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N.B. premier declares revenue from record gas prices will go back to public

Click to play video: 'New Brunswick premier says province may consider rebate due to rising fuel prices'
New Brunswick premier says province may consider rebate due to rising fuel prices
WATCH: New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs may be considering a rebate to deal with the skyrocketing price of gas. Higgs says the option is on the table, but it all depends on if the government sees greater than expected profits from record prices. Silas Brown reports – May 12, 2022

Premier Blaine Higgs says the government may issue rebates to help New Brunswickers deal with skyrocketing fuel prices, but that all depends on if the government is seeing extra revenue or not.

“This was never to be a windfall on the backs of any of our citizens and if we find that at the end of the day that we can actually return money to the people that need it the most at a time when energy costs are so high, that’s the goal to do that,” Higgs said.

The maximum price of gasoline moved over $2.00 per litre for the first time on Thursday morning. Higgs said HST revenue projections for this year’s budget were based on gasoline prices of about $1.40 per litre, meaning those revenues could potentially be much higher than forecast.

If the province is raking in more from its portion of HST than normal due to inflated gas prices, Higgs says he wants to use that money to help New Brunswickers cope with the rising cost of living. But the premier says he won’t act until he knows that provincial coffers are, in fact, swelling in order to protect the province’s bottom line.

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“We have one of the highest budgets we’ve ever had,” Higgs said.

“We have to be sure that we’re able to fund those programs that we’ve already committed to and then if we look at that and say this is higher, the taxes returning are going to be higher, the goal is let’s look at housing, let’s look at low income, let’s look at where we can put it where it’s needed the most to fight inflation in our province.”

Click to play video: 'Are higher gas prices here to stay?'
Are higher gas prices here to stay?

Whether or not HST revenues from gasoline sales are growing likely won’t be known until the end of the first quarter in June, Higgs says, but the province is currently speaking to gasoline suppliers to see if they are selling their product at normal volumes or if high prices are suppressing demand.

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Higgs says if gasoline sales are slowing, tax revenue may remain steady. That combined with higher costs for the province’s fleet of vehicles means there might not be any extra revenue to speak of.

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Interim Liberal Leader Roger Melanson spent three years as finance minister in the government of Brian Gallant. He says Higgs should have a pretty good idea of what’s happening to HST revenues already.

“You would have a ballpark idea of what would be the revenues of gasoline taxes, HST on gasoline, HST in general, income tax, property tax,” Melanson said.

“He would get an idea on a monthly basis.”

But even if the government is not seeing a windfall from higher than expected gas prices, Melanson wants it to step in.

“I think government should take the hit,” he said.

“Right now New Brunswickers are struggling so much on a daily basis, by the increase of fuel costs, by the increase of groceries…. The government has the fiscal capacity to take that hit, certainly in the short term.”

Potential rebate dominates question period

Higgs first mused about the possibility of a rebate to reporters on Wednesday, prompting Melanson to push for details during question period Thursday morning.

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The questions prompted a somewhat rare question period appearance from Justice Minister Ted Flemming, who claimed that the federal government was intentionally trying to lessen the supply of fuel in order to drive up prices and that the prime minister should step in to address rising gasoline costs in the province.

“What’s staggering about it is the federal government actually introduced a policy that is working as intended,” Flemming said.

“However, it is lunacy, it’s harming New Brunswick, it’s harming the people, phone your buddy Trudeau and tell him to fix it.”

Melanson shot back that the premier needs to take responsibility for the situation in the province.

“Just do your job premier, take responsibility, help them out, come up with a rebate and explain what it’s all about,” he said.

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