Leaders trade barbs over fuel price spike

Fri Sep 12, 2008 6:24pm EDT
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By Allan Dowd

BURNABY, British Columbia (Reuters) - Prime Minister Stephen Harper said a sharp jump in gasoline prices on Friday looked like price-gouging, but rivals on the election campaign trail complained he was not doing enough about energy costs.

The political parties traded barbs over the cost of gasoline as three new public opinion polls showed Harper's ruling Conservatives maintaining a big lead over the main opposition Liberals, and putting them close to capturing a majority government.

Canadians awoke on Friday to gasoline prices in regions of the country that were about 13 Canadian cents higher than they had been the day before, a jump that producers said reflected the possible effect of Hurricane Ike on refineries in Texas.

Asked by reporters in Halifax, Nova Scotia. whether he thought the sudden increase was due to price gouging, Harper replied: "It certainly appears that way to me."

New Democratic Leader Jack Layton accused the industry of "predatory pricing," and his left-leaning party said it would create a price-monitoring agency so that oil companies would not "have free license to gouge consumers."

Liberal Leader Stephane Dion stopped short of accusing the industry of gouging, but said the jump showed the futility of Harper's pledge on Tuesday to cut the federal excise tax on diesel by half to 2 Canadian cents a liter.

"Today that was made irrelevant four-fold," Dion said in Burnaby, British Columbia, where he was campaigning for his proposal for a carbon tax to cut greenhouse gas emissions - a tax that Harper and Layton charge will only add to rising energy prices.

Dion said the fuel price jump demonstrates the need for Canada to become less reliant on fossil fuels, a goal that he said the carbon tax would help achieve.   Continued...

<p>Conservative leader and Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper listens to a question during a news conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia September 12, 2008. REUTERS/Chris Wattie</p>