Sunday April 20, 2014





MP to file complaint over Merritt fuel

'We've certainly got some demonstrated documentation that we believe can verify a lack of competition'

High gas prices in Merritt are angering residents and politicians alike.

Merritt residents have had enough of high fuel prices and they're getting some high-powered backing.

For the last year and a half, staffers for Okanagan-Coquihalla MP Dan Albas have monitored and researched gas prices in Merritt compared to surrounding communities, said executive assistant Rudy Enzmann.

Thanks to a document retrieved through a Freedom of Information request, the Conservative MP is nearly ready to file a complaint with the Competition Bureau.

Enzmann wouldn't reveal the details of the damning document, but said the overseeing authority will hear about it in a submission before the end of the year.

"We've certainly got some demonstrated documentation that we believe can verify a lack of competition," he said. "It's just a case of will we get agreement with the Competition Bureau."

Ella Misfeldt, public affairs manager for Chevron, said the company complies with industry regulations.

"Perodically these investigations do take place," she said. "We would fully comply with any requests that are made of us as a result of that."

Merrittonians Against Gas Price Fixing has been protesting and demanding answers over the wide gap in prices at the Merritt pumps compared to Kamloops.

On Thursday, gas could be found in Kamloops for 108.9 a litre, while Merritt's lowest price was 119.9, according to GasBuddy.com.

The Merritt group is also compiling a complaint to file with the Competition Bureau, said organizer Michelle Quilliam.

Quilliam said she's had little success talking to retailers and suppliers. But the answer she did get was that Kamloops has a refinery whereas Merritt has to have its gas trucked in.

That didn't sit well with her.

"Chevron told me it was delivery fees. I can't see a 45-minute drive delivering a 20 cent delivery fee per litre," she said.

Ella Misfeldt, public affairs manager for Chevron, said the reason for the price difference is location.

"Kamloops is a completely separate geographical market and it's extremely competitive there right now," she said.

Misfeldt said Chevron prices include a variety costs like supply infrastructure, environmental costs, labour, taxes and operating costs.

"Some of these costs remain fixed no matter the volume going through the site."

Merrittonians Against Gas Price Fixing organized a protest earlier this month, and the following day they saw an eight cent reduction at one of the pumps.

The protest was also successful in getting important comments on the record, said Enzmann.

"One of the national gasoline retailers commented publicly. We think (the comments) will be helpful in the submission that Dan (Albas) plans to put forward to the Competition Bureau," said Enzmann.

Enzmann didn't want to specify what those comments were until the Albas complaint was submitted. What he did say was the issue centres entirely around competition.

"Where there's agreement amongst almost all sectors is that in theory all gas prices are based on competition. And obviously where competition exists that's where we're led to believe it has an influence in pricing. And obviously if there's a lack of competition, that's a concern."

He said it's sometimes difficult to determine what company owns what gas station.

Misfeldt said there's no mystery over ownership when it comes to the oil company: the Chevron-owned sites in Merritt are branded as such and the others are competitors.

The provincial government has jurisdiction over regulation of oil companies, which is good news for the Merritt protesters who have a friend in Fraser-Nicola MLA Harry Lali.

The NDP MLA is meeting with Merrittonians Against Gas Price Fixing Friday and says he backs their fight 100 per cent.

"I've seen it go from 10 cents to 15 to 20 cents difference between Kamloops and (Merritt), and they can't tell me that the cost of delivering wholesale gas from Kamloops to Merritt is that much per litre," said Lali.

He added he never gases up in Merritt if he can help it.

"I'm a strong supporter of local buying and local hiring, but not when there's a 20 cent difference," he said.

"At the end of the day, government's got to be willing to put some pressure on the oil companies to look after the citizens who buy gas from them. But if they don't respond, ultimately it's in the hands of the citizens."

Among the protesters' biggest concerns is the local tendency to gas up at a cheaper station in Kamloops and while there, people do their shopping, too. It's hitting the local economy, said Quilliam.

"Residents agree that prices must drop lower until they are equivalent with Kamloops prices, and are willing to continue with ongoing protests until this is reached," she said.

Merrittonians Against Gas Price Fixing has gathered 50 names on a petition and it intends to keep the momentum going with another protest set for Saturday on Dewolf Way at 11 a.m.


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