due on Aug. 30.