After reading David Alward’s call to arms designed to whip up public sentiment against this NB Power sale, I decided to see if the media was also spending 90% of its effort to hammer the deal – based not on facts but on hypothesis and conjecture. My first target was Jacques Poitras because a few of his tweets seemed to also be tilted towards fanning the fear of the unknown rather than an objective assessment of facts.
Before I took a strip off Mr. Poitras on this page, I decided to review all of his many, many tweets on this subject and ended up realizing that his is tweeting at least both sides of this of this with relative equality.
A Google search and quick scan of 50 or so stories also indicates a fair mix of reportage.
But back to Alward. I’ll throw in my usual disclaimer that all my family – close and extended are PCs or Conservatives and have been for generations.
It’s back to the future all over again. Bernard Lord did the same thing – on a smaller scale – with the toll highway in 1999 and made a promise that ended up costing New Brunswickers in lost revenue and increased debt payment what is now well into the $200 million and counting range. And, ironically, most political observers that I talked to during that election told me that he would have won without it.
So now Alward is making this his political crusade in order to tilt the scales in the voting booth. It is fascinating to me to watch this. Most of the points being made against the deal amount to hypotheticals. As far as I can tell, when you peel all the “sold down the river” rhetoric, his opposition to the deal is based on these points. You can read them here directly:
If you are an ordinary New Brunswicker, you’re being sold down the river. In all honesty we expected a substantial rate reduction. But no reduction at all, especially while big industry gets a break of 30 to 35% is totally, totally unacceptable. We know the Shawn Graham government always puts big business ahead of people, but usually it’s not as blatant as this. This is outrageous.
According to Statistics Canada, in the last five years, the average New Brunswick household saw a 28% increase in the cost of household electricity – the fastest growth rate among the 10 provinces in Canada. A five year rate freeze for Alward is “totally unacceptable”.
I knew the Jeannot Volpe was anti-“big business” because some of the comments he made as interim leader really shocked me but I had hoped that the Conservative Party, the party of free enterprise and markets would have reverted to at least a more nuanced view of this. But to be slamming “big industry” like this is just plain weird. “Big Industy” employs tens of thousands of New Brunswickers and accounts for 98% of all exports from New Brunswick.
And while there will be no residential rate change for five years, five years isn’t that long, and after that – look out! Notice there are no restrictions on how high Hydro Quebec will be able to raise rates. And control over our electrical energy will no longer be made at the New Brunswick Legislative Assembly – those decisions will be made at the Assemblee Nationale.
Five years isn’t that long (?). 28% increase in electricity costs from 2003-2007. At that growth rate, I’d say five years is very long. As for “no restrictions” unless there are extraordinary circumstances the rate increases will be capped to inflation – or in other words far less than the last 10 years of NB Power increases.
Our public utility has given us control over our energy supply since NB Power was incorporated 90 years ago. It meant we had control over our destiny. To surrender this to another jurisdiction should never be allowed without the consent of the owners – the people of New Brunswick. What this amounts to is giving up our basic constitutional rights.
I guess Alward was equally outraged when Emera (a TSX-listed company) bought Nova Scotia Power or when Fortis (a TSX-listed company) bought Newfoundland Power and Maritime Electric (PEI). Those basic constitutional rights aren’t what they used to be.
And the capper, of course, is quoting our old friend Danny Williams. Premier Williams, with all due respect, is in it for Danny Williams. David Alward should be in it for the people of New Brunswick.
There are a few voices calling on Alward to put his plan forward. To show people his plan to eliminate the runaway increases in residential and industrial electricity rates. His plan to deal with the $5 billion in NB Power debt. His plan to get New Brunswick off carbon-based electricity generation and where the billions in new investment would come from.
Obviously, the Hydro-Quebec deal comes at a cost. New Brunswick will lose potential future revenue as a transmitter of electricity to the U.S. but we have been shipping hundreds of millions already to the U.S. and rates are still up 28% in five years. New Brunswick will lose some control over future electric generation investments in the province. But, again, what are the alteratives?
I’ll put a few alternatives in my TJ column this week but none of them make much sense when put up against this one.