Ont. premier urges drivers to avoid pump panic
CTV.ca News Staff
Gas prices appear to have settled, a day after the prospect of a price hike drove many motorists into a panic at the pumps, but Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty is still appealing for calm.
Rumours the price for a litre of gas had already shot past the $2-mark were unfounded, though drivers were being charged as much as $1.79 in Sudbury, Ontario Thursday.
Nevertheless, drivers unwilling to wait tested their patience at crowded gas bars on Thursday, leading in at least one instance to fisticuffs.
After one car cut in front of another at a Toronto-area fuel station, the two drivers wound up starting a fight witnesses say involved a crowbar. Two men were taken to hospital for treatment of injuries from the scuffle.
The suspects reportedly fled the scene.
Responding to news of the fight, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty expressed his disappointment.
"I urge Torontonians to allow cooler heads to prevail," McGuinty told reporters covering a Liberal caucus retreat in Kitchener, Ontario.
"It is not a good situation, but it is not as bad as apparently some people believe it would to be."
McGuinty's appeal for the federal competition bureau to investigate gas prices was immediately shot down by Conservative critic Elizabeth Witmer, who suggested the move was merely a hopeless attempt to placate the public.
Monitoring the pumps from Ottawa on Friday, CTV's David Akin says average prices are now hovering between $1 and $1.20 countrywide.
"In fact, yesterday when we were hearing reports of all these crazy price hikes, by the end of the day the price in the capital area was actually down to 97 cents."
But, mindful of the overnight hike that saw gas prices jump 20 to 30 cents per litre when Hurricane Katrina struck the oil-rich U.S. Gulf Coast last month, drivers don't want to get caught out.
But it may have been the very fear of a price hike that fuelled the frenzy Thursday. Because many gas stations can't display four digits on their signs, some have dropped the $1. To a speeding, worried driver, 22.5 might easily be misinterpreted as $2.25.
"They phone a radio station or post it on a website and away we go with the rumours," Akin told CTV News.
Drivers should realistically expect a 40- or 50-cent hike, "if in fact the hurricane does what it's supposed to do," he warned, before adding a little perspective.
"The 15 per cent that Katrina knocked out, that's equivalent to all of Canada's refining capacity. The refineries in the path of Rita, account for 28 per cent of U.S. refining capacity -- nearly double what Canada does every day."
Despite the storms' heavy toll, Canadian oil companies are insisting the fluctuations will settle down. That declaration is backed up by a new report from the Toronto-Dominion Bank, which predicts gas prices falling next year, but only to about 70 or 80 cents a litre.
The chief economist at BMO Nesbitt Burns, meanwhile, said the "worst case scenario" is that gas prices could go up to about $1.50 if the hurricane does end up temporarily shutting down key refineries in the Gulf of Mexico.
"Now, that's not great, but it's not the end of the world," Sherry Cooper told CTV News.
"And gasoline will be readily available in (Canada). We won't suffer damage to our pipelines the way the U.S. will. And, in addition, this could be just a relatively short term phenomenon."
But while Cooper said there's no reason to panic in Canada, she added that we should be concerned over rising natural gas and heating oil prices, "which could well be sustained in the winter."
"And in most places in Canada, we haven't gotten the full blast of winter yet," she added.
The high cost of energy is expected to dominate the political agenda when MPs get back to work in Ottawa on Monday.
Finance Minister Ralph Goodale said the government is examining options to help Canadians cope with the added costs, but provided no details.
Opposition Leader Stephen Harper, meanwhile, said on Thursday that he would cut federal gas taxes if the Conservatives were in power.[/b]