Disparity in gas prices across Maritimes

There is wide disparity in gas prices across the Maritimes after P.E.I.'s regulator approved a 5.5. cent per litre decrease in the price of regular gasoline Saturday.

There is wide disparity in gas prices across the Maritimes after Prince Edward Island's regulator approved a 5.5.¢ per litre decrease in the price of regular gasoline Saturday.

The Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission also approved a decrease in diesel prices of 5.9¢ per litre, while furnace and stove oil prices went down by 7.5¢ per litre. Propane prices remained unchanged.

Including taxes, pump prices for regular unleaded gasoline at self-serve outlets on P.E.I. now range from 122.9¢ to 125¢ a litre. 

The Commission said significant reductions in the wholesale price of gasoline, diesel and furnace oil since May 1 afforded it the opportunity to implement the reductions one day ahead of the normally scheduled adjustment date on Sunday.

As Dawn Watson filled her tank Sunday morning and watched her gas total climb she was taking little solace in the regulator's decision to lower prices.

Watson said the decrease does little to cushion the blow of already high gas prices.

"Lately we're even going into the point of getting collateral loans at places like cash converters with some of our valuable belongings to offset the change in gas prices," Watson said. "Even with it coming back down, we need it to be below a dollar."

The Commission's next scheduled price adjustment will be on June 1.

Province to province disparity

The regulated minimum price of gas on P.E.I. is lower than New Brunswick's regulated maximum, but many N.B. retailers were selling regular Sunday between 119¢ and 121¢ per litre. Drivers in N.B. saw the cost of gas drop two days in a row last week after falling international oil prices triggered the province's interruption clause.

N.B.'s Energy and Utilities Board reduced the maximum cost of gasoline to 124.2¢ per litre from 132.5¢ per litre at 12:01 a.m. on Friday. That compares to 132.8¢ per litre in Nova Scotia.

The price of gasoline also dropped in N.S. last week, but by only four cents a litre. That prompted questions from provincial Liberal leader Stephen McNeil about the disparity in price compared to N.B.

"Why wouldn't they respond and be lowering the price as they did in New Brunswick?" McNeil questioned. "They use the interrupter clause in a regulated market in New Brunswick. We have that here. As you know, that clause has been used to raise the price of gas. Why wouldn't this government use it to respond by lowering it?"

McNeil said the disparity is proof that regulation doesn't work.

"If we were in an open market right now, the price would have dropped just as it has in New Brunswick. Dealers would have been trying to compete. As it is now, the price is inflated and it's inflated because of regulation," McNeil said.

In N.B. when the price of gas fluctuates plus or minus six cents, a price change is automatic.

In N.S., it's up to the Utility and Review Board to decide whether the price needs to be adjusted between weekly price fixings.

The province to province price difference has been a historical irritant especially in border towns like Amherst, N.S., where it can encourage people to cross-border shop.

One proposed solution is to have a single regulator set the price for all of the Maritimes.

It's an idea N.S. Natural Resources Minister John MacDonell said he would be ready to explore if all three provinces can agree on a formula that works for eveyone.

The country's highest gas prices over the weekend were in Montreal where regular was selling at an average of 140¢ per litre.