N.B. leader ‘frustrated’ by tactics of N.L., N.S. politicians in opposing power pact

FREDERICTON – Premier Shawn Graham has sent a blistering response to fellow premiers Danny Williams and Darrell Dexter, making it clear he’s frustrated by the “misinformation” the two are spreading about the proposed deal to sell NB Power to Hydro-Québec.

Graham said at a hastily called news conference on Friday he has repeatedly tried to assure the premiers of Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia that there would be no change in the rules governing access to transmission lines running though New Brunswick.

Focusing his most intense attack on Williams, Graham insisted it’s not New Brunswick’s fault that Newfoundland and Labrador negotiated and signed a deal years ago with Hydro-Québec that they now regret – the Churchill Falls agreement.

“While we are looking forward to building on our long history of co-operation with our neighbours in Quebec, we will also be making sure that New Brunswickers are protected in the future,” he said.

“The fact that Newfoundland neglected to secure those protections for its people is regrettable, but not our fault.”

Graham said he is “extremely frustrated” by the fact that Williams and Dexter went to the news media with their most recent letter before they sent it to his office.

“We are happy to talk to Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador about broader partnerships, but unfortunately it seems that Premier Williams is more interested in publicity stunts than he is in constructive discussion and improvement.”

In their letter to Graham, Williams and Dexter demanded written guarantees for their regional companies to transmit power through New Brunswick under existing rules, which provide open access, before the sale to Hydro-Québec is complete.

They’re also asking that New Brunswick agree to build a transmission line to the Maine border, separate from the power grid that already exists.

While Graham had nothing but criticism for the “self-interested” Williams, he held out an olive branch to Dexter in Nova Scotia.

“This is a win-win for Nova Scotia, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to advance two of the basic principles of the NDP – clean air and reduced costs to the average citizen,” Graham said of the New Democratic government in Nova Scotia.

He said if Nova Scotia decides to stick with Newfoundland and Labrador in hopes of the eventual development of the Lower Churchill Falls, it could be as long as 15 years before the province sees any benefits.

“But by partnering with New Brunswick, Quebec and Prince Edward Island, with this proposed agreement, the benefits to Nova Scotians could be felt much earlier. Imagine the difference 15 years of clean energy would make to the people of Nova Scotia,” Graham said.

The premier said there are sections of the memorandum of understanding with Hydro-Québec that clearly protect open access in New Brunswick and oversight of open access by New Brunswick.

“Newfoundland and Labrador has to bid on that access like any other jurisdiction,” said.

“Let me be very clear, this proposed agreement would be a great benefit to New Brunswick and New Brunswickers and it would not impose any disadvantage on Newfoundland and Labrador nor Nova Scotia.”

Graham said it’s curious that there were no bids from Newfoundland in 2008 when access on the New Brunswick transmission system opened to bids.

The lines now are fully booked.

However, Graham said the province is willing to have discussions regarding the construction of transmission through New Brunswick to meet the needs of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador.

Graham accused Williams of not practiscing what he preaches.

“In Newfoundland’s offshore projects, New Brunswick companies line up behind Newfoundland providers for scraps left by local preferences on construction projects and labour needs,” an angry Graham said.

The heated exchange of letters is just the latest development in the intensifying war of words over the proposed NB Power sale.

Small protest groups are now showing up at public appearances by Liberal MLAs and ministers. The protesters pepper Grits with questions about the proposed sale.

In the legislature, the Opposition Progressive Conservatives have launched an unrelenting attack on the deal.

Opposition leader David Alward said Friday that Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador have reason to be concerned about the prospects for open access through a transmission system controlled by Hydro-Québec.

“This is a premier who is jamming this deal down the throats of New Brunswickers, in the same way Quebec will jam up the lines after,” Alward said.

“The other provinces have reason to be concerned. Premier Graham is driving a wedge between the Atlantic provinces.”