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Higgs government introduces bill to change how maximum fuel prices are set

The price of a litre of diesel fuel jumped 68 cents in New Brunswick on Nov. 4, while Nova Scotia's price spiked only 15.1 cents. (Roger Cosman/CBC - image credit)
The price of a litre of diesel fuel jumped 68 cents in New Brunswick on Nov. 4, while Nova Scotia's price spiked only 15.1 cents. (Roger Cosman/CBC - image credit)

The Higgs government has introduced legislation to change how the Energy and Utilities Board sets maximum fuel prices to avoid some of the eye-popping price spikes seen in recent months.

The amendments will bring New Brunswick's Petroleum Products Pricing Act closer to Nova Scotia's legislation, while that province is "looking at" changes to make it more like New Brunswick's, says Natural Resources and Energy Development Minister Mike Holland.

Under the changes, New Brunswick's EUB will no longer set the weekly maximum price on Thursdays but will do it on Fridays, the same as Nova Scotia.

"The primary focus of this bill is going to harmonize the regulations and the laws that the EUBs work within in Atlantic Canada, so we can see some consistency in pricing back and forth, particularly with Nova Scotia," he said.

The price of a litre of diesel fuel jumped 68 cents in New Brunswick on Nov. 4, while Nova Scotia's price spiked only 15.1 cents.

Jacques Poitras/CBC
Jacques Poitras/CBC

That's because of differences in the two provinces' interrupter clauses – sections of their laws that require price changes outside the regularly scheduled weekly setting.

Nova Scotia's law gives its provincial regulator more discretion to "wait and see," Holland said, in case a spike is a brief market fluctuation.

In New Brunswick's case, the interrupter clause gives the EUB no such discretion and requires it to reflect the entire spike immediately.

"When we saw diesel go up 68 cents, New Brunswick had to immediately go up with that based on our legislation," Holland said.

"Nova Scotia's legislation has more flexibility and allowed them to say, 'Just hang on here, let's see where this goes.'"

The disparity led to a huge price gap between Sackville, New Brunswick and Amherst, Nova Scotia just a few minutes away.

Holland says his department did an analysis of gas prices from January to September that found New Brunswick's per-litre price was 1.7 cents per litre higher over that period.