New Brunswick's public intervener reached a deal with Irving Oil Ltd. on petroleum prices late last year that would have delivered bigger increases to consumers than a full regulatory hearing eventually produced, the Energy and Utilities Board revealed on Wednesday.
Critics jumped on the news as evidence René Basque, an appointee of the Progressive Conservative government, was out maneuvered by Irving lawyers during their private negotiations.
"I believe that it shows the EUB is doing its job but it shows the importance of not having the public intervener work with industry to come up with gas prices for consumers," said Moncton East Liberal MLA Chris Collins.
'In this case the board finds that publication is in the public interest. The hearing of this matter has concluded. There is no information in the proposed settlement agreement that will cause financial harm to [Irving]. There is no further need to protect the confidentiality of this proposed settlement agreement.' — Energy and Utilities Board decision
Collins is one of several opposition critics who have been calling for the Basque-Irving deal to be made public, even though the deal died quickly in December after being rejected by the EUB in favour of a full hearing.
Two weeks ago, following those public hearings, the EUB approved increases in petroleum margins for gas and diesel wholesalers in New Brunswick of 0.51 cents per litre or 8.5 per cent. Heating oil wholesalers won a 0.50 cent per litre increase.
However, the proposed deal reached between Basque and Irving called for 0.65 cents per litre increases for gas and diesel margins and 0.68 cents per litre for heating oil.
The deal also allowed for a special 0.86 cent per litre increase on gasoline margins during weeks prices are set based on an ethanol blend called E10.
During weeks E10 trades higher in New York than unleaded regular gasoline it becomes the basis of gasoline prices in New Brunswick. That has happened 14 times during the last two years.
In its decision the EUB ruled that E10 pricing is a refinery issue — not a wholesaling issue — and Irving Oil was entitled to nothing extra because of it.
The Basque-Irving deal would have been between $2 and $3 million per year more expensive for consumers but the two argued since it was not agreed to, its contents should not be publicly disclosed.
CBC News formally opposed that position and filed a request for the deal to be released in full, which the EUB did on its website Wednesday.
"Information which is by its nature confidential should be held in confidence unless, in the opinion of the board, such publication or revelation is necessary in the public interest," ruled the EUB
"In this case the board finds that publication is in the public interest. The hearing of this matter has concluded. There is no information in the proposed settlement agreement that will cause financial harm to [Irving]. There is no further need to protect the confidentiality of this proposed settlement agreement."
Basque was not immediately available to comment and did not return a message left at his office.