AMHERST - Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil took his anti-regulation message to the heart of the gas war on Tuesday saying his government would scrap the regulation of gas prices in Nova Scotia.
At the same time, he took direct aim at an NDP plan to harmonize gas taxes at the border to stop the flow of motorists crossing to Aulac or Sackville, N.B., where gas prices are six to seven cents a litre cheaper because of differing tax regimes between the two provinces.
"It's so fundamentally flawed," McNeil said during a news conference at the South Albion Shell. "The NDP are proposing to slice up our province, pitting communities and counties against one another. There'd always be retailers on the other side of the line, wherever it is, who'd be negatively affected."
Last week, local NDP candidate Brian Skabar proposed harmonizing the gas tax along the border with neighbouring New Brunswick and allowing the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board to study, issue and recommend appropriate pricing to allow retailers to compete with those in New Brunswick.
The Liberal leader said he wants clarification from NDP Leader Darrell Dexter on whether his party supports lower gas prices in all parts of the province, or just for his candidate in Cumberland North.
"The NDP believes is setting an artificial border between Cumberland County and the rest of our province. The Liberal Party believes Cumberland County belongs in Nova Scotia," said McNeil, adding the NDP continue to support gas regulation even though three studies have shown it has cost millions. "All Nova Scotians need to be treated fairly when it comes to the price of gas."
Skabar said later Tuesday that the Liberals already set an artificial border 10 years ago when they opened the province's only toll highway, forcing most county residents and business owners to pay a toll to use the Trans-Canada Highway with the rest of Nova Scotia.
"They have already hit the family pocketbook in Cumberland County. They're the ones who put the toll on the highway," Skabar said. "We won't be drawing the line arbitrarily, it will be up to the utility and review board. We want to set it up so that no one's obliged to drive to another area."
While he admitted it's not part of the larger NDP platform, Skabar said it's a local issue the provincial leadership has agreed to address.
McNeil also renewed his attack on regulation saying it has hampered the economy of the province for three years and put businesses across the province at a disadvantage.
"Gas regulation has been an expensive failure for Nova Scotians," McNeil said. "Each and every time you fill your tank you pay more because of gas regulation. Here, in this part of Nova Scotia, it means you just cross the border to fill up your vehicle."
McNeil said a Liberal government would immediately scrap regulation and let the market set the price while cutting the motive fuel tax by a cent a year over four years to ease the strain on motorists and help retailers on the Nova Scotia side of the border remain competitive with their counterparts in New Brunswick.
"This is a sensible approach and a constructive approach to making Nova Scotia more competitive," he said. "We pay the highest gas taxes in the Maritimes."
McNeil said all parts of his party's platform must pass several tests including whether they are affordable, prudent, realistic and does it help the province be competitive.