The Competition Bureau is inviting the public to provide information, if they're able to provide evidence of price fixing. Spokesman Marcus Callaghan says they have laid a number of charges against different companies.
"Generally speaking, it is illegal for competing gas stations to agree to set the price of gas. Since 2008, as a result of Bureau investigations, 33 individuals and 12 companies have pleaded or been found guilty of fixing the price of gas in several markets in Ontario and Quebec, with fines totalling more than $6 million," Callaghan said in an email.
Earlier this week, Ontario Energy Minister Greg Rickford said he would no longer tolerate the high prices, and he suggested openly the Competition Bureau might be asked to get involved in some form of investigation into gas prices in the Kenora area.
According to the Competition Bureau, punishment has also included prison time for those convicted of price fixing. Of the 33 individuals who have pleaded or were found guilty, the bureau said six were sentenced to terms of imprisonment totalling 54 months.
"As the bureau is required by law to conduct its work confidentially, I can’t confirm whether or not we have any ongoing investigations in this area," Callaghan noted, when asked about looking into allegations of price fixing in the Kenora area. "It would also be inappropriate to comment on potential investigations."
However, Callaghan added those with evidence of price fixing -- or other anticompetitive activity -- can contact the Competition Bureau through their toll-free line at 1-800-348-5358 or by using the online complaint form.
"Those who think that the company they work for has entered into an illegal agreement with its competitors can provide information through the bureau’s Whistleblowing Initiative. It’s important to keep in mind that high or identical prices in and of themselves are not evidence of illegal activity. There needs to be hard evidence of an illegal agreement between competitors," Callaghan continued.
Husky Energy referred questions to the Canadian Fuels Association. Peter Boag is the spokesman for the association, and he says the price at the pumps reflects:
- rising global crude prices,
- strong gasoline demand,
- infrastructure constraints,
- taxes and
- carbon pricing.
He also issued an opinion piece in response to questions about regulating gas prices.
"Price regulation may seem like an easy fix and a convenient sound bite to exploit public angst over rising gasoline prices or to ‘change the channel’ on the increasing tax component of the pump price. It may even make consumers happy, but in reality it accomplishes nothing at best, and at worst actually increases gasoline costs," said Peter Boag, president and CEO of the association.
Regulations in Quebec are meant to prevent big companies from driving smaller retailers out of business, while systems in place in New Brunswick and Newfoundland provide a ceiling. Regulators in Nova Scotia and P.E.I. offer both a floor and a ceiling for prices, Boag added in his piece. Still, a study showed none of them had much influence on prices, and consumers were charged an extra $205 million in higher prices for the cost of enforcement.
The price of a litre in Kenora was $1.33 for six stations listed, or $1.38 for two retailers in Dryden. In Winnipeg, the price was as low as 94 cents a litre Tuesday, or $1.02 in Prawda.
A provincial tax of five cents a litre was lifted earlier this month, and crude oil prices have been falling in recent months, leading consumers to wonder why prices at retailers haven't followed suit.
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