New Brunswick

N.B. government seeks energy board's advice on fuel prices

The Higgs government is now asking the Energy and Utilities Board for a lifeline as it faces continuing political pressure to do more about the rising price of gasoline.

Fuel prices have climbed to historic levels since the war in Ukraine began

Fuel prices have skyrocketed in New Brunswick, and the province is looking for ways to alleviate the pain. (Jared Monkman/CBC)

The Higgs government is now asking the Energy and Utilities Board for a lifeline as it faces continuing political pressure to do more about the rising price of gasoline.

Energy Minister Mike Holland says his department has contacted the arm's-length provincial regulator to seek "advice … suggestions or recommendations" about how to soften the impact on consumers.

"It's information they can give us," Holland said. "They can give us information about global trends. They can give recommendations, and then at that point it's up to us to come back and do it." 

The EUB's weekly price-setting pushed the maximum price for a litre of regular gasoline up 8.3 cents to $2.196 on Thursday.

'They can give us information about global trends. They can give recommendations,' said New Brunswick Natural Resources and Energy Development Minister Mike Holland. (CBC)

The weekly price-setting is released each Thursday and is based on a formula linked to the global price of oil. 

But the board can raise, or lower, the price at other times during the week if the market price changes by six cents in a single day.

Fuel-price misstep

On Wednesday, Premier Blaine Higgs stated incorrectly that that mechanism is only triggered to raise prices, not to bring them down.

"That is used sometimes in terms of raising prices, and I don't understand quite why that can't be used to reduce prices. I don't know whether it's possible or not," he said.

"I know I get accused of putting thoughts out there before they're completely understood, but it's another thought that I just think the EUB has to work both ways. We are asking those questions of the EUB right now." 

In fact, the so-called interruption clause does allow non-Thursday price drops. 

Premier Blaine Higgs suggested Wednesday that the EUB's interrupter clause could only be used to raise fuel prices. In fact, the clause has been used to decrease prices several times this year alone. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

It has happened three times since the war in Ukraine began driving up the cost of gasoline. The board lowered the per-litre price by 15.7 cents on March 11, 9.3 cents on March 30 and 8.6 cents on May 20.

On Thursday Holland wouldn't comment on the premier's error. He said the point of contacting the EUB was to use their data and expertise. 

"We put that forward with a hope that they can come back and just give us more information, because with the full scope of information, it gives us the ability to make decisions." 

He acknowledged that in the end there's no way to avoid the world price of oil, but he joined Higgs in blaming federal environmental policies for constricting the supply of crude and contribution to even higher prices.

Government 'scrambling'

Opposition parties say the invoking of the EUB is a sign the government is flailing around for options.

"They're scrambling to be able to say they're doing everything they possibly can," Green Leader David Coon said. 

'They’re scrambling to be able to say they’re doing everything they can possibly can,' Green Leader David Coon said. (Jacques Poitras/CBC News file photo)

He said the EUB has no mandate to give governments recommendations, and while seeking more information is fine, "in the grand scheme of things it's not going to make any difference to the price of gas or diesel." 

Liberal Leader Roger Melanson also said the EUB has no role to play and accused Higgs of looking to blame others for his own decision not to cut the 10.87-cent-per-litre provincial gas tax.

"There's no international market conditions that regulate or control the provincial gas tax," he said. "That's completely up to the government. They can act, today, at midnight tonight. … I know I sound like a broken record but it's true." 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jacques Poitras

Provincial Affairs reporter

Jacques Poitras has been CBC's provincial affairs reporter in New Brunswick since 2000. He grew up in Moncton and covered Parliament in Ottawa for the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. He has reported on every New Brunswick election since 1995 and won awards from the Radio Television Digital News Association, the National Newspaper Awards and Amnesty International. He is also the author of five non-fiction books about New Brunswick politics and history.

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