It’s hard to tell if BC New Democrats actually thought their miniscule gas rebate, delivered weeks late, and executed in remarkably sloppy fashion on Friday, was going to be positively received by British Columbia motorists.
But boy did it bomb hard.
Premier John Horgan and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth put their game faces on to deliver the one-time $110 rebate for ordinary drivers, or $165 for commercial vehicle operators, and then deflected 15 minutes of questions from reporters about why the amount was so small and if it was all really just about ICBC overcharging drivers for auto insurance while government swooped in to return some of that money back to them, masquerading as a fuel tax rebate.
After that, the gas tax rebate flew out from the political bubble of the legislature and into the real world – where it was promptly scoffed at and scorned by the general public.
To get a sense, let's recap what actual people at gas stations said when interviewed by BC’s major media after the announcement Friday (and no, we’re not including the cesspool of online reaction, where trolls, bots, and anonymous partisans distort reality to fit their own purposes).
“That won’t be enough, it’s not even close to enough,” said a man with a backwards black hat interviewed by CTV Vancouver at a local Shell station where gas was in the mid $1.90s range.
“Highway robbery,” fumed another man filling up a tank.
“It’s ridiculous, how can people even survive, barely making ends meet with inflation and everything,” added a man in a fluorescent vest filling up a white van. “It’s crazy, it’s unnecessary. We’re taxed too much on our gas.”
At CTV’s sister station on Vancouver Island, where gas was around $1.95 a litre, the attitude was similar.
“I think it’s a good thing, but I also think it should be more than that,” said another man. “I’m hurting.”
A gentleman with glasses standing outside an A&W added: “It’s something,” he said, simply.
The crew did find one woman who appeared supportive.
“Wow I’m impressed,” she said, sitting in her car at the station. “I look forward to seeing that in my mailbox.”
Elsewhere in Victoria, CHEK News found a man at a Sidney gas station philosophical about ICBC overcharging him for insurance and then the government giving some of that back to him in a so-called fuel rebate.
“It’s silly,” said the old man, wearing a cap. “There is no free lunch. You give in the money one place, and take it in another place.”
Back in Vancouver, the Vancouver Sun spoke to drivers at an Esso station at Burrard and Davie, who were filling up at $1.95 per litre and decidedly unimpressed at the BC NDP government’s move.
“It's a stopgap. It doesn't address (high gas prices) long-term," a Vancouver salesman told the paper, who added the rebate might pay for three weeks’ worth of gas.
“I know it’s a gesture, but it doesn’t really help,” added a Langley teacher at the gas station.
Commercial drivers were similarly unimpressed at the paltry $165.
“I’m never ungrateful for getting anything that reduces our expenses, but in truth it's not very much compared to a tank of fuel at $1,500 or our annual ICBC premium before discounts and optionals being $20,000 per coach,” said Brendan McCullough of Victoria-based McCullouch Coach Lines, where busses are used for tourists, ski trips, sports teams and band trips.
BC New Democrats appear largely unfazed by the reaction.
The rollout was followed by the surprise revelation that electric vehicles were inexplicably eligible for the so-called “gas” rebate, despite not using gasoline at all. Scrambling, anonymous staffers suggested the premier would prefer British Columbians with electric cars donate those rebates to charity (despite not saying this at all during his 30-minute press conference). It was one of the sloppiest communications efforts in months.
Not that New Democrats seem to care.
Most of their strategists are ensconced in high-paying jobs in Victoria with fancy titles, where they’ve been making so much money over the last several years of the administration that gas prices don’t impact them one way or another.
It’s a dangerous situation to be in, where complacency, arrogance, and indifference put you out of touch on affordability issues with the same class of voters that enthusiastically gave you two terms of government. You lose your edge.
Right now, the BC Liberals pose little political threat to the New Democrats, having been weakened in two election losses, largely confined to rural BC, and wrestling to get up to speed with a new leader.
As the remarkably poor gas tax rebate effort shows yet again: The biggest risk to the BC NDP government remains itself.
Rob Shaw has spent more than 13 years covering BC politics, now reporting for CHEK News and writing for The Orca. He is the co-author of the national best-selling book A Matter of Confidence, and a regular guest on CBC Radio.