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Council takes aim at gas-price gouging

There is something wrong in the province when people can buy gas in Perterborough for 99 cents a litre, but Sudburians have to shell out $1.33 per litre at the pumps, according to Ward 11 Coun. Terry Kett.
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A Sudbury city council motion will soon be sent to municipalities across Ontario, calling for gas prices to fall under the purview of the Ontario Energy Board. File photo
There is something wrong in the province when people can buy gas in Perterborough for 99 cents a litre, but Sudburians have to shell out $1.33 per litre at the pumps, according to Ward 11 Coun. Terry Kett.

It's price gouging, he said, and he is looking for answers as to why northern Ontario residents have to pay 33 per cent more for gas than their southern counterparts, especially when there is only a two- to four-cent difference in the wholesale price.

“As hard as I try, I can't find why there is such a big difference,” Kett said.

The province can't change international oil prices, but it can eliminate gouging and provide consumers with predictability and fairness, Kett said. To that end, he tabled a motion for council to request that the Ontario Energy Board, which already regulates prices for natural gas, be given the power by the province to impose a weekly ceiling on gas prices in order to reduce volatility and regional price differences, while encouraging competition.

The motion, which gained unanimous approval from council, also requests that the OEB be granted the legislative power to intervene if suppliers were seen to be gouging the market.

With approval, the motion will be sent to every municipality in northern Ontario for endorsement, as well as to the Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities (FONOM) and the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO), MPPs and Minister of Energy Chris Bentley.

“Life is getting more expensive, and I think it's time to give more people a break,” Kett said. “Adding gas to the OEB's regulation responsibilities wouldn't be difficult, and it would mean no surprises, no shocks.”

To make it happen, Sudbury needs to work with 150 municipalities across northern Ontario. Kett said he has received hundreds of emails from throughout northern Ontario pleading with the city to do something about gas prices.

“We don't have the power to legislate in this case, but we do have the power to join forces and hopefully influence the province,” he said.

Ward 5 Coun. Ron Dupuis said he expects staunch opposition from the province, which is making a “huge profit” off gas prices in northern Ontario. Since the HST was rolled out, the province is making an additional five-per-cent in taxes, and “they don't want to change the way things are right now.”

Mayor Marianne Matichuk said a year ago, Premier Dalton McGuinty was asked to look at the issue of price gouging, “and he flatly refused.” She also said gouging is a strong word, and suggested watering it down to something like anti-competitive activity.

Kett wouldn't hear of it, though.

“I wouldn't consider that at all,” he said. “I wish it was anti-competitive behaviour. (Gouging) is the expression used in Ontario, everyone knows what it is, and we here in northern Ontario are getting gouged.”

Posted by Mark Gentili

Arron Pickard

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