Save those gas receipts

Michael Johansen
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The drive south from Cartwright down the relatively new Labrador Coastal Highway is usually either dusty or muddy, and has often been blocked by snow, but the views are always beautiful.
One of the best is at the very end where the crest of a hill reveals a panorama of barren hills overlooking the Straits at the historic community of Red Bay. What makes the spot particularly appealing is that's where a driver leaves the dirt behind, where the old paved highway begins.
As nice as that view is, however, right now there's a lot of people from further north along the coast who are probably wishing they didn't have to see it so much. They've been driving that road to take advantage of a 36-cent drop in gasoline prices that occurs just south of Lodge Bay. These drivers are not only filling up their vehicle tanks. They're also carrying as many drums and fuel cans as they're allowed by law in the backs of their pickup trucks. A trip like that to the Straits can save someone hundreds of dollars.
As many already know, this situation exists because the price of gasoline on the Labrador coast was frozen when it was close to its highest ever, but then prices dropped rapidly everywhere else in the world. Now they're the lowest they've been in years in the Labrador Straits.
The freeze is imposed on retailers north of Red Bay because road conditions have often been so bad the area's supplier couldn't restock during the winter months, but this winter, however, the provincial Transportation Department has had no trouble keeping the road open. This has led to a further situation many aptly call "ridiculous." The supplier is storing gasoline in the high price zone, but the demand for it is in the Straits. The supplier is therefore trucking it south from Lodge Bay so that consumers from north of Lodge Bay can drive to the Straits to buy it and bring it back north again.
Ridiculous, indeed.
Throughout it all, retailers from Cartwright to Lodge Bay - the closer you get the worse it becomes - are losing out in sales of all kinds, even though a simple solution is available immediately.
As many people - from gasoline buyers to the area's MHA - have already proposed, if the pricing commission lifts the freeze and lets gas prices sink to within a few cents of those in the Straits, things would go back to normal and everyone would benefit.
It's an easy solution, but one that is apparently impossible for the provincial government to implement, although it had no difficulty lifting the freeze early last spring when it meant bringing prices up a few cents.
The minister responsible reportedly can't deal with the problem because he's out of the country on vacation, but it's possible he's been pulling some strings in between relaxing on sunny beaches and touring museums.
His staff have said he won't be lifting the freeze and intends to wait for consultations (ones that won't yield results until long after the freeze is scheduled to be over anyway), but a sudden and unexpected seven-cent increase in fuel prices across Newfoundland and Labrador, taking place even though world crude continues to fall, seems suspicious. It didn't quite feel like the invisible hand of the market at work. It might indicate that the minister is working behind the scenes trying to close the price gap not by lowering it for southern Labradorians, but by raising it for everybody else.
But if that's not the case then hopefully people who've been buying gasoline and other fuels in southern Labrador during the price freeze have been saving all their receipts. No doubt the government will insist on holding these pointless consultations before recognizing the obvious answer. When the ministers finally agree that the prices should not have been frozen, then they should make the lifting of the freeze retroactive.
Consumers and retailers shouldn't have to suffer from an uncaring government's lack of initiative. If they paid extra for gas, they should get their money back.

Michael Johansen is a writer living in Labrador.

Organizations: Transportation Department

Geographic location: Lodge Bay, Newfoundland and Labrador, Red Bay Southern Labradorians

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