By John Mazerolle
As appeared on page C1
He came, he saw, he charmed.
Gov. John Baldacci followed up the first speech by a Maine governor to the New Brunswick legislature by heading down Highway 7 with Premier Shawn Graham. The two-term Democrat spoke to about 250 of Saint John’s business and political leaders at a luncheon hosted by the Saint John Board of Trade.
Speaking conversationally, Baldacci launched a charm offensive that talked of the friendship between New Brunswick and Maine, while sliding in anecdotes about cow manure, U-Haul trucks, and his family’s restaurant in Bangor, Momma Baldacci’s. The audience chuckled with the governor, and offered him a standing ovation both before and after the speech.
Baldacci mostly spoke in broad terms about the relationship, rarely mentioning Saint John until an interview with reporters afterward.
“Saint John’s a key hub, an energy resource, it’s a critical part of the infrastructure… and very necessary as being part of the energy grid between New Brunswick and Maine,” he said.
Graham and Baldacci recently agreed to explore a joint power pool from which the state and the province can draw and share electricity – a partnership that would inevitably affect Saint John and its power generation.
The relationship between Maine and New Brunswick, as well as their leaders, has grown close since the premier took office in September and Baldacci was re-elected late last year.
The governor told reporters that it just makes sense to form energy, education and tourism relationships with the province next door.
“Why look to (begin) a new relationship somewhere else halfway across the planet?” he said. “Why not do it here with our friends, neighbours, and relatives?”
Baldacci was given a tour of the Irving Oil refinery after the luncheon. Before he left, the governor said he was supportive of a possible second refinery in Red Head. (Irving Oil recently applied for its environmental impact assessment, a process that could last for two years.)
He said using Saint John’s refined oil is better than having to rely upon a “cargo vessel coming in from God knows where. I think that’s something that can work for the entire region.” The premier and Irving Oil have helped out Maine during its propane shortage, helping to alleviate a problem brought on by a rail strike and a winter storm.
Graham said more than 85 per cent of Maine homeowners heat their homes with oil from Saint John.
Other speakers touched on the importance of the relationship between the state and the province.
Shelley Rinehart, chairwoman of Enterprise Saint John and dean of UNBSJ’s business program, said Maine and New Brunswick must do everything they can to leverage $500 million in planned cross-border infrastructure, including the twinning of Highway 1 to St. Stephen, as well as the natural gas transmission line proposed by Emera Brunswick Pipeline Company Ltd.
Bob Manning, chairman of the Saint John Board of Trade, said the visit by Baldacci (who also offered to host Graham in the Maine legislature) is another example of the cross-border co-operation between leaders on both side of the border. He said other examples include the relationship between the cities of Saint John and Bangor, their economic development agencies and tourism bureaus, as well as co-operation on the east-west highway and regional trade issues.
“We share similar economic histories, similar economic challenges, and most importantly, similar economic opportunities,” Manning said.
Graham said Saint John will play a key role in his government’s drive to make New Brunswick self-sufficient, and added the provincial Department of Energy’s move from Fredericton to Saint John was a good first step.
Baldacci was accompanied by Maine Senator Phillip Bartlett and Robert Crosthwaite, a Republican from the Maine House of Representatives.
He was also accompanied by four RCMP officers and one Maine State Police officer.