COLUMN: Slick policies fuel gas hikes

Government, oil companies both have dirty hands, writes columnist Frank Bucholtz.

A poll conducted by Insights West, in conjunction with Black Press, shows that high gas prices are having a significant effect on people’s day-to-day lives.

Those polled quite correctly identified the two major culprits – all levels of government, through taxation policies; and the oil companies themselves.

The fact that B.C.’s gas prices are consistently the highest in the country is due solely to taxation.

In particular, the provincial carbon tax, which adds almost seven cents per litre to the cost of gasoline, and the TransLink tax of 17 cents per litre, push gas prices much higher than they are in other parts of Canada. Drivers in Metro Vancouver pay a minimum of 41 cents per litre in taxation. Those are only two of the many government hands in our pockets when we fill up.

The provincial government takes another cut, which is actually lower in Metro Vancouver than in other parts of the province. That’s because the province gives some of its taxation share to TransLink.

The federal government also takes a large share – 10 cents per litre, plus GST. It  charges GST on the taxes, as well as the product. This is unfair and should not be permitted.

As all taxes are rolled into the price of a litre of gas or diesel, many people are unaware of this naked tax grab.

The federal government is proud of its take. It just announced how it plans to “share” this ill-gotten revenue with local governments over the next 10 years.

In other words, there will be no tax relief any time soon on that front.

Those surveyed by Insights West said they are driving less and using transit, or walking, more. These are reasonable alternatives to high gas prices, but the transit alternative doesn’t always work for Surrey or North Delta residents. The number of regular transit users is small, and most who do use transit are using SkyTrain as part of the trip.

Those depending solely on buses are few in number. This is because of a limited number of bus routes. Most buses do not go quickly or frequently to places that many residents regularly travel to.

The high taxes also lead to behaviour which hurts the overall community, notably cross-border shopping.

High gas prices are one of the main factors causing people to travel regularly to the U.S. When TransLink boosted its tax to 17 cents per litre, the effect was immediate and notable.

The large number of trips across the border also put the lie to the provincial claim that the carbon tax has reduced gasoline consumption. When cross-border gas shopping and fuel-efficient vehicles are factored in, it is doubtful if there has been any significant decline in consumption by B.C. residents.

However, the  recent prices of $1.50 per litre have reduced driving, as the survey indicates.

The oil companies come in for criticism from poll respondents, and while not all of that is deserved, the companies do not have completely clean hands.

The price of fuel regularly jumps up late at night – for no good reason, other than to force people heading to work in the morning who need gas to pay more.

I witnessed this firsthand at the sole gas station at Vancouver Airport Monday night. The price was $1.46 at 11:15 p.m. When I left the airport just after midnight, the price was $1.51.

The prices almost always fall by four to five cents a litre by the noon hour.

Those polled say oil companies often raise prices before long weekends.

Another area where oil companies reap unconscionable profits is with premium grades of gasoline. While U.S. oil companies tend to charge 10 cents a gallon more for premium, in Canada, the price difference is 10 cents a litre – or about 38 cents per (U.S.) gallon.

They clearly take advantage of people who do not pay attention to the difference between a litre and a gallon.

If government wasn’t so complicit in keeping gas prices high, it might be worthwhile to ask it to be more vigilant about some of the unfairness in pricing.

But when it comes to gas and diesel prices, all the players, including all levels of government, have dirty hands.

Frank Bucholtz writes Thursdays for the Peace Arch News. He is the editor of the Langley Times.

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