When gas prices were 'zooming up' above the 60-cent mark in 1997

Just as drivers need gasoline, the media needs stories about gasoline to fill up the tank for its broadcasts.

Late-summer price hike caught the eye of The National

When gas prices were 'zooming up' in 1997

25 years ago
Duration 2:12
Simon Dingley reports on a rise in gas prices in various parts of Canada in the summer of 1997.

Just as drivers need gasoline, the media needs stories about gasoline to fill up the tank for its broadcasts.

Back in 1997, a price spike arrived at the pumps just ahead of an August weekend.

And The National was on it.

"In many parts of the country, gas prices have soared, zooming up by as much as 10 cents a litre," the CBC's Ian Hanomansing told viewers on Aug. 22, 1997.

'Not just in Toronto'

Gas prices were going up in Canada in August 1997 and that trend caught the attention of The National. (The National/CBC Archives)

Reporter Simon Dingley gave viewers the details on that price hike, which left drivers in some of Canada's biggest cities paying more than 60 cents a litre.

(To put this price in context, the Bank of Canada inflation calculator puts 66 cents in 1997 at about $1.12 in 2022.)

Dingley reported that drivers in Montreal and Toronto were paying an extra dime per litre, Haligonians were paying seven additional cents per litre, while Vancouverites were paying an increase of nearly four cents per litre.

The cross-Canada rise in prices was proof that, as Dingley put it, "it's not just the pumps in Toronto that are spinning."

More competition needed...

Dan McTeague believed gasoline didn't have to be sold for as a high a price as it was being offered in August 1997. (The National/CBC Archives)

Dan McTeague, then a Liberal MP representing the riding of Pickering—Ajax—Uxbridge, saw a need for legislation that would mandate greater competition among oil companies.

He believed gas didn't need to be sold at the price it was being offered at.

"If one begins to break down the cost of refining, marketing, distribution, the taxes, etc., gas could easily sell here today with everybody walking away with a little pretty profit at about 53 [or] 54 cents a litre maximum," said McTeague.

But at least one industry representative disagreed with the MP.

...or a more complex issue?

Sunoco's Mike Russill said supply issues in the United States were having an effect on the price of gas in Canada. (The National/CBC Archives)

Mike Russill, a vice-president at Sunoco, said taxes made up more than half the price that drivers paid at the pumps.

He also said a gas shortage in the United States had pushed up prices on the Canadian side of the border.

"The U.S. demand has gone up dramatically and they've been having trouble in some of their refineries — not only in the U.S., but in Venezuela and in Europe," said Russill.

"And so that's driven the wholesale price up."

Both maybe?

The price at the pump was going up in various parts of Canada in mid-August of 1997. (The National/CBC Archives)

Bernard Wolf, an economics professor at Toronto's York University, said that the wholesale price had gone up, but ultimately it came down to what the market would bear.

"They are trying to get as much as they can for their product to maximize the bottom line and if the consumer's willing to pay, then they'll charge [that]," Wolf said.

McTeague said he'd been told the price of gas could climb slightly higher over the weekend at hand. But Dingley said an oil company claimed prices would begin dropping closer to Labour Day.

So, it seemed that even back then, the price went up and the price went down. Drivers paid either way.

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