Saint John — In a bid to strong-arm elderly grandmothers and the fuel-buying public, Irving Oil Ltd. is matching the names of callers to their customer service line with licence plates in gas station security-camera footage to hunt down and charge complainers who previously paid for gas or home heating oil priced below the province’s regulated maximum.
“When Eileen Black informed the media we had charged more than the regulated maximum price for her home heating oil, we realized we had an opportunity to claw back some money for the times we undercharged the public for fuel,” said Irving spokeswoman Samantha Robinson.
To maintain a competitive edge, most stations in the province charge below the maximum price when the provincial Energy and Utilities Board sets gas prices on Thursdays. In a complex set of billing maneuvers, Irving will advertise a competitive price, but then retroactively charge gas or home heating oil at a higher price for customers who make complaints.
Robinson provided an Excel spreadsheet with calculations to demonstrate how this Manatee reporter will be invoiced if Irving does not like her article. “Because the legal maximum price 8 years ago was 74.26 cents per litre, the spreadsheet shows that by raising the gas price to the maximum, you would owe Irving an extra 13.70 cents. That includes an extra 8.72 cents for the gas, $1.23 in HST and $3.75 at 37.7 percent interest because this gas station video surveillance is from 8 years ago.”
When The Manatee asked whether Irving had over- or undercharged other home heating oil customers since 2007, Robinson said she couldn’t comment due to privacy laws. “The relationship you have with Irving is like the relationship you have with your proctologist: we can’t discuss the details, but everyone knows you’re getting it in the ass.”
Heather Black, a lawyer for the EUB, thinks Irving may be on shaky legal ground. “It’s ridiculous!” she exclaimed. Black then provided The Manatee with a series of bills totalling almost $200 she had personally received from the petroleum giant since she has taken on the case. “Irving Oil Ltd. cannot retroactively change prices and send bills to their enemies. It doesn’t follow what anyone would expect from the Petroleum Product Pricing Act or anywhere else in law.”
For now, Robinson insists the company is fulfilling its commitment to fully reimburse anyone who has been overcharged.
“Individual customer circumstances and billing issues vary,” Robinson said. “We encourage customers who have been overcharged to contact Irving Oil directly so we can go on attack and send them a bill for whatever cockamamie reason we can come up with. Every cent we can get from customers on fixed incomes helps pay for the beluga caviar we serve on the Irving jet.”