Gasoline prices an easy populist target for Ford

Electricity prices are an easy target for opposition parties, one of the many glaring weaknesses of Kathleen Wynne’s Liberal party.

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Every month, Ontarians are reminded of Wynne’s mismanagement of the file, which includes handouts to backers and the destruction of the public asset value of Hydro One for a short-term cash infusion designed to hide her overall fiscal mismanagement.

Spikes in gasoline prices and reports of insurance company gouging of drivers are also fodder for the opposition, files where Wynne made promises but failed to deliver.

The Victoria Day long weekend, which marks the unofficial start of summer, provided some sticker shock to drivers filling up for an excursion. Heavily taxed, gasoline is on the mind of Progressive Conservative leader Doug Ford, who’s promised to reduce petrol taxes by ten cents per litre. That’s sure to resonate, though without regulation of the oil industry, there is no guarantee the savings will be passed on to the public.

Still, we like the idea of real downward pressure on prices. Real decreases would not involve, for instance, borrowing heavily to give people price buts today in order to pass on the costs, plus interest, years down the line, as in the case of Wynne’s hydro rates re-election ploy.

Having been gouged before by gasoline pushing $1.50 a litre, many of us are a bit more complacent with the recent increases at the pump. This time, while crude prices are up, they’re not at the same level as the last time gasoline was in this range.

Along with increasing the cost of filling up, there are indirect extra costs that ripple through the economy, starting with transportation costs.

Therein, of course, lies a longstanding issue in discussions about how we’ve routinely been pumped by the oil industry. The grief extends beyond those of us with cars – those heating their homes with oil have been experiencing price shocks in the vein of those suffered by electricity customers, though the Wynne government has proven to be much more corrupt and harmful to Ontarians than the oil conglomerates, a hardly comforting reality.

But more than that, we all suffer when the price of gasoline skyrockets: virtually all of the goods we purchase rely on fuel-powered transportation, at the very least, to get them to the stores.

Ultimately, the cost of gas has everything to do with the price of bread when you go shopping. And that is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Increased fuel costs have a ripple effect through the economy, touching us in a variety of ways.

While oil companies argue the ups and downs (mostly ups these days) of gasoline prices are purely market driven, they offer little evidence. Hikes are, in essence, supposed to be revenue neutral. But experience has shown that rising prices correspond to increased profits for the gasoline companies.

When gasoline prices go up, oil companies blame a host of reasons, some of them clear and others highly dubious, but always maintain that their margins are slim. They never reveal the extra profits tied to price hikes.

At the beginning of the manufacturing chain, the price of crude oil – those daily reports of fluctuations the world market, measured in U.S. dollars per barrel – does matter. Most of the crude oil destined for our gas tanks costs no more to produce today than it did when gasoline was 30, 40, 50 cents a litre cheaper. You don’t have to do much math to see how that translates into fat profits.