(Quebec) The government will hire a consultant responsible for understanding why people in Quebec often pay more at the pump, Pierre Fitzgibbon announced Tuesday evening after an hour-long meeting with the region’s main gasoline retailers. capital city.
“It’s someone who will go see each gasoline store and better understand the dynamics that could cause the price to be higher in Quebec,” indicated the Minister of the Economy at the end of this meeting that he had -even requested.
A notice from the Régie de l’énergie noted on October 18 that the estimated retail margins in gas stations in the Capitale-Nationale are above the average for the rest of Quebec since 2021. They increased from 4 .37 cents per liter in 2018 to nearly 15 cents per liter in 2023.
Only “three regions had higher estimated retail margins, namely Nord-du-Québec, Côte-Nord and Bas-Saint-Laurent.” A second notice published Tuesday noted a similar situation in Chaudière-Appalaches.
Mr. Fitzgibbon therefore exceptionally summoned the five largest gasoline retailers in the capital to try to understand. Four of them met the minister early Tuesday evening, namely Couche-Tard, Pétroles Cadeko (subsidiary of Groupe F. Dufresne), Harnois Énergies and Sobeys. Costco is scheduled to meet with the minister on December 14.
Representatives of the four gasoline companies left the hour-long meeting quickly without answering questions from the media.
The minister indicated that the meeting did not lead to “any major revelations”. But retailers have been open to working with the government. “They offered to meet with us all individually to show us their books, which is something they can’t do with a group. It’s positive. They want to cooperate. They realize that Quebecers have reasons to ask questions,” said the minister.
Leads, but no definitive answer
Some retailers explained to the minister that gas stores in Quebec were more dependent than elsewhere on the sale of gasoline to ensure their profitability.
“A gas store, depending on the region, will sell many products other than gasoline, which will mean that gasoline can be sold less expensively. Some have indicated that in Quebec it is perhaps less easy to do broader trade than just gasoline, therefore they need to get back to gasoline. »
The minister also suggested that the higher margins in Quebec could be explained by the high number of retailers.
“It’s a bit paradoxical, because the more there are gasolines, the more the price should fall but at the same time if there are too many in a region at a given time they don’t make a profit so we have to ‘They’re raising the price of gas,’ he said. It’s not collusion, but it’s done globally to be profitable. »
However, according to data from the Régie de l’énergie, there are fewer gasoline stores per 5,000 inhabitants in the Capitale-Nationale (1.47) than in Montérégie (1.49) or even in Estrie (2.06). .
In short, the minister did not have a definitive answer to offer the population of Quebec at the end of his meeting, hence the announcement of the hiring of a consultant responsible for shedding light on these regional disparities.
Fitzgibbon also asked the Competition Bureau of Canada to investigate the gasoline market in the Quebec region.
He thinks that in a few months these steps could bear fruit. He hopes for “better transparency so that the population is informed and understands”.
But the minister does not rule out the nuclear solution, or intervening to set a ceiling price on the sale of gasoline, as best he can.
“In 1987 it was done. But honestly this is not my preferred solution. I prefer to have a private market with good competition,” he said Tuesday. “I hope we don’t go there. »