AMHERST - It didn't take a study for Roy Pettigrew to realize it was time to get out of the gas business, but he's not surprised with the news that lower taxes in New Brunswick are killing Nova Scotia retailers.
"I know all about it, I experienced it first hand," said Pettigrew, who ran the West Amherst Petro Canada for a couple of years before the loss of business to New Brunswick became too much. "The consultants are saying the drop in business in Amherst was about 18 per cent, for me it was more like 30 per cent because I was right on the border."
Pettigrew, who is scheduled to speak at tonight's session, said the strain goes beyond fuel prices to include other products. Motorists going to Aulac and Sackville to fuel up their vehicles are also purchasing things like milk and tobacco because they are also cheaper in New Brunswick.
A study completed by consultants Gardner Pinfold for today's Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board hearing on gas pricing shows that gas retailers in Amherst saw an 18 per cent drop in volumes between 2006 and 2009 while those in Springhill saw a decrease of 19 per cent between 2006 and 2008.
Gardner Pinfold said the decline in volumes began to drop before both New Brunswick and Nova Scotia introduced gas price regulation in 2006, but the decline was much steeper following that decision.
In October 2006, following a provincial election, the New Brunswick government followed through on an election promise and reduced the tax on gasoline and diesel by about 4.2 cents a litre - increasing a gap of 1.1 cents a litre to 5.2 cents a litre.
During last summer's Nova Scotia election campaign then Cumberland North NDP candidate Brian Skabar proposed leveling the playing field by lowering the tax on fuel in border communities like Amherst.
Now, the NDP government has asked the utility and review board to study a system of staggered fuel prices to preserve the viability of markets affected by their proximity to the provincial border.
"The report confirms what I've been hearing from retailers all along," said Skabar, who is now the MLA and is listed among the speakers for today's session that begins at 9 a.m. at the Amherst Fire Department. "The URAB will make its decision based on the criteria they use, but I think this information certainly backs up the case for doing something."
Not everyone is in favour of lowering the tax in border communities. Cumberland South MLA Murray Scott continues to oppose the change because it will tax Nova Scotians at different rates and set an artificial border within the province.
"If this government is serious about reducing tax on gas they should implement a province wide program whereby residents in every community in this area would benefit from a reduction, not where some don't have the same benefits of the same decrease," Scott said, adding the government plan will create a border between communities in Cumberland County.
The move is also being opposed by the Municipality of Cumberland, which passed a motion at its January session last week urging the province to lower the tax provincially.