The British Columbia fuel discount may be popular, but is it a good policy?

Days after John Horgan’s government once announced $110 rebate checks funded by an ICBC surplus, and to be returned to taxpayers months from now to help deal with high gas prices, experts tell CTV the reasoning is a bit difficult to grasp.

Hamish Telford is an associate professor of political science at the University of the Fraser Valley, and he says drivers are often an important electoral base and governments often use populist movements to mitigate damage to their popularity.

“People are complaining about it and governments want to be seen as doing something…anything,” he told CTV News. “And even if that just means sending them money to try to solve the problems, that’s not good public policy, but it can be good policy.”

Perhaps that is why governments across North America are taking action. Several states, and Alberta, are reducing taxes.

The NDP’s plan to offer a fuel rebate is being criticized for also benefiting owners of electric vehicles and for using money from ICBC coffers. Something the party said it wouldn’t do.

During Question Period, Opposition Leader Shirley Bond accused the Prime Minister of repackaging an early surrender.

“The Prime Minister also knows very well that this rebate should have been paid to taxpayers anyway,” she joked.

Horgan hit back, pointing out that ICBC insurance premiums had risen 50% under the previous Liberal government.

“It’s fine to say you should have given it to them anyway, well you had 16 years to do it (provide a refund once) and you didn’t do it once,” said answered Morgan.

Economist Marc Lee of the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives said he was taking money from ICBC and returning it to drivers. He said shooting it as relief at the push-ups was “a bit incredulous”.

Lee suggested that a federal tax on the money oil and gas companies currently earn could be used to help low-income people later. Failing that, he suggested some sort of price regulation like Quebec and some Maritime provinces do.

Regarding the reduction in provincial taxes at the pump, Lee told CTV News that it was unclear whether oil and gas companies would simply raise prices.

“We’ve certainly seen that, you know, the oil companies are definitely not in the best interests of consumers when they set their prices,” Lee added.

For years, the NDP has presented itself as making life more affordable, removing tolls on bridges and waiving premiums for medical services. Now that gasoline prices are at an all-time high, the government is under pressure.

Still, Lee pointed out that for an equity-focused government, relief can miss the mark.

“Giving money to someone who drives a really high-end vehicle and who is maybe very well off and [it is] give to someone who uses their vehicle for work and is struggling to get by. So I think more targeted measures would have been appropriate.”