Furious over high gas prices, Powell River, B.C., residents pack town hall seeking answers

Click to play video: 'Town hall meeting held to address high gas prices' Town hall meeting held to address high gas prices
Powell River residents are fed up with the soaring cost of gas in their municipality. Grace Ke reports – Dec 15, 2019

Powell River residents packed a town hall meeting Sunday hoping to get answers from politicians on why their gas prices are so much higher than the rest of B.C.

Prices at the pumps in the Sunshine Coast community have been higher than those in Metro Vancouver and elsewhere for months, regularly shooting past $1.50 per litre. In November, one gas station was posting a price of $1.72.9 per litre for regular grade fuel.

The numbers have since dropped down to an average of $1.47.9 per litre. But that pales in comparison to the Lower Mainland, where prices are sitting under $1.30 per litre on average — and that region is subject to the additional TransLink tax on gas.

Click to play video: 'Squamish and Powell River residents say they’re being gouged at the gas pump' Squamish and Powell River residents say they’re being gouged at the gas pump
Squamish and Powell River residents say they’re being gouged at the gas pump – Nov 10, 2019

Panelists at the town hall included Rachel Blaney, the NDP MP for North Island-Powell River, who said the cost difference is inexplicable and can’t be pinned on regular culprits like transportation costs.

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“The cost of gas in Nunavut today is less than here,” she said. “So when you look at the challenges of getting gas to different locations, that obviously isn’t the only reason.”

READ MORE: ‘Stop gouging us’: As B.C. gas prices drop, why are coastal communities still paying more?

Local NDP MLA Nicholas Simmons, another panelist, said he’s hopeful the meeting will lead to action from the province.

“What this can do is encourage the BC Utilities Commission (BCUC) to do a specific look at Powell River and the Sunshine Coast to see what makes our community among the consistently highest prices for gas,” he said.

Residents who attended the town hall were urged to sign a petition asking the BCUC and the federal Competition Bureau to investigate the issue.

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New report still can’t explain higher B.C. gas prices – Nov 12, 2019

While the purpose of the meeting was to hear from residents how the high gas prices have impacted them and their businesses, it instead saw anger towards the politicians overseeing the discussion.

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“Constantly the governments are just reflecting it onto somebody else: ‘it’s this guy’s problem,’ ‘we don’t have refinery capacity,’ whatever it might be,” one resident said.

“I’m challenging you as a government to do something about it.”

READ MORE: Gas price inquiry questions whether B.C. is a ‘functioning competitive market’

Other residents called for the province to set a cap on fuel prices and other utilities, a measure supported by the opposition BC Liberals.

In November, the NDP government passed legislation that forces oil companies to reveal how they set gas prices.

The province says the Fuel Price Transparency Act will produce a “common set of facts” about fuel prices and require companies to share data on refined fuel imports, wholesale and retail prices, and volumes at refineries and terminals.

Click to play video: 'NDP government tables “transparency” legislation on gas prices' NDP government tables “transparency” legislation on gas prices
NDP government tables “transparency” legislation on gas prices – Nov 18, 2019

The legislation was introduced after a public inquiry by the BCUC found an unexplained 10 to 13 cent premium on Lower Mainland fuel prices over Pacific Northwest wholesale prices.

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The inquiry did not look at other regions or the impact of various provincial taxes that add to the price of gasoline, including the TransLink tax and the B.C.-wide carbon tax.

Powell River Mayor Dave Formosa, who also owns a gas station in town, has said gas is transported to Powell River by barge.

READ MORE: B.C. passes law to force oil companies to reveal how gas prices are set

When he tried to conduct his own investigation on why prices are so high, he said he was told by oil companies that they can get away with charging what they see fit because of a lack of competition in the area.

Residents have said they often ferry over to Comox on Vancouver Island, where prices are relatively lower, to fill up their tanks.

Powell River isn’t alone along the Sunshine Coast in seeing higher-than-average gas prices. Drivers in Squamish, Whistler and Pemberton have also complained about getting gouged at the pumps.

In November, protesters rallied outside a Squamish gas station to draw attention to their own high fuel costs, with organizers saying they’re planning more demonstrations until action is taken.

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