Power deal offer from Newfoundland still a possibility: expert

FREDERICTON – Finance Minister Greg Byrne travelled to Halifax yesterday to sell New Brunswick’s newly announced budget, the deal to sell NB Power and the province in general, saying regional partnerships remain a priority of the government.

“Whether we’re talking about the agreement at home or talking about it in other provinces, it’s always been paramount to get the facts on the table and to clear up any misconceptions,” Byrne said. “It’s a great opportunity to really have people answer questions and to answer them directly. I think it’s important to get out and talk to our neighbours.”

Byrne was in Nova Scotia to speak to the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, a group that last week released a report that called for more details in the deal to sell NB Power to Hydro-Québec. It also stated the projected rate savings the Shawn Graham government has been touting are too long-term to be put forward as certainties.

The public talk, which was pre-scheduled to provide an update on the province’s self-sufficiency plan, gave Byrne the opportunity to inform Nova Scotians on a number of activities in New Brunswick, including the energy deal with Quebec.

The finance minister told the crowd of about 70 that the proposed pact would not prevent similar co-operation between the two Maritime provinces.

“Within that arrangement, there’s also opportunity for Nova Scotia to open discussions with Hydro-Québec as well, in terms of their future energy needs. We certainly encourage and welcome that dialogue,” he said.

Last week, Nova Scotia Premier Darryl Dexter, along with Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams, sent a letter to Premier Shawn Graham asking for reassurances about how the NB Power deal would affect their provinces.

The New Brunswick premier responded by repeating his statements from the recent meeting of the Atlantic leaders that there would not be any change, adding that extending the partnership to include Nova Scotia could help that province advance its own environmental goals.

Yesterday, a spokesman from the Nova Scotia Department of Energy said it has already realized significant success in that respect.

“I think we’re talking a lot of steps on that front,” Ross McLaren said.

“We already have renewable regulations. By law, 18.5 per cent of our energy is going to be generated by renewable (energy sources) by 2013. We’re the first province in Canada to have hard caps on greenhouse gas emissions from our electricity sector.”

McLaren added that the two provinces currently have co-operative practices in place and that the department is encouraged Graham wants to discuss energy issues concerning the region.

Charles Cirtwill, president and CEO of the institute that hosted the session, said talking about regional co-operation is easier than actually making it happen and that Nova Scotia’s private utility has been interested in NB Power for some time.

“Emera would be interested for the same reasons that Hydro-Québec is interested. Whether or not they are prepared to make a counter offer to the deal on the table, only they can say,” he said, adding negotiating in public, as the Atlantic provinces have been doing of late, is rarely a good sign.

“It’s worked for (Williams) in the past. I think, to a certain extent, Danny’s feeling a little out-maneuvered by Quebec, which he probably has been, so his nose is out of joint, to a certain extent.”

Nonetheless, Cirtwill said a proposal from Newfoundland and Labrador could yet be on its way.

“I would be very surprised if, while he’s taking this tack of aggressively attacking the deal, he doesn’t have people looking at maybe putting together a counter offer.”