Advertisement

COMMENTARY: Gas-price politics, from British Columbia and beyond

Click to play video: 'Is the carbon tax working?' Is the carbon tax working?
WATCH: (Feb. 17, 2021) It's a step to put a price on pollution and reduce carbon emissions. But is the carbon tax working? Marney Blunt reports – Feb 17, 2021

If you’re fed up with high Canadian gas prices, you can at least be grateful that you don’t live in British Columbia.

Unless you do live in B.C. In that case, then go ahead and be mad as hell.

British Columbians are once again experiencing particular pain at the pumps as rising oil prices drive up the cost of gasoline.

It’s an extra-nasty case of gas-fuelled road rage in B.C., home to North America’s highest gasoline taxes.

Read more: Is Canada’s carbon tax working? Experts, advocacy groups weigh in

How does the taxman sock it to B.C. drivers? Let us count the ways.

There’s the B.C. carbon tax, once fiercely opposed by NDP Premier John Horgan.

Story continues below advertisement

When he was on the opposition benches, Horgan used to rail against the burden of the provincial carbon tax on B.C. families. Now the tax has risen steadily on his watch, with further increases set to kick in.

There’s also the B.C. Motor Fuel Tax. And the B.C. Transportation Financing Authority fuel tax. And Metro Vancouver’s TransLink fuel tax.

Ottawa takes a cut, of course, courtesy of the federal fuel excise tax.

Don’t forget the sour cherry on top: the federal GST, charged on the entire gas purchase, including all the other taxes.

Add it all up and Metro Vancouver drivers are getting hosed at the gas pump, creating a recurring political problem for Horgan and his B.C. government.

Read more: U.S. deep freeze boosts Canadian oil and gas producer profits and prospects

Now that he’s a convert to the carbon tax, you might think Horgan would be pleased that high gas prices would discourage the use of polluting vehicles.

But Horgan has walked a political tight rope, jacking up the punitive carbon tax while griping about high gas prices at the same time.

His theme: Don’t blame me, blame greedy oil companies.

Story continues below advertisement

“This is not a tax question, it’s a gouging question,” he said. “This is not about taxation.”

To drive the point home, the Horgan government recently passed a law forcing oil companies to reveal secret price-setting data.

Stopping short of government regulation to cap B.C. gas prices, the Horgan government instead said it would shame the oil companies into lowering prices themselves.

But the oil companies are fighting the forced disclosure of their corporate secrets. Now the dispute is snaking its way through the courts, while British Columbians are left paying sky-high gas prices.

Gas-price analyst Dan McTeague said B.C.’s strict low-carbon fuel standard — mandating cleaner-burning gas — also drives up B.C. fuel prices.

“All told, adding up all the government regulations and taxes, you’re looking at about 62 to 63 cents a litre in B.C.,” he said.

Story continues below advertisement

McTeague has had a fascinating career as a one-time MP who transformed into a fierce critic of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal government’s energy policies.

“I’m a former Liberal MP, with the emphasis on ‘former,'” he understated, revealing that the federal Conservatives unsuccessfully courted him to run in the last election.

Read more: Price of gas jumps again in B.C.’s Southern Interior (Feb. 20)

Now, McTeague is closely watching the fortunes of the Conservatives under new party leader Erin O’Toole.

O’Toole is under pressure to steer his party toward the middle of the political spectrum by adopting more environmentally friendly energy policies.

That includes the astonishing possibility that O’Toole might endorse a federal carbon tax, after years of slamming Trudeau’s federal tax.

If O’Toole does back a national carbon tax — especially with gas prices already spiking — McTeague thinks it would be a political disaster for the Conservatives.

“Trying to mimic the federal Liberals in the next election will get him zero votes — it will cost him votes instead,” McTeague said.

“I think it would be a fatal mistake for Mr. O’Toole. If he does that (promise a federal carbon tax), his time as leader of that party would be nasty, brutish and, of course, short.”

Story continues below advertisement

Mike Smyth is host of ‘The Mike Smyth Show’ on Global News Radio 980 CKNW in Vancouver and a commentator for Global News. You can reach him at mike@cknw.com and follow him on Twitter at @MikeSmythNews​.

Sponsored content