HALIFAX, N.S. – Organized labour in Atlantic Canada is marshalling resources to fight the proposed sale of NB Power to Hydro-Quebec, arguing it will kill jobs and stifle development of new power projects.
Representatives of the Canadian Labour Congress, two provincial labour federations, and several large unions were on hand Monday for a speech by New Brunswick Finance Minister Greg Byrne to the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies.
“He’s talking about leading by example,” Michel Boudreau, president of the New Brunswick Federation of Labour, said after Byrne’s speech in Halifax.
“The government promised in 2006 that they wouldn’t sell NB Power, so they should stick by their word.”
Unions in New Brunswick are worried about the impact on jobs when coal-fired plants in Dalhousie, Courtenay Bay and Grand Lake are decommissioned under the deal with Hydro-Quebec.
Labour in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador argues that ceding control to Hydro-Quebec will limit the ability of their provinces to develop new power sources and get it to market in the United States.
“The local power grid will be filled to capacity with hydro power from Quebec, leaving no room for local power production,” said Boudreau.
Under the proposed deal, Hydro-Quebec would assume all the major assets of NB Power, including transmission lines, for $4.75 billion, essentially erasing the utility’s entire debt.
It would also freeze residential rates for five years and reduce industrial rates by as much as 30 per cent in some cases, an arrangement Byrne says is worth another $5.5 billion in savings.
Boudreau warned that New Brunswick’s governing Liberals would pay a heavy price at the polls in a provincial election next September if they persist in pushing the deal through.
However, Byrne remained adamant the sale is in the best interests of his province.
“Our objective all along was to ensure that we could have the lowest rates available and that’s what we are achieving,” he said.
“Here we are less than a year from an election and it probably would have been a lot easier to let this one slide, but that’s not leadership and we’re not shying away from that.”
As Byrne was fielding questions in Halifax, Hydro-Quebec president Thierry Vandal was in Saint John, N.B., promoting the deal to local business leaders.
He said if the Point Lepreau nuclear power plant has a problem in a year, it won’t be the problem of New Brunswick ratepayers.
“If we have to rebuild the Mactaquac hydro facility and invest $2 billion, that is not the risk of New Brunswick ratepayers,” he said. “Those risks are transferred to Hydro-Quebec.”
Moosehead Breweries chairman Derek Oland said he’s convinced the deal is good.
“I think it’s a good deal for the province because it helps us to know our energy costs and to make sure that the high-paying jobs that exist in industry here are maintained in this province,” he said.
Government officials from New Brunswick and Quebec are working on the wording of the final contract.
Premiers Shawn Graham of New Brunswick and Jean Charest of Quebec say they want a final deal before the end of March.
Byrne said New Brunswick isn’t prepared to give a written guarantee about access to power transmission through the province if the sale is approved.
He said his province remains open to negotiations with Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador about building new transmission lines to the American market.
But Byrne said a “carte blanche” letter is not in the works – something both provinces had requested.