Residents of northern New Brunswick, Cape Breton, southwest Nova Scotia and Newfoundland could soon be paying outrageous prices for food because of the rising price of oil and gas, Peter Nelson, head of the Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association, said Tuesday.

“You’ll soon see the day of $8 lettuce in Newfoundland, and you’ll have lots of choices in shoes, so long as they’re brown oxfords,” Nelson said.

Last summer, analysts were warning that $100-a-barrel oil was on its way. Tuesday, crude surged above US$108 for the first time. To put that in perspective, at the end of March 2007, a barrel of crude was trading in New York just above US$65.

Halifax analyst Bill Simpkins said Tuesday while it’s impossible to predict where the price will be in six months, it’s unlikely to drop dramatically.

“The days of cheap, low-cost energy are over,” Simpkins, an independent consultant, said.

A recession in the U.S. and a corresponding downturn in Canada will keep prices from rising too much, he said, but it’s unlikely oil will get significantly cheaper ever again.

“The best guesses I’m hearing from people is that it’s high and it’s expected to come down somewhat, but nobody can predict it with any certainty. You really need a crystal ball.”

The price of oil hits consumers directly when they fill up their gas tanks. It also gets them indirectly when we buy groceries, clothing and furniture. Most goods destined for Atlantic Canada are shipped by truck, Nelson said, and many items are shipped through local ports, then sent by rail to distribution centres in Ontario – and then trucked back. That makes goods destined for Atlantic Canada among the most expensive to ship.

The cost of diesel fuel has risen steadily over the past two years, so the price of the food and other items goes up accordingly.

It’s not just the price of gas that makes it expensive to ship here, Nelson said. A truck full of french fries heading from Florenceville, N.B. to Vancouver is cheaper to ship than a truck of the same product from Cavendish, P.E.I. to Newfoundland – because the P.E.I. to Newfoundland truck will run up $500 worth of highway tolls.

As a result, he said, food is likely to become far more expensive and retailers may decide it’s just not worth it to send a wide array of products to more remote areas of the region.

“In the winter, the vegetables come from California or Mexico. That’s a long way, and they all come by refrigerated truck.”

Ian Munro, chief researcher with the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, said Tuesday rising prices will hurt the Atlantic economy, but argues it won’t be a major blow if oil continues to rise gradually.

“I don’t think anything’s going to come crumbling around us tomorrow. We’ve been in a fairly high price environment for years,” Munro said.

Rising prices may encourage companies to use transload facilities here rather than shipping Atlantic-bound goods to Central Canada and back again, he added.