Shuswap politicians are buying into a movement to pursue regional parity at the gas pump.
Salmon Arm Mayor Nancy Cooper says she will advocate on behalf of the local chamber and Shuswap businesses who believe high gas prices, compared to those in neighbouring communities, are having a negative impact.
“I would certainly give them all my support on this gas pricing issue,” says Cooper. “There’s a little place at Mara, and it’s at 131.9 (per litre), and Salmon Arm is 138.9, and I’m thinking in this remote place here, they can actually have it seven cents cheaper than Salmon Arm. It doesn’t make sense to me.”
The chamber is hoping to bring Salmon Arm’s prices in line with neighbouring communities such as Enderby and Vernon. Cooper, however, envisions a more regional approach, that would include Sicamous and possibly other communities in the Columbia Shuswap Regional District.
Cooper says Sicamous Mayor Darrell Trouton has already expressed interested in pursuing the issue, and she also plans on speaking with Shuswap MLA Greg Kyllo, In Jan. 2012, Sicamous council (which at the time included Kyllo), raised the issue of gas prices in that community typically being higher than those in Salmon Arm. A week later, the price of gas in Sicamous was on par with Salmon Arm, and has been that way since.
“I would like to talk to some of the CSRD directors, and see if they want to come in on this with us, so it’s not just Salmon Arm/Sicamous, but this whole region is looking at how gas prices are affecting our economy and what can we do right now to get them down,” said Cooper, who would also like find a more long-term solution that will bring greater stability for affected businesses.
“We actually have to have a long-term look at this and say, ‘these are what the gas prices are, if they’re going to go up, how can we be notified?’ Instead of all this random – one day it was over $1.40 and then down a bit again and then back up. That is so random; it’s really hard for business.”
Acquiring lower gas prices for the Shuswap would either require buy-in from suppliers or local businesses taking a financial hit.
As a member of the Salmon Arm Chamber of Commerce, Armstrong Regional Co-op general manager Jeff Payne agrees with the general results of a recent chamber survey that suggests local businesses could benefit by having lower gas prices that are in line with neighbouring communities such as Enderby and Vernon.
“It would mean fewer people going to other markets and using gas bars elsewhere. It’s something that I agree with,” says Payne, noting lower prices would translate into keeping more volume in town.
But Payne does have some issues with the chamber’s plan, which is gaining buy-in from local politicians.
Speaking only for the co-op, Payne first explained that gas prices fluctuate in synch with the market, and that if prices go up or down, the Co-ops prices will follow suit within three to four hours. The same goes for when prices change locally at a majority of neighbouring gas bars.
“I find out when it happens, I do not find out in advance at all,” says Payne. “And I do not know what causes the other stations in town to go up or down.”
As for the chamber’s pursuit to see gas prices in Salmon Arm and Sicamous brought in line with the lower fuel prices of neighbouring communities, Payne says this is achievable only if fuel retailers agree to lower their prices and take in less of a margin. However, he adds suppliers may decide to support those retailers by dropping the cost to them.
But Payne also emphasizes that the co-op is different in that its members receive money back on their purchases at the end of the year.
“Being a member, you get a patronage premium at the end of the year which, many times can be anywhere from six cents (per litre purchased) to – this last year it probably would have been closer to 11 cents back at the end of the year,” says Payne, noting how the Co-op put about $3.5 million back into the North Okanagan.
While he would like to see Salmon Arm’s gas prices come down, Payne is not supportive of an imposed pricing structure.
“It’s akin to me to going to all of the grocery stores and saying, ‘you’ve got to put your price of milk down,’” says Payne.
While gas prices may be higher in neighbouring communities, Payne – again, speaking only for the Co-op – says that unless there’s a difference of 10 cents a litre, it makes sense to shop local.