HALIFAX - Gerry Wrigley was one of several drivers across the country who pulled up to the pumps Wednesday expecting to shell out for high gas prices but got an unexpected refund instead.
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation surprised Wrigley and drivers at nine gas stations across Canada by reimbursing the amount of gas tax they paid to highlight what the group says is government "gouging."
"You're kidding," Wrigley said when federation director John Williamson offered him $23 - the equivalent to the tax the Halifax retiree paid on the $71.80 it cost him to fill up his Hyundai Sonata.
"I didn't think it was that much, but I knew it was high," said the 65-year-old.
The federation was handing out cash to mark its 10th annual gas tax honesty day and to call for lower gas taxes and more spending on roads.
The group says gas and diesel taxes account for an average of 28 per cent of the price Canadians pay at the pump. Williamson said Canadians have been spending an average of $1.16 per litre over the past 12 months - an increase of 17 cents over last year's average price.
Ten cents from every litre of gas goes to the federal government and it received $4 billion in gas tax revenues last year. Williamson said drivers are also being taxed twice - first by the gas tax and then by the GST or HST applied on top.
Wrigley said he's surprised by how much he's been paying out in gas tax and he doesn't believe the money is being well spent.
"The gas tax to my way of thinking is to keep up your highways," Wrigley said. "And it sure as heck isn't doing it, because there's enough potholes in the highways."
Williamson said the federal government has dedicated more gas tax revenue to roads and highways in the past three budgets. The group says Ottawa spent 37 per cent of its gas tax revenue on roads this year, an amount that will increase to 52 per cent next year.
However, Williamson said Ottawa still needs to get rid of the "deficit elimination tax" first imposed in 1995 that charges 1.5 cents on each litre of gas. He said the tax is pointless since the country solved its deficit problems a decade ago.
"Lawmakers in Ottawa and across this country will often point their fingers at big oil and suggest there's nothing they can do to control the pump price," Williamson said.
"But we suggest there is actually a lot lawmakers can do both at the provincial level and federally."
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said Tuesday in the House of Commons that the federal government has no plans to reduce gas taxes.
"We already reduced the cost of gasoline by two per cent (through) the reduction of the GST," Flaherty said.
The Department of Finance estimates Canadians will save $550 million per year on gas thanks to the GST cut.