Ontario gas prices approach record high as election looms

The high price of gasoline is a concern right now for many of Ontario's drivers and voters, giving it the potential to become an issue in the provincial election campaign.

PC leader Doug Ford's promise to end cap and trade would take 4.3 cents a litre off the price

Gas prices in Ontario have risen about 20 cents per litre since January. (Ed Middleton/CBC)

The high price of gasoline is a concern right now for many of Ontario's drivers and voters, giving it the potential to become an issue in the provincial election campaign. 

The average price of regular unleaded gas across the province is sitting just shy of $1.37/litre according to data compiled by the Ministry of Energy. That's just six cents lower than the highest-ever average price that hit the province in late June 2014, shortly after Ontario went to the polls the last time.

Gas-price forecasters are predicting the price will continue to rise in the coming weeks and could exceed that record high.

PC leader Doug Ford is trying to convince voters that gas prices will soar even further if the Liberals are re-elected. 

PC Leader Doug Ford would end the Wynne government's cap-and-trade program, knocking 4.3 cents a litre off the price of gas. But he is not promising any changes to the provincial gas tax, which amounts to 14.7 cents per litre. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

"We all know that paying $1.50 for gas is what would happen under the Kathleen Wynne government," Ford told a news conference at a gas station last week. "Kathleen Wynne will have her hand in your pocket every time you fill at the pump. I can tell you, that's not going to happen on our watch."   

Ford says his government would bring down gas prices by ending the Liberals' cap-and-trade program. That would knock 4.3 cents a litre off the price. 

However, Ford is not promising to scrap or reduce the provincial gasoline tax, which adds 14.7 cents to each litre. The gas tax brings $2.7 billion into provincial coffers each year, with a portion allocated to municipalities for local transit. Only three provinces have a lower gas tax than Ontario.  

Ontario's cap-and-trade program boosted the price of a litre of gas by 4.3 cents overnight when it launched back in January 2017. Market fluctuations have been far greater than that over the past 18 months, as seen in the chart of Toronto gas prices below, from the site GasBuddy.com

(GasBuddy.com)

"We were very clear when we took action on climate change that there was a small increase in the price of gas," Premier Kathleen Wynne said this week in response to a question from CBC News. 

She argues that this latest spike is a result of market forces.  

"There's a very significant vacillation of gas prices," Wynne said. "It's very challenging, it's a private market."   

The actual reasons why gas prices have jumped about 20 cents per litre so far this year have nothing to do with Ontario government policy. Prices at the pumps in Canada traditionally rise at this time of year because of seasonal supply and demand factors, moving in lock-step with prices in the U.S. When you factor in the sagging value of the Canadian dollar, and add the rising price of crude oil, you have a recipe for a record high. 

The New Democrat platform includes a promise to "bring stability and transparency to gas prices." The campaign pledge means regulating gas prices, as is done in some provinces. The move would not lower the cost but reduce how often gas stations can raise the price at the pump.

"We are not going to be able to change the prices that are coming out of the market," NDP leader Andrea Horwath said at a news conference this week. "What we can do is make sure that the gouging doesn't happen."

Horwath said the price would be set weekly.