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Simons asks solicitor general to look into Coast gas prices

Powell River-Sunshine Coast MLA Nicholas Simons is asking the province’s solicitor general to look into gas prices in the riding.
Gas Prices
A gas station in downtown Sechelt showing the typical price for a litre of regular on April 6.

Powell River-Sunshine Coast MLA Nicholas Simons is asking the province’s solicitor general to look into gas prices in the riding.

Long-simmering complaints about the often large difference in gas prices between the Sunshine Coast and the Lower Mainland have come closer to a boiling point recently, especially with the swift drop in prices being seen in many parts of B.C.

Prices quoted on the website on April 6 were $109.9 per litre in Gibsons and Sechelt, $129.9 in Powell River and as low as 93.9 cents per litre in North Vancouver.

In a letter to Premier John Horgan, copied to Simons and Coast Reporter, Charlene Penner, one of a group of people from the Sunshine Coast Labour Council that has staged pickets outside local gas stations, said it’s time for the province to step in and regulate gas prices.

“During this COVID-19 crisis, thousands of people are unemployed, some are sick, thousands are isolated and certainly many are suffering. Small and large businesses are receiving subsidies to keep people working; everyone is pulling together to get through this crisis,” Penner wrote.

“Everyone is contributing except the gas stations on the Sunshine Coast who have increased their gouging of citizens during this crisis even though the oil and gas companies have been the recipients of part of the billions of dollars the federal and provincial governments are providing.”

“I’m as frustrated as everybody else,” Simons told Coast Reporter. “Why on earth is the price reduced so significantly everywhere and so minutely on the Sunshine Coast?”

Just before regular business at the legislature was put on hold, Simons presented a petition from Powell River residents calling for the BC Utilities Commission (BCUC) to use the Fuel Price Transparency Act, passed last November, to “examine how the prices are set in Powell River and to report back to the community.”

Simons said he expects the BCUC will do an inquiry into how the prices get set on the entire Sunshine Coast.

“We need to use the law that we passed in the last session that demands accountability and transparency around price setting,” he said.

Simons said the reason he went the extra step of contacting Solicitor General Mike Farnworth was, in part, the suggestion he’s heard from many constituents that “this is a form of gouging during a crisis,” even though complaints about the differential between the Sunshine Coast and the Lower Mainland have been surfacing for well over a year.

As solicitor general, Farnworth is the province’s chief law enforcement officer and is overseeing the current state of emergency declared as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are in a provincial [state of] emergency and we have expectations that people will act in way that sets an example as responsible citizens and that there isn’t price gouging and that there isn’t hoarding,” Simons said. “We have an expectation that companies we purchase goods from aren’t using this situation to their advantage. I’m not saying that they are, but there are a lot of people who feel that when our price is a $1.29 per litre in Powell River and it’s below 80 cents in Chilliwack that there’s something wrong.”

Simons said another reason he wanted to bring the issue to Farnworth’s attention is that the BCUC process could take some time as the regulations backing up the Fuel Price Transparency Act are still being finalized.

An earlier BCUC probe into gas prices in B.C. found “an unexplained 10- to 13-cent-per-litre premium charged at the pumps in British Columbia”

Bruce Ralston, Minister of Jobs, Trade and Technology, said when the act passed that, “This new legislation will make oil and gas companies accountable to British Columbians for unfair markups and will discourage cost increases that seemingly cannot be explained. If there is a reason for charging premiums, prove it.”