The B.C. government has introduced legislation that would force oil and gas companies to turn over supply and pricing data.
If passed, Bill 42 will allow the province to regularly collect and make public financial information about the market.
“It’s time to pull back the curtain to get some answers for British Columbians on how the price of gasoline is set,” announced Trade Minister Bruce Ralston on Monday.
“It sends a message to the oil and gas companies: The days of setting your prices in secrecy are coming to an end,” he said while tabling the Fuel Transparency Act at the B.C. Legislature.
Companies will be required to share information on refined fuel imports and exports, fuel volumes at refineries and terminals, as well as wholesale and retail prices.
The province says there will be “safeguards” — like audits and inspections — to ensure the information provided is complete, accurate and reported regularly.
In a statement, the Canadian Fuels Association would only say it looks forward to reviewing the proposed legislation.
“I can tell you that [our] members comply with all legislation in all jurisdictions,” spokesperson Stéphanie Montreuil wrote in an email to CBC.
It’s time to pull back the curtain to get some answers for British Columbians on how the price of gasoline is set.– Trade Minister Bruce Ralston
Bill 42 is the province’s attempt to demand accountability over gas prices that bubbled to a record high this year.
Sudden and dramatic increases at the pumps in the spring triggered a public inquiry that lasted through the summer.
In May, the NDP government ordered the B.C. Utilities Commission (BCUC) to look into the matter, but said the commission was not to consider provincial taxes as a possible factor.
The investigation struggled at first to get the full co-operation of industry, with companies claiming the release of sensitive information could compromise competitive advantage; they eventually complied.
The BCUC wrapped up its inquiry in August with the revelation of a 13-cents-per-litre discrepancy in the price of gasoline for which it could find no credible explanation. That translated into an extra $490 million per year in fuel costs for drivers.
The report concluded there was a lack of competition and substantial markups in the province’s gasoline market.
Gas companies were given the chance to respond, but in a supplementary report by the BCUC earlier this month, the commission said it found their evidence did not add up, labelling it “either inconclusive or conflicting.”
Will transparency translate to cheaper gas?
Other West Coast jurisdictions have similar legislation.
In Washington state, the government produces quarterly gasoline reports outlining the factors that contribute to prices. In California, producers and refiners are required to regularly report the source and volume of their product.
In Canada, B.C. would become the first province or territory to bring in a law that tracks financial data from gas companies, although there’s doubt that will ultimately prevent wild price fluctuations.
“It may tell us how the gas companies calculate their price but that won’t bring down the price at the pump,” said opposition critic Peter Milobar.
“The government needs to look at its own policy. They need to look at why they have the highest gas taxes in North America, which is also leading to the highest price at the pump in North America,” said the BC Liberal MLA.
The province could move to regulate gas prices like governments have done in Quebec, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland and Labrador.
However, B.C. Premier John Horgan has previously said that’s something his government would be reluctant to do.
He pointed to an internal report from the energy ministry that concluded that “regulation provides some price stability but does not ultimately lead to lower prices for consumers.”
The province has not provided examples of further measures it could take beyond possible regulation. In the meantime, Horgan has been trying to shift the responsibility onto Ottawa.
He argues the federal government now owns the Trans Mountain pipeline, and with its expansion could ensure more refined fuel is directed to B.C. to help relieve the province’s supply crunch.