Finance Minister Greg Byrne was in Halifax on Monday to promote his latest budget and the NB Power deal to the Nova Scotia business community.
He said he wasn’t in Halifax to poach jobs with the lure of lower taxes and cheap power.
“Certainly, I talked about the opportunities for business partnerships,” he told The Daily Gleaner on Monday. “That would seem to be a natural opportunity, especially between two neighbouring provinces.”
Byrne said there may be opportunities, for example, to bring businesses to the region that will provide benefits to both provinces.
“There are many companies that have offices both in Nova Scotia and in New Brunswick,” he said. “There are opportunities to further those relationships as well.”
Byrne attended a luncheon sponsored by the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies.
Last week, the finance minister tabled a budget with a near-record deficit of $749 million, leading to a record debt of $9.5 billion, and a record capital spending program worth $896.1 million.
Byrne said he talked about the province’s plans to lower taxes, reduce energy costs, balance the budget in six years and the deal to sell NB Power.
“There is a lot of interest in Nova Scotia, especially on the NB Power deal and the whole issue of competitiveness,” he said.
He said the Halifax audience asked about the opportunities for Nova Scotia after NB Power is sold, about running power through New Brunswick and about the evaluation of the utility’s assets.
Byrne said he also talked about work to improve co-operation on labour mobility and transportation between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.
In addition, Byrne met with Nova Scotia Finance Minister Grant Steele and talked about the upcoming finance ministers’ meeting and the upcoming federal talks about equalization and transfer payments.
Charles Cirtwill, president and CEO of the institute, said the Nova Scotia business community was listening closely when Byrne talked about lower taxes and lower power rates.
“I think it is very, very interesting that a minister of finance from New Brunswick was here in Nova Scotia talking about self-sufficiency, talking about lower taxes, talking about getting their spending under control,” he said.
Cirtwill said usually it’s the premier of a province, not a finance minister, who gives such speeches.
“The timing is interesting,” he said.
Cirtwill said Byrne’s speech shows the Liberal self-sufficiency agenda remains focused on getting more people and business to move to or do business in New Brunswick.
“I think they have something of value to sell,” he said.
Cirtwill said he didn’t hear anything new in the speech.
Byrne said at least three times that the province wasn’t giving up its energy sovereignty when it sells NB Power, he said.
“Clearly, that concern is resonating with them and they want to respond to it in as firm and absolute language as they can find,” said Cirtwill.
But if that’s the case, why is energy regulation even mentioned in the memorandum of understanding, he said.
“New Brunswickers are, quite appropriately, asking for some very specific clarification about what exactly the extent of that clause means “¦ and what it is going to look like five years from now,” he said.
Cirtwill also said the deal to sell NB Power is facing opposition in New Brunswick and the government strategy aims to build positive reviews outside the province to which it can point.
He said he doesn’t think Byrne changed the minds of anyone who supported or opposed the deal before they entered the room.
“Business people (in Nova Scotia) that I have talked to are very interested in what is going on,” said Cirtwill.
“A lot of businesses here … are interested in terms of what the long-term implication is for them.”
Cirtwill said the key question about the deal for New Brunswickers is what will be the electricity rate in New Brunswick in year seven of the deal.