Soaring gas prices front and centre on Ontario campaign trail ahead of long weekend

·2 min read
An Esso station lists a price of nearly $2 per litre of gasoline, in Toronto, on May 6. The price of a litre of gas is expected to rise above $2 on the long weekend, according to the website gaswizard.ca.  (Alex Lupul/CBC - image credit)
An Esso station lists a price of nearly $2 per litre of gasoline, in Toronto, on May 6. The price of a litre of gas is expected to rise above $2 on the long weekend, according to the website gaswizard.ca. (Alex Lupul/CBC - image credit)

With the price of gasoline continuing to rise and the coming long weekend only expected to bring further increases, relief at the pumps has emerged as a key theme on the Ontario election campaign trail.

Friday morning, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath promised that if elected her government would regulate the retail and wholesale price of gas in Ontario. Under the proposal, the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) would set a weekly price cap that the party says would protect consumers from "predatory" gouging while offering gas companies reasonable profits.

"It is absolutely time that Ontarians get a break at the pumps," Horwath said via livestream. The NDP leader has had to cancel in-person campaign events after testing positive for COVID-19 earlier this week.

"We've had years and years and years of gas prices rising, and people hurting financially, and there's no worse time than right now as affordability continues to be a huge problem."

According to the price tracking website gaswizard.ca, costs at the pumps are expected to rise to over $2 per litre throughout much of Ontario on Saturday.

The regulation pledge is not a new one for the New Democrats, who have pushed for nearly identical proposals in the past.

The OEB commissioned a 2017 report that found regulation doesn't necessarily benefit consumers and in some provinces has resulted in higher prices.

Gas, fuel tax cuts also proposed

At a campaign stop Friday morning, Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca said as much when asked about the NDP promise.

"We know that in other parts of Canada, for example on the East Coast, they have tried efforts to regulate gas prices. It doesn't actually work," said Del Duca, who was in Ottawa to tout his party's affordability commitments.

Before the campaign began, Doug Ford's Progressive Conservatives passed legislation that would cut Ontario's gas tax by 5.7 cents per litre and the fuel tax by 5.3 cents per litre for six months, beginning on July 1. The plan is expected to cost the province about $600 million.

Del Duca said a Liberal government would keep those cuts in place.

Horwath argued that approach would not guarantee lower fuel prices for Ontario consumers.

"There is nothing preventing the gas companies from just jacking up the price under the scheme that both Steven Del Duca and Doug Ford both favour," she said.

For its part, the Green Party has made clear it would not subsidize fossil fuel usage under any circumstances. Leader Mike Schreiner has said the Greens would eliminate the planned cuts to the gas and fuel taxes and instead redirect the revenue to help Ontarians transition to more sustainable forms of energy.

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