Canadians to get biggest drop in gasoline prices since 2009 over COVID variant fears

Gas prices are displayed on a pump at a gas station in Montreal, Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021. Canadians will get a short reprieve from rising fuel prices as fears about a virulent new COVID-19 variant are expected to provide about an 11 cents per litre break on Sunday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

Canadians should experience the fastest drop in gasoline prices in nearly 13 years on Sunday as fears about a virulent new COVID-19 variant are expected to provide a break of 11 cents per litre at the pumps.

Dan McTeague, president of Canadians for Affordable Energy, said the national average price could drop to about $1.32 per litre but begin to rise again midweek.

"(Sunday) represents the single largest decrease at the pumps we've seen going back to 2009," he said in an interview.

Global crude oil prices plunged Friday over fears about a new COVID-19 variant called Omicron that prompted Canada to ban entry for foreign nationals who travelled through southern Africa.

The January crude oil contract fell 13.1 per cent or US$10.24 on Friday and currently stands at US$68.15 per barrel.

The decrease came as U.S. stock markets closed early Friday because of the Thanksgiving holiday.

"Sunday and Monday are going to be the best days for Canadians to fill up, including British Columbia," McTeague said

Even residents of flood-ravaged B.C. will save on the province's high gasoline prices despite facing rationing because severe flooding has shut both the Trans Mountain pipeline and the province's lone refinery.

Drivers of non-essential vehicles can only purchase up to 30 litres per visit to a gas station in the Lower Mainland, Sunshine Coast, Sea to Sky area, Gulf Islands and Vancouver Island.

East Coast residents won't reap the immediate benefits of Sunday's price drop because its regulated regional system averages price movements. That provides price predictability but blunts price discounts.

Despite the upcoming decrease, national gasoline prices have surged nearly 43 per cent in the past year as the reopening of the global economy from pandemic lockdowns prompted a recovery in crude prices.

McTeague suggested Canadians shouldn't get too comfortable with the energy savings. He said prices are expectd to increase as OPEC and its allies, who are meeting on Monday, will likely refuse to increase production any further. Energy traders realize that Friday's decrease was overdone and "flies in the face of fundamentals," he added.

"My sense is that the decreases that we saw were a little exaggerated and overbought, and for that reason I think we might see a little bit more balance come back to the markets and fundamentals by Wednesday," McTeague said.

"Unless there's further unsettling news of greater and further lockdowns, I would expect that oil prices are probably going to recover US$3 to US$4 a barrel by Monday or Tuesday, which means by Wednesday or Thursday we could be looking at increases in the order of four or five cents a litre."

McTeague said some gasoline savings will continue for a couple of weeks, but he foresees crude climbing back to about US$90 a barrel, which would translate into prices in Canada exceeding $1.50 per litre.

Impending carbon tax increases will further boost prices.

A tax of 2.5 cents per litre, including HST, will take effect on April 1, 2022. It will be followed in December by the clean fuel standard that will add another 18.1 cents per litre including HST, said McTeague.

Adding to the inflation pressure is the Canadian dollar which is less valuable than when it was at par the last time crude prices were around US$80. That reduces the purchasing power for all kinds of products, including energy and food.

The Canadian Automobile Association said that as of early Saturday morning, Manitoba had the lowest average pump price of $1.35/L, followed closely by Alberta at $1.377, while Newfoundland and Labrador was the highest at $1.583 with British Columbia at $1.558.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 27, 2021.

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