Staff ~ The Cape Breton Post
The ghostly voice of Richard Hatfield echoes through the political ballyhoo over the blockbuster deal that could see Hydro-Quebec take over the New Brunswick electricity system by next spring. The long-serving Tory premier of New Brunswick, who died in 1991, left behind a series of frank, taped interviews. In them he expressed, among other things, biting criticism of what he saw as the imperious attitude of Nova Scotia towards its Atlantic neighbours – New Brunswick in particular.
In Nova Scotia he saw “a very narrow sense of provincial parochialism that, if it’s not 100 per cent or 101 per cent better for Nova Scotia, Nova Scotia wants no part of anything that has to do with partnership or co-operative effort or what have you.” That’s one-sided and perhaps unfair, for the truth is that the Atlantic provinces collectively have done a very poor job of working together on common interests despite much bafflegab on the subject.
What would Hatfield say now about the laments from two of Nova Scotia’s political leaders, Premier Darrell Dexter and Opposition Leader Stephen McNeil, about failure in the recent past to forge an Atlantic energy policy? Now Dexter and his Newfoundland counterpart, Danny Williams, are pleading with (or demanding that) New Brunswick Premier Shawn Graham give them written guarantees that they’ll be able to move power though that province into New England after the deal goes through.
Had there been less me-first parochialism on the part of Atlantic province leaders in years past, might they have found the vision to devise a mutually beneficial energy partnership before an aggressive and well-resourced Hydro-Quebec was ready to move in with an offer the Graham government could not to refuse?
Perhaps such an opportunity will come again, since the Graham government, facing an election within a year, appears to be losing the battle for the hearts and minds of New Brunswickers on the proposed Hydro-Quebec takeover. But right now it’s understandable that New Brunswick government politicians are sounding a little testy about the overtures from Dexter and Williams.
The concern over transmission grid access is legitimate, however, as U.S. energy expert Gordon L. Weil confirms in an analysis of the proposed deal released Thursday by the Halifax-based Atlantic Institute for Market Studies. Weil offers the dubious assurance that the best chance for the locked-in provinces to ensure grid access may come through the American regular, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which has rules for controlling market dominance on the part of utilities sending power south across the border.
Here in the region, the analysis suggests, there will be no effective regulator on transmission access other than Quebec. Ottawa is absent. The Harper government is attempting to bring in national securities regulation, with the voluntary participation of provinces, but this timid step in the name of economic union is about the most we can expect along those lines. A federal government that would force provinces to play fair in the movement of energy sounds like an idea from a long forgotten past when the national interest meant something.