By Richard Dooley

Fewer than 100 protesters crowded a downtown street corner yesterday, demanding Nova Scotia Power stop increasing electricity rates, implement a fixed power rate for lower income people and stop backing Atlantica. The focus of the protesters shifted from the front doors of the World Trade and Convention Centre a block north to NSP parent company Emera’s headquarters at Scotia Square.

Yesterday morning, business delegates attending a conference discussing an economic cross-border zone referred to as Atlantica walked through about 100 protesters making noise with buckets and whistles to demonstrate against the proposition.

Around noon, the demonstration shifted to Scotia Square, where protesters shredded fake power bills and urged the government to take control of the utility. One protester held a sign saying high power rates force her to decide between paying bills or feeding her child.

“That’s a choice I have to make every month,” Dianne said. She refused to give her last name. Dianne said she joined the protest during her lunch break because she’s tired of not being able to afford electricity. But she knows little about the Atlantica connection with the protest.

“I am learning more about it, though,” she said.

Jill Ratcliffe of the Halifax Coalition Against Poverty said the protest wanted to focus on the power company because it’s a proponent of Atlantica and the hardship power rate increases cause for low income Nova Scotians.

“That’s the catalyst for this sort of protest,” she said.

Ratcliffe said there could be more protests against the power company, including urging people to engage in a “power strike” where power bills aren’t paid for a month. A small group of protesters met with Nova Scotia Power officials in the lobby of the office tower. The protesters presented them with a letter outlining their concerns.

NSP spokeswoman Margaret Murphy said the power company is “open to a conversation with them” about helping low income families cope with electricity bills. One of the points raised by the protesters is that low-income families are often shut out of energy efficiency programs because of the cost. Murphy said that is something the company is willing to look at when broadening the scope of similar programs.

Protest organizers said they’re not discouraged by the relatively low turnout. Some people predicted between 500 and 1,000 people will show up for the protests today and tomorrow.