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From The Hip: Our patience on gas prices running on empty
for Smoky River Express
Trust me, you're not alone!
Joining the often heated debate last week was federal Industry Minister Tony Clement, who chimed in by indicating he will call oil refinery executives, gasoline retailers and distributors to Ottawa and demand answers as to the rationale behind fluctuating gas prices.
Clement made the announcement in Toronto, standing in the driveway of a young family that is feeling the pinch from prices that hovered around $1.35 per litre this past Thursday.
One day earlier prices in Ontario surpassed $1.40 per litre and it wasn't much better across the country with Albertans paying the lowest price of around $1.29 – hardly a bargain by any stretch of the imagination for consumers.
“I think it's very clear that most Canadians (don't understand) how they come about their pricing. It's not very transparent, it's opaque,” Clement said.
Once Parliament has resumed and the Commons industry committee has been struck and a chair appointed, Clement says he will be writing a letter to the clerk of the committee asking that a meeting be called on the issue.
The committee will be asking the “common sense” questions that Canadians want answered, he said.
“Last year we were at something like $140 a barrel, and pricing was around $1.37 or $1.35 (per litre),” Clement said.
“Now we're well below $98 a barrel and we had prices (this past week) of $1.41 in some parts of the country. No one can explain to me how this is and how they arrive at these prices.”
When asked by a reporter whether the government would consider lowering the taxes that apply to fuel — in 2010 that accounted for an average of 32 per cent of the cost of a litre of gasoline — Clement was less emphatic.
Sugar-coating the issue, he said the Conservative government has already lightened the load on Canadian taxpayers by reducing income taxes, and said he was proud of their record on taxes.
Translation: drivers, should expect gas prices to remain high over the summer, with demand continuing to reach peak levels and the prospect of a gas tax break as likely as a June snowstorm.
But don't take my word for it. Just ask Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who confirmed last week he would not introduce a break in the gas tax, which ironically enough was proposed in his 2004 election campaign.
NDP Member of Parliament Jack Harris, meanwhile, says the response from the government so far has been unacceptable.
“If you're on a scale of 1-10, this is probably a number one, in terms of the level of response that you could have to what consumers are regarding as a very serious problem,” said NDP MP Jack Harris.
“It really does show a lack of concern by the government for what consumers are facing.”
The recent drop in oil prices to $98 a barrel, meanwhile, coupled with multi-billion dollar profit margins for major oil companies has does little to satisfy Canadians who argue refineries are continuing to price gouge by setting unacceptable premiums which are well above and beyond the global average) for wholesale gasoline.
Most Canadians would agree that addressing that part of the industry by implementing new standards to protect consumers would be an effective starting point to reduce the financial burden on all consumers.