AMHERST - Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil cannot support any plan that places Nova Scotians on differing playing fields when it comes to paying a tax on gasoline.
Speaking to reporters during a provincewide media conference call, the opposition leader feels that all Nova Scotians need to be treated fairly and equitably and creating a separate tax zone to help communities near the border with New Brunswick is not the answer.
"I don't think we should be building policies around our province that are dividing it," said McNeil. "We've given them a solution that treats all Nova Scotians as equals and is doable."
If government were serious about dealing with the problem, McNeil said it would scrap gas regulations and let competition deal with it. Instead, McNeil said his plan to change the way the HST is calculated on gasoline would give retailers a chance to compete with their peers in New Brunswick while creating a solution that's fair.
"If you stop charging the HST on the excise tax that's there and charge it directly on the base price it will reduce the tax about three cents a litre. The price will still be two cents higher, but if you read Gardner Pinfold he indicates the break even point is about two cents. Once it gets to three cents they will travel," McNeil said. "We believe it's a more logical solution because it's not treating one Nova Scotian different than another and would be the same right across the province."
During Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board hearings on the gas price issue in Amherst on Wednesday, there were suggestions the province create a separate tax zone in Cumberland County that would level the playing field with New Brunswick, where gas prices are usually four to seven cents a litre cheaper.
It was suggested that using the Cobequid Pass toll plaza near the county line would serve as a natural boundary since motorists from Colchester would not pay $8 in tolls for a round trip to gas up in Cumberland.
McNeil said he can't do anything about the decision to place a toll on the Cobequid Pass in 1997, but suggested those outside the county pay the same told to come to Cumberland County as those in the county pay to go elsewhere in the province.
"What I have to do is deal with the problem of today and come with a solution that addresses that problem and is fair to everybody," McNeil said.
Michael Gardner of Gardner Pinfold told the utility and review board on Wednesday that creating a separate county zone would not work because it would only move the problems being experienced in Amherst and Springhill further into the province.
McNeil agrees with Gardner saying what has become an Amherst versus Aulac/Sackville situation would become a Colchester versus Cumberland problem. He feels his solution would leave more money in the pockets of Nova Scotians and give struggling gas retailers a chance to compete.
He also doesn't accept government suggestions that it may not be able to afford tax cuts saying while he does not doubt the province is in a tough financial situation it is entirely the creation of the NDP government.