AMHERST - Cumberland South MLA Murray Scott feels Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board hearings in Amherst on Wednesday were nothing more than an NDP opportunity to hold gas pricing in Cumberland County hostage.
Scott, who appeared before the board during its hearings last night, said the board is only holding one day of hearings on the issue and said a Freedom of Information Act request shows the government intends to divide the county to provide a cheaper rate in the Amherst area.
"The NDP appears to be more interested in pitting communities against each other instead of asking them to continue working together. Perhaps it is time for the UARB to direct government to develop a comprehensive plan that addresses all of the issues in this region," said Scott.
The Freedom of Information document shows that "the current Petroleum Products Pricing Act regulations will be amended to allow the board to re-establish zones, therefore allowing them to subdivide Zone 4 (Cumberland County)." The same request found that the premier's office had made the political decision on gas pricing in Cumberland County back in July.
During the spring election, the NDP made policy commitments regarding gas pricing without considering the impact in other parts of the province.
"The NDP knew what decision they were going to make and they gerrymandered this process to ensure they got the political result they needed," said Scott. "They are using the UARB as political cover for a decision that was made several months ago."
Speaking to the board last night, Scott said the gas issue is a cross-border shopping issue that needs to be studied further.
"Whether it's tobacco or milk, it has to be determined why people are going across to shop. I'm just worried that by trying to fix one problem with the gas tax we're going to create other problems for other communities in Cumberland County," Scott said. "The province needs to look at the broader picture, not just one area. We have a problem and it's a Cumberland County problem."
He feels the province should come up with a comprehensive plan that tackles the entire cross-border shopping issue from lost sales to lost tax revenues.
Meanwhile Opposition and Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil is proposing removing the tax on the tax as a solution to the discrepancy in prices. Currently, HST is calculated after the province adds its motive fuel tax of 15.5 cents per litre. This piggybacking of the taxes amounts to more than three cents per litre.
"Gas regulation policy is fundamentally unfair to Nova Scotians and has resulted in higher prices at the pumps," McNeil said in a news release. "A better solution that will benefit all Nova Scotians who have to deal with high gas prices every day is to give them a break at the pumps by changing the way we calculate our tax formula on gas."
The current gas tax formula calculates the HST after the motive fuel tax is added to the base price of gas. McNeil's solution would see the HST calculated before the motive fuel tax is added to the base price of gas, which better reflects the price at which gas is traded, saving consumers more than three cents per litre each time they fill up.
Like McNeil, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business is suggesting lower taxes as the key to levelling the playing.
In a press release, the CFIB said Nova Scotians already carry one of the highest tax burdens in the country
"It is one thing when businesses are having trouble competing due to their own inefficiencies. However, at 15.5 cents per litre, the gasoline tax in Nova Scotia surpasses the 10.7 cents per litre charged in New Brunswick by 45 per cent, making doing business difficult at best," CFIB acting vice-president Judith Andrew said.
Andrew said creating a pricing relief zone will not work in the Amherst area because the major oil companies could easily beat this new competition by using customer promotions in New Brunswick.