Living, Working, and Wasting Time in Southern Manitoba

Month: August 2015

Make Gas Companies Compete

Gas prices look like they are going to drop today. That’s a good thing relative to the current price, but considering how much they went up last week, they’re still going to be kind of high. 119.9¢/L seems a little bit ridiculous when the price of crude is hovering at or under $50/barrel, some of the lowest prices in years.

Courtesy WikipediaWe’re never going to be happy when gas prices go up, that’s a given. It’s always a given that sometimes costs go up for businesses, and therefore the price of their product needs to go up. I understand how businesses in a free-market economy don’t want to be regulated by price boards, similar to what utilities face. Competition is healthy.

Unfortunately, to the layperson like me, these businesses appear not to compete. I’m not talking collusion, and multiple government studies into collusion in the oil and gas industry have came up empty when looking for it.

Then again, who needs to collude when you know that if you up your price, the other guy will match it… or if you drop your price, he’ll match it too? You don’t need to collude once the pattern has been established. The problem here is not collusion. The problem is no real competition.

So, make them compete.

I think it would be fairly easy to force competition, legislate price differences. The way I see it, there would be a two step approach.

  1. Make it the law that if you raise your fuel price at a station, then the station must stay at that price for 48 hours. If competitors don’t raise their price, you are stuck there and will lose business. This means that nobody will raise their price unless absolutely necessary, for fear they will lose 48 hours of business.
  2. When raising prices, require that the pump price cannot be the same as the 5 closest competitor’s stations, or within a certain radius. If station A goes to 124.9, then station B would have to go to 124.7 or 125.1 – Small differences, but it forces an actual competitive price, instead of everyone going up the same amount within hours of each other. Price matching would not be required when lowering prices, that way after the required 48 hours you could lower your price to match the competition. What this does is “punishes” the first station to raise the price, as most competitive stations would go lower.

Would these necessarily change gas prices or make them necessarily lower? Probably not in the long run, but at least it might slow down increases and force gas companies to at least compete some of the time.

And after all, isn’t healthy competition what the Free Market is all about?

A Majority is Harper’s Only Option

Sometimes the data doesn’t appear as it seems. Take the latest data on the CBC Poll Tracker from Éric Grenier of


Looks pretty straight forward. If the election was held today, the New Democrats would get more of the popular votes, but the Conservatives would most likely win more seats. Conventional wisdom is that Stephen Harper would form a minority government. Traditionally, that is what would happen. The Governor General will ask the party with the most seats if it can form a government. This is where it gets dicey.

In this situation, Harper has to try to form a government. To do anything else is to admit defeat. After all, he formed a minority government back in 2006, increased his seat count in 2008, and got a majority in 2011. The man has experience governing in a minority parliament.

However, this year would be different. Going from a comfortable majority to a minority would be seen as a defeat. During the first minority governments of Stephen Harper, his party was always showing an upward trend; this would show a downward trend. Also keep in mind that back then, the other two parties were hesitant to force an election against a Conservative party that was increasing in popularity while their own fortunes might be failing. It was in this way that Stephen Harper kept the confidence of the House; everyone knew that he had a legitimate mandate.

This time I’m not so sure.

If the Conservatives come in with a result any lower than a majority, they lose. Sure, if the current numbers were to be somewhat similar on election day, then the Governor General will ask Mr. Harper if he can form a government. The only thing that will stop that is if Mr. Mulcair and Mr. Trudeau agree to form a coalition government in the first hours following the election. Chances are a formal coalition is not going to happen as it is not in Justin Trudeau’s best interest as leader of the party to give up that leadership to Tom Mulcair. The machinery of the once dominant Liberal Party would never let that happen, it would be too much of a defeat.

Here’s the thing though. As I understand our Parliamentary System, you do not need to have the most seats in parliament. You don’t need to form a formal coalition. All you need to govern is the confidence of the House. That puts Tom Mulcair in charge.

It is not that difficult to reason that Stephen Harper’s government falls at the first non-confidence motion introduced in the House of Commons. After almost a decade of Conservative government, the opposition parties would not be able to say that they have confidence in the Government. For the NDP and Liberals, a confidence motion will defeat the Harper government, neither can be seen to support him at this point.

This puts Tom Mulcair in a very interesting position, he doesn’t need Justin Trudeau, just his party’s votes. As long as he gets more seats than Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, Tom Mulcair most likely becomes Prime Minister before the following election. With so many overlapping policies, the Liberals would surely have to give their support to the NDP if just to throw out the Conservatives. A formal coalition doesn’t seem to be required. Personally, I think Mulcair knows this and his offer of a coalition was an attempt to make himself look like the bigger statesperson.

In this election, I’m sure everyone is playing to win. However, for the NDP or Liberals, while a majority would be nice, first place the more likely prize, but in this case second place is pretty much as good. For the Conservatives anything less than an outright majority is devastating.

Believe it or not, despite the numbers, it is Harper who is in the most precarious position this election.