NDP incumbent candidate Nathan Cullen in Smithers Wednesday announcing his plan for a gas price ombudsman.

NDP incumbent candidate Nathan Cullen in Smithers Wednesday announcing his plan for a gas price ombudsman.

Cullen promises gas price ombudsman

NDP incumbent candidate Nathan Cullen promised his party would appoint a gas price ombudsman.

NDP incumbent candidate Nathan Cullen promised Wednesday in Smithers that if his party forms government, it would create an ombudsman position with the power to investigate gas prices and fine companies if they are found to be in collusion.

“An ombudsman would work for the consumer, work for the public to make sure that gas prices aren’t being fixed at the pump,” said Cullen.

The Skenna-Bulkley Valley candidate pointed to gas prices dropping by more than half since 2011 and gas prices staying high as he made the announcement in front of the Chevron and Petro Canada gas stations along Frontage Road.

“The oil companies will blame everything. They’ll blame the Middle East, they’ll blame refinery restrictions or a storm, or anything. A gas ombudsman would try to figure out what the problem is: why is it that gas is being able to stay so high while the price of the product has dropped by more than half.

“We think this is clear evidence of some sort of collusion or problem at the pumps, and this is why for years the New Democrats have advocated for a gas ombudsman and actually brought a bill into Parliament that the Conservatives refused to bring into law,” said Cullen, adding that he had spoken to a gas station owner who argued unsuccessfully with the gas company about raising prices at the pump.

“We’ve seen case after case where gas prices suddenly jack up just before a long weekend. They suddenly jack up across a region but not across the board, and that’s obviously gas companies playing with it.”

Building refineries in Canada to export oil rather than raw bitumen was also part of the solution according to Cullen.

“We don’t think it’s up to the Canadian government to pick locations, to tell industry where they can and can’t build their factories and their industry. We think it’s important though that Canada encourage value added for all our natural resources, not just oil but trees and minerals and fish, because right now we’ve seen decades of a policy promoting raw export,” said Cullen.

But the export of refined oil needs to get out another way according to the candidate, who proposed a bill last year that would ban bulk oil shipping off B.C.’s north coast.

“This is an area where moving bulk oil exports is fraught and opposed. It’s not going to happen for a bunch of legal and financial reasons, so let’s concentrate on something else,” said Cullen.

“And when I talk to industry, they’re focus is otherwise; the building up of refinery capacity in other places.”

The Conservative government has said that Opposition party proposals to put a price on greenhouse gas emissions would raise prices. The NDP have proposed a cap and trade system

“What it does is put a price on pollution. What we would do is obviously work with the provinces. It’s a patchwork quilt right now; various provinces have various ways to price carbon.

“We know we need to price carbon, B.C. already has a price. It would have to fold into a national strategy. I don’t think there would be a great deal of effect,” said Cullen.