B.C. premier hints at court action for oil companies witholding info from gas price probe

Gas suppliers refuse to share how they set their prices at the pump
WATCH: Three major fuel companies are refusing to submit key financial information for the province's gas price inquiry. Tom Gunton from SFU explains why these companies are withholding this information.

B.C. Premier John Horgan says he’s hopeful the larger oil and gas companies will eventually share their retail and refining margins with the provincial gas price inquiry.

But he hinted those companies could soon find themselves subject to court orders if they don’t comply with the B.C. Utilities Commission’s (BCUC) probe.

“I’m hopeful they will see their way forward,” he said Thursday. “Many companies have [shared their margins], the larger companies have not … If it has to go to the courts, that would be profoundly unfortunate.
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READ MORE: Oil companies withhold info on retail, refining margins from B.C. gas price probe

“I think it tells a story in and of itself when we say to the companies that have been making windfall profits ‘how much are you making’ and they say ‘we’re not prepared to tell you that,'” the premier said.

“If we end up in court over something like this, that tells another story.”

The BCUC has been tasked with probing the factors underlying B.C.’s high gas prices and establishing a “common set of facts” about the market.

But in submissions to the BCUC, Suncor Energy, Parkland Fuel Corporation, Husky Energy, Shell Canada and Imperial Oil said they can’t give the regulator details about their margins for reasons of confidentiality and “competitive sensitivity.”

WATCH: (Aired July 3) Big three gas companies refuse to release information to gas price inquiry

Big three gas companies refuse to release information to gas price inquiry
Big three gas companies refuse to release information to gas price inquiry

All five companies declined to provide data on their refining margins, while Suncor, Husky and Shell did not answer questions on retail margins, which would illustrate the difference between wholesale and retail prices after taxes.

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In an email to Global News Wednesday, commission chair and CEO David Morton said the regulator could use its legislated powers to compel evidence, but noted the process “could be time consuming.”

Horgan said he’s putting his trust in Morton and the inquiry panel to exercise those powers if necessary.

READ MORE: Regulator given 3 months to probe causes of B.C.’s sky-high gas prices

“I know the commission in its wisdom will find a way forward,” he said. “I’ll leave those decisions to Mr. Morton and the commission to figure that out.”

In an email Thursday, Shell Canada spokesperson Tara Lemay said the company is “fully participating” with the probe “to the best of our ability,” and will speak with the BCUC to “understand their procedures going forward.”

“Shell Canada does not publicly disclose commercially sensitive and confidential financial information such as retail margins to competitors and other commercial counterparties,” Lemay said. “Likewise, Shell Canada does not have access to its competitors’ commercially sensitive and confidential financial information.”

A spokesperson for Suncor Energy said Friday the company is working with the BCUC to provide “information that is not competitively sensitive.”

WATCH: (Aired May 7) B.C. premier calls for gas prices investigation

B.C. premier calls for gas prices investigation
B.C. premier calls for gas prices investigation

Other companies that didn’t share their margins with the inquiry did not immediately return requests for comment.

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Horgan said the goal of the inquiry isn’t to detail individual companies’ operations, but rather to “tell a narrative where these increases are going.”

“[It’s in the companies’] best interests to fess up to the people of B.C. so we have a better understanding of why there’s these wild spikes over the course of a couple of days,” he said.

The premier was referring to the recent swing of gas prices in Metro Vancouver to as low as $1.30 per litre earlier this month, after a spring that saw prices climb past $1.70 per litre.

READ MORE: Public will have a say in regulator inquiry into B.C.’s record-high gas prices

Those prices, which marked a new record for a North American market, sparked a bitter political battle over their cause.

The BC Liberals called for an end to the various taxes that add as much as 40 cents per litre to the price of gas in parts of B.C.

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One of those taxes, the motor fuel tax that goes in part to TransLink, went up by 1.6 cents per litre on July 1.

The BCUC inquiry has come under fire for not including those taxes in its mandate, with the commission only tasked with looking at the role oil companies play.

READ MORE: Should B.C. regulate the price of gas? Economist says it’s the antidote to oil industry ‘gouging’

But Horgan said Thursday those taxes have nothing to do with why prices go up and down depending on the season or even the week.

“Someone asked if I was getting a lot of mail thanking me for the decline in gas prices. Well, of course not,” he said.

“People understand there are taxes on their fuel, and they may not be happy about that, but they know that pays for the roads, it pays for TransLink, it pays for improving services. They don’t know where the 40 cents went last week. What was that all about? That’s what the commission is tasked to do.”

A final report from the inquiry is due by Aug. 30. Oral hearings are set to begin next week.

— With files from Simon Little

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WATCH: A brief history of gas prices in B.C.

A brief history of gas prices in B.C.
A brief history of gas prices in B.C.