With Ontario drivers paying more than they ever have to fill up their cars, Premier Doug Ford and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath clashed over the topic of gas prices during question period at the provincial legislature Wednesday.
The Opposition leader questioned why the premier hasn’t taken action to stop “gas price gouging.”
“The premier said he’d take on the big oil companies — he hasn’t done so. He said he would take on overnight gouging — he hasn’t done so. The oil companies are flush with money,” Horwath said.
“They have billions of dollars in cash and the drivers have record bills. So my question to the premier is: why hasn’t he stopped these big oil companies from gouging Ontario drivers like he promised he would do?”
In response, Ford called out Horwath for supporting the federal carbon tax. The province said by April 1, the carbon tax will amount to more than 11 cents per litre of gas.
“I can’t believe what I just heard from the other side of the aisle,” Ford said.
He claimed Horwath “wanted the largest carbon tax increase in the world.”
The Ford government has long criticized the federal carbon tax and launched an unsuccessful challenge of it in the Supreme Court.
Ford said his government is “putting money back into people’s pockets,” and noted the recent announcement to eliminate tolls on highways 412 and 418.
“We’re a government that’s cut taxes, not increased taxes,” he said.
One of Ford’s key promises during the 2018 provincial election was to lower gas prices by 10 cents.
The province eliminated the cap-and-trade system, but that triggered the federal carbon tax, negating the 4.3 cent cut.
As recently as November, Ford said the government would meet its promise to cut prices by 5.7 cents per litre by the next budget by reducing the provincial fuel tax.
But Ford recently seems to have backtracked on that promise while expressing frustration with the carbon tax.
Speaking to reporters at Queen’s Park on Wednesday, Energy Minister Todd Smith said, “If we drop the price of a litre of gas in Ontario, there’s nothing to say that the federal government or the gas companies may fill that void.”
NDP introducing bill to regulate gas prices
Amid the debate over fuel prices in the province, the Ontario NDP said they are tabling a bill to regulate the price at the pumps.
Horwath told reporters its the third or fourth time her party has introduced the bill.
“The premier huffed and puffed and pretended he was going to deal with these gas stations that are gouging people, particularly on a Friday before a long weekend, for example. And that can be dealt with,” she said.
“We have other provinces in this country, other states in the U.S., that are regulating gas prices to make sure that they don’t gouge you when a long weekend’s coming and that when you’re travelling through, for example, northern Ontario, or even through parts of the GTA, you’re not seeing a huge discrepancy between gas stations.”
Horwath said the bill would allow for gas prices to be set on a Monday, for instance, and remain the same price for a week.
She acknowledged that international events like the war in Ukraine are driving up oil prices, but said when the cost of oil goes down, that should be seen by consumers.
“On the flip side, when those prices per barrel … start going down, we want to make sure that the prices for the consumer go down as well,” she said.
Horwath said, however, that she still “absolutely” supports the carbon tax in the fight against climate change.
“At this point in time, though, we have consumers that are being gouged. And so for us it’s about the gouging that happens at the pumps,” she said.
Smith said studies from the Ontario Energy Board have shown that regulating gas prices doesn’t actually result in lower gas prices for jurisdictions.
He noted that the government moved to end cap and trade and fought the carbon tax in court.
“That was the right way to go,” he said.
“We’re seeing now nine cents a litre at the pumps that’s carbon tax and as of April 1, that’s expected to go up another 2.2 cents a litre. We believe that the right thing to do right now to give people a break at the pumps is for the federal government to step in there and not increase the price at the pumps.”
But Smith didn’t say that the Ford government would follow through on its promise to cut the province’s fuel tax.
“What we intend to do is if the federal government makes a move to lower taxes on gas, then we’ll match that. That’s what the premier has said,” Smith said.
John Fraser of the Ontario Liberal Party also indicated he’s not in favour of the NDP’s bill to regulate gas prices.
“When gas prices are regulated, what you get is a smoothing. You’re not saving money. There’s no savings there,” he said.
Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner said the spike in gas prices is more of a reason that the province should be moving away from oil altogether.
“If the premier was serious about addressing affordability concerns for driving, we’d be electrifying public transportation, we’d be bringing back electric vehicle rebates and we’d be getting big oil out of our lives,” he said.
Schreiner said he wouldn’t be supporting the NDP bill.
“No, I’m not going to give people false hope and mixed messages on the climate crisis,” he said.
“We’re going to deal with this affordability challenge that people face by getting big oil out of people’s lives.”
Fraser too said the government should be investing more in clean energy and public transit.
Feds not planning to delay increase to carbon price
Meanwhile, Federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault told The Canadian Press in an interview that there is no discussion about delaying an increase to the carbon price in April, which Smith called for.
“We’re sending the revenues back to households in Ontario of carbon pricing. So this idea that somehow Ontarians are worse off because of carbon pricing is not true.”
The high demand for oil combined with a shortage of supply has been pushing oil prices, and consequently, gas prices up for weeks. There is also still much uncertainty around how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will lead to a loss of oil supply.
In response, Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne told reporters on Parliament Hill on Wednesday that he has asked the Competition Bureau to keep an eye on prices at the pumps and has spoken to companies about boosting domestic production to counteract any possible shortages.
— With files from The Canadian Press