As up to four days of public hearings on why gas prices in Metro Vancouver are consistently among the highest in the country got underway, both critics and industry experts slammed the government-mandated inquiry by the BC Utilities Commission.

While members of the independent BCUC panel ask oil and gas company executives and their lawyers an exhaustive list of questions such as how companies set their rack prices and probe into why retail prices in B.C. are higher than in provinces with no refineries, they aren’t permitted to examine the role government policy, including taxes might play in shaping prices that topped a record $1.70 a litre in May.

On Wednesday, Premier John Horgan defended the inquiry.

“Our policies aren’t excluded from public scrutiny,” Horgan said. “They’re published everywhere…there’s no mystery that there’s taxation at the pump.”

The investigation, which Horgan mandated in May, and which must deliver a final report by Aug. 30, will instead focus on factors that include the reasons behind price fluctuations, and how competition may or may not impact pricing.

At Wednesday’s hearing, dubbed an “oral workshop,” Henry Kahwaty, an economist hired by Parkland, which owns over 100 Chevron stations in Metro Vancouver, denied any evidence of price setting or “collusion” between competitors.

Opposition Leader Andrew Wilkinson blasted both the inquiry and the premier on Tuesday, calling it a “half-baked” investigation that wouldn’t bring any answers or relief to British Columbians.

“If you want real answers, if you want the truth, let the inquiry ask anything it wants to,” Wilkinson said.

Gas price analyst Dan McTeague with called the inquiry a “half-hearted attempt by the government to deflect.”

He added there is no mystery to what drives high-gas prices in Metro Vancouver, explaining that crude prices, taxes, fuel requirements and standards, spot prices in U.S. markets, and a weak Canadian dollar are just a few of the elements that play a factor in shaping the price B.C. drivers pay at the pump.

And Canadian economist and marketing expert Robert Warren, who’s based at the University of North Dakota and looks at trends on both sides of the border, adds it’s unlikely the findings of the inquiry could have an impact on gas prices, because of the global nature of the product.

“I think for the government, this is a great way to say, hey we’re doing something, we feel your pain,” Warren said.

When CTV asked Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson what he thought might come out of the inquiry’s final report, due Aug. 30, he replied: “Next to nothing.”

For a list of transcripts of the hearings and submissions by oil and gas companies, see the BCUC’s website.