It’s tempting to brand politicians as hypocrites when they lament soaring gas prices. After all, politicians are a key cause of high gas prices. But let’s give them the benefit of the doubt — maybe they are finally recognizing the problem and are ready to start fixing it.
The record-breaking gas prices in Metro Vancouver are the highest in North America and it is important for drivers to understand how we got here. It’s largely a combination of high taxes and political posturing over pipelines, and, with Alberta’s premier-elect Jason Kenney threatening to turn off the taps and reduce the Lower Mainland’s gasoline supply by one-third, drivers should be alarmed.
Federal and provincial taxes — including the carbon tax and the TransLink tax — make up about one-third of the pump price. A lack of supply of refined fuels is another big factor. Both problems could be solved by political will and action.
And it’s a big problem.
British Columbia gas prices are hitting more than $1.70 per litre, while in Seattle, the price is about $1.20. That 50-cent difference means about $35 extra to fill a family minivan. Add it up and it costs a two-vehicle commuter family in Langley about $3,000 extra per year.
It’s both amusing and encouraging, then, to see politicians from both sides of the aisle saying they, too, are upset by high fuel prices.
We will need to set aside that the purpose of the carbon tax is to make fuels so unaffordable that it forces families to stay home, walk to the grocery store, and stop taking summer vacation roadtrips. That’s why the carbon tax cheerleading politicians imposed them on drivers in the first place. But let’s take them at their word and reckon they really do want to see lower prices at the pumps. Great. Here’s how they can do that:
Provincially, Premier John Horgan could cancel the B.C. carbon tax and reduce the TransLink tax by one-third. That would save 15 cents a litre.
The NDP campaigned hard against the imposition of the B.C. carbon tax back in 2008, calling for the governing B.C. Liberals to “axe the tax.” Back then, NDP leader Carole James said the small rebates going to taxpayers was just putting “lipstick on a pig.” Recently, Horgan has talked about giving drivers “relief” at the pumps, and reducing the cost by 15 cents a litre would be partially relieving.
If Horgan won’t do it, B.C. Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson should promise to do it if he wins the next election. Wilkinson and his political team have been calling for a reduction in “provincial gas taxes.” It’s encouraging if they have now realized that the B.C. carbon tax doesn’t work, and that the TransLink tax is too high. They could vow to fix this if they win government again.
Between provinces, the NDP-Green government could call a truce with Alberta and stop opposing the expansion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline. As energy experts have explained, twinning the pipeline would free up the existing pipe to carry more refined product into B.C., supplying gas stations in the Lower Mainland. This would increase the supply of gasoline and should lower prices at the pump.
Federally, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who apparently wants to help the middle class, could cancel the GST that is added to gasoline. That would save another nine cents, at current prices. Trudeau could also cancel the federal excise tax of 10 cents.
If politicians who say they care a lot about the struggles of average working people cancel these taxes, it would save Metro Vancouver commuters 34 cents per litre, reducing the price at the pump to $1.36 per litre.
While that is still much higher than the fuel prices in Seattle, it’s much lower than prices will be if Kenney makes good on his election promise and turns off the fuel taps coming into B.C.
Kris Sims is the B.C. director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
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