Gas hearings a public relations exercise?

Darrell Cole
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Gas hearings a public relations exercise?

AMHERST - Plans to hold public hearings on lowering the gas tax in Amherst have drawn the ire of provincial Opposition leader Stephen McNeil.

McNeil feels the NDP government has its mind made up on cutting the gas tax near the New Brunswick border and holding the only public meeting on the issue in Amherst is a blatant attempt to undermine the consultative process.

"By taking it just to Amherst they'll know the answer before they go. It's nothing more than a public relations exercise by the NDP government," McNeil said. "By holding the lone meeting in Amherst they're going where they'll get the answer they want. Who's going to be opposed to paying less for gas? Meanwhile the rest of Nova Scotia is not going to get an opportunity to weigh in."

The Utility and Review Board has scheduled hearings in Amherst on Jan. 27 to discuss the government's plan to stagger gas taxes across the province. Under the proposal, those living farther from the border would pay more for fuel than those neighbouring New Brunswick.

"What the NDP are doing is creating an artificial border within our province and that is fundamentally unfair," said McNeil. "Moving the border simply moves the problem. Slicing up our province is never the answer."

He feels the government should be holding consultations across the province, saying people from Yarmouth to Halifax to Sydney deserve an opportunity to provide feedback on what he feels is a flawed piece of public policy.

"Clearly, the NDP isn't interested in real feedback," McNeil said, adding gas regulation caused the problem. "Adding even more regulation isn't the answer. Two wrongs don't make a right."

Cumberland North MLA Brian Skabar first proposed a tax break for the Amherst area during last summer's election campaign thinks McNeil is being silly.

"The whole issue of whether people in Amherst are paying less for gas is really less an issue because people from Amherst are paying less for gas, they just have to drive six kilometres across the border to get it," said Skabar. "The New Brunswick government is making money off that. We're trying to give businesses in Nova Scotia more of a level playing field against Aulac and Sackville and giving people less reason to cross the border to shop."

While an analysis has not been done on how many people are crossing the border to fuel their vehicles, Skabar said it's happening. He also feels that if people feel strongly enough on the issue they'll attend the hearing wherever it's held.

"It been advertised in the provincial newspaper and everyone who has an interest in it is aware," Skabar said. "If Mr. McNeil thinks people are going to drive to Amherst to buy gas, why won't they drive to Amherst to attend this public hearing?"

While the plan has drawn concern from retailers in other areas of Cumberland County and the province, Skabar said the model being considered will soften the blow. For example, he said the cost of fuel between Amherst and Springhill would only be about two cents per litre.

Wayne Duffy, who operates Duffy's Esso Service Station in downtown Amherst, said smaller operators are relying on this hearing for some relief.

"I have had people come here to put a few dollars in their tank so they could get to New Brunswick," said Duffy. "Lowering the tax would make us more competitive. The way it is now is not working."

Organizations: NDP, Utility and Review Board, Esso Service Station

Geographic location: AMHERST, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia Yarmouth Halifax Sydney Cumberland County

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Recent comments

  • Switters
    February 24, 2010 - 23:46

    *If Mr. McNeil thinks people are going to drive to Amherst to buy gas, why won't they drive to Amherst to attend this public hearing?*


    Bravo Brian! McNeil is way off on this one.

    As I understand it this is done in other provinces in Canada, and is perfectly reasonable.

    Just wish the government had moved a little faster on this. It'll be almost 7 months after the election before we get this hearing. Talk about foot dragging.

  • what
    February 24, 2010 - 23:46

    you got that right Donnie, its bad enough prices are so high here in springhill, and most of us do go to amherst to get lower prices so why not put all gas stations the same price as NB

  • know everything
    February 24, 2010 - 23:46

    Lower the price as promised that is the only reason ndp got elected here , as per the smokers and milk drinkers tough tit - stop smoking and change from milk to water , and as per Springhill and Oxford u all shop in Amherst anyways fill up while your here dummies

  • Steve
    February 24, 2010 - 23:45

    McNeil is out of touch with this part of the Province, perhaps he should make his way to the hearing.
    IMHO as always.

  • Switters
    February 24, 2010 - 23:45

    The distance from Springhill to Amherst is 35km. NO ONE is going to drive 70km round trip to save 2 cents on a litre of gas.

    That's nearly 45 minutes of driving!

    If people *already go to Amherst for groceries*...ummm sorry, but they're already buying their gas in Amherst...sorry, make that Aulac.

    At least with this policy we can keep those tax dollars in Cumberland, rather than going to New Brunswick.

    Let's just hope that the people opposed to this strategy come to their senses and support what's best for the county and the province.

  • peter
    February 24, 2010 - 23:45

    I have news for Mr. McNeil, there is already an artificial border within the province. Halifax area pays 1 cent for gas less than we do here in Amherst, and always has. It may only be a cent, however it still is creating an artificial border within the province. The other artificial border is the toll highway. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

  • Donnie
    February 24, 2010 - 23:45

    This is not fair to the gas stations in Springhill, Oxford. etc. People from these towns already go to Amherst to shop for groceries, now they will get there gas there too. The end result will be the smaller towns losing gas stations.

  • Max
    February 24, 2010 - 23:45

    In case it has been forgotten, oil companies and in particular the 7 sisters which include most of the major oil and gas production companies, control the price of oil along with the Arab peninsula. With less consumption of oil it stands to reason that gas prices will follow suit and also be set at a lower price. And as for Halifax residents who pay a lower rate for their gas, lucky them!! Here in BC, and in particular Vancouver and Victoria we pay an additional tax on gas called a transit tax which supposedly goes towards a better public transit which most of us consider somewhat dubious at the very least. And as for lower tax on gas at border crossings this is not so as the tax rate is the same as for the rest of the province although the price per litre is admittedly two to three cents lower than at city pumps. And as for crossing the CanUsa border to buy fuel? Well that's another story. Perhaps, as a suggestion, Amherst should proclaim itself a tax free zone and with proper legislation this just might be possible. Food for thought to take to your public hearings if and when they take place.

  • what
    February 24, 2010 - 23:45

    to know everything.. we have to get gas to get to amherst....

  • HB
    February 24, 2010 - 23:45

    What about the other retailers who are losing to New Brunswick on items other than gas? I drive to Aulac for cigarettes. The exact same brand costs $9.89 here and $6.50 there. Milk is another one. Liquor too.

    I've got one solution. Amherst could secede from Nova Scotia and become part of New Brunswick. Then we could also get NB Power rates, lower taxes, avoid the coming increase in HST and income taxes, etc.

    There's more than gas prices that are different across the border.