Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Transportation Minister Jim Bradley : tank full of rhetoric

"Gas could reach $1.50 a litre by spring" was the headline in the St. Catharines Standard (Dec.3, 2007):

"Canadian drivers should brace themselves for record gasoline prices this spring if crude oil stays in the $90-a-barrel range, experts say.
"They could be getting into the $1.30, $1.40, maybe even the $1.50 range per litre," said Jason Toews, one of the founders of, a website designed to help motorists find the best deals at the pump.
Gas prices for this time of year should be around 90 cents per litre, but the national average was $1.07 on Friday. That's because of recent high crude prices, Toews said in an interview.
Crude oil receded to its lowest level in more than a month on Friday after flirting with the $100 a barrel mark at the beginning of last week.
Even though crude prices have shied away from triple-digit territory, they're still high enough to keep pump prices stable in the coming months, said industry analyst Michael Ervin of consulting firm M.J. Ervin and Associates.
"Crude oil, although that's a very important factor in the price at the pumps, it's by no means the only factor," he said in an interview.
The price of gasoline is partially determined by refining margins, or "crack spreads" - the difference between the cost of crude oil and how much the finished product sells for.
Since last fall refining margins have been falling, which has had a "countervailing effect on the crude price in terms of the impact on the price at the pumps," Ervin said.
The lower refinery margins should keep gasoline prices in check, at least for the time-being, said Ted Stoner, vice-president for the Canadian Petroleum Products Institute, an organization that represents downstream oil and gas businesses.
"The supply/demand balance this time of year is not extremely tight. There are gasoline barrels floating around looking for a home," he said.
"Therefore there's some deals to be made at the wholesale level in regards to gasoline."
But when the weather warms up and more drivers take to the highways, higher gas demand combined with high crude prices could make for a nasty one-two punch.
"If (crude oil) gets up into the 90s and stays there consistently then obviously that's going to cost the refiner more to buy the raw materials so he can make the gasoline and the diesel products and eventually it will start showing up in the marketplace," Stoner said.
The strong loonie has also been helping out consumers at the pumps recently, since oil prices are denominated in U.S. dollars.
"As the Canadian dollar goes up, it filters a lot of the crude oil price impacts as they work themselves through the chain," Stoner said.
GasBuddy's Toews said U.S. consumers have seen their gasoline go up as much as 40 per cent from a year ago, whereas here it's only been a 20 per cent increase.
High crude prices have been felt all the way down to the marketing level and gas stations have been fiercely competing with one another to stay afloat, Toews said.
"Right now people are so price sensitive. We're looking around for a better deal and we'll actually drive across the street or several blocks out of the way for an extra penny or two discount on gas," he said.
"The station owners know this and this is reflected in their pricing. If they're priced too high, people will go elsewhere. At a retail level it's a very cutthroat business right now and the gas stations themselves aren't making that much money off of gasoline."
They've instead been focusing on selling cigarettes, lottery tickets, car washes and food, among other things, to increase their margins.
Toews said motorists need to acknowledge that "the days of 60 cent per litre of gas are gone" and that they should instead learn how to be savvy consumers.
"Even though gas prices are really high right now, you can save a lot of money on gas just by knowing where to look," he said.
"We don't expect people to drive 50 clicks out of their way, but you can save five cents per litre just by knowing which station to buy your gas at and working that into your daily commute." "

Ontario Liberal MPP Jim Bradley (St. Catharines) railed on for years about how he was going to control gas prices, about price-gouging and price fixing, about how the Conservative government at the time were apologists for the big oil companies.

Well, it looks like Ontario Transportation Minister Jim Bradley will have to fill up his capacious tank of rhetoric to explain away how a possible "$1.50 a litre" gas price could occur on his watch.

Doesn't Jim Bradley recall his grand, blustery accusations of gas "price gouging" and "price fixing", which he made in the St. Catharines Standard, Oct.22, 1999?

Does Jim Bradley recall (St. Catharines Standard, Aug.26, 1997) when he decanted at the then-sitting government that "Not one minister will speak out against the rip-off of the motorist"? Yet, will Ontario's current Minister of Transportation himself speak out today, in 2007?

Does Jim Bradley recall (Hamilton Spectator, Sept.3, 1997) stating that "clearly the province has retail jurisdiction [on regulating gas prices] If the premier was truly concerned about gas prices, he'd be moving ahead with a predatory pricing law in Ontario now"?

We should ask: Jim, after 10 years, where is that policy you pretended to support in 1997? You've had since 2003 - as a majority government - to actually do yourself what you were urging another government to do. Which leads to the question, Jim: did you believe in what you were saying, or were you simply pandering convenient dollops of populism to the electorate, knowing full well you'd never actually follow through? I guess ten years later, we can see how "truly concerned" you and your Liberal boss, McGuinty, really were: recommending what you yourself couldn't deliver. Typical Liberal SOP.

Here's what Margaret Grunfelder wrote in "Governments like high gas prices" (St. Catharines Standard, Apr.9, 1999):
"MPP Jim Bradley has been in office for more than 20 years, which included time served with the Peterson leadership.
Where were his concerns about the public being "gouged" by high fuel prices during all of these years?
As minister of consumer and commercial relations, he is just now becoming irate about this matter.
I think his concern is more grand- standing, just before a looming election, than any real concern on our behalf.
Let's tell it like it is, Mr. Bradley.
Both the provincial and the federal governments stand to gain with high prices at the pumps, since the gasoline tax is set at a percentage of the pump price.
So, logically, the higher the fuel prices go, the more tax money governments earn.
There is no real interest in governments' wanting lower fuel prices."
Liberal Jim Bradley "grand-standing"!?! Never!!

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