Running out of wind

I’ll be glad with the NB Power generation assets sale is behind us.  It’s getting downright silly out there. 

David Coon and Elizabeth Weir are for the deal, Janice Harvey is bitterly against it.  People are planning to boycott Ganong because his panel supported the deal?

We get our oil from Hugo Chavez. And people are going to boycott David Ganong.

All new power coming on the grid in the past few years (wind, replacement power for Lepreau, etc.) all from outside suppliers like the proposed HQ deal.   Not one word of protest.  

I talk about a few of the more serious public policy issues in my column this morning.

I said way back when that the Heritage Pool idea was an excellent mechanism to encourage more energy conservation in New Brunswick.  Good to see that Elizabeth Weir thinks the same thing.  Conservation is a good idea regardless of the source of our electricity.  It will just make the rate freeze even more beneficial to residents.

I told someone yesterday that if I had come back to New Brunswick in 1992 and started to work in a company (one of the 300 I applied to and didn’t get even an interview), worked my way up that company and never had any interaction with NB Power, I suspect my first reaction to the NB Power/HQ deal would have been negative.  Like my biologist friend, I would also think it seems counter to the idea of self-sufficiency to outsource power production to another province. 

So I understand those that are opposed to this deal but I can’t envision a scenario where I would be bitterly opposed and deeply emotional about it.  I would trust the consensus view from experts.  I am sure of that.

The only way I wouldn’t was if I had something to loose.  So I understand Tom Mann’s disapproval (loss of unionized jobs), David Alward’s (political), some of the wind energy consultants, etc. 

But I have personally taken a number of blows on this that I am disappointed about. I don’t know why this had to turn personal.  We could and should just agree to disagree agreeably.

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29 Responses to Running out of wind

  1. Rob says:

    I get the feeling that all this resentment and acrimony is due to a lack of a political relief valve. On a hot water tank, when the temperature or pressure exceeds a given amount, the relief valve opens to allow the tank to vent off excess pressure.

    In NB politics, specifically on the NB Power sale, there is no relief valve until the September election. That’s a good reason why things are running so hot, and why people are accusing neighbours and friends of being traitors and sellouts. I’m not sure whether more consultation, recall legislation, or whatever would help vent off some of the ill will. It’s certainly obvious, especially given the calls for boycotts of NB companies, that we need to do something soon.

    On a side note, residents of eastern Maine will enjoy a roughly 10 per cent rate cut thanks to a new deal with NB Power effective April 1 (http://bit.ly/cGPnxs). The residential electrical rate will drop from just over 9 c/kWh to 7.35 c/kWh. If even half of such a cut had occured in NB, I think Shawn Graham would be looking at a 30 seat majority in the next election.

  2. They are saying that in the U.S. distrust of ‘institutions’ (government, churches, universities, etc.) is at all time HIGH. I think there is some of that here. I tend to be a numbers guy but this is the best example I have seen where numbers can be trumped by emotion and rhetoric. I never thought in my life I would see David Coon and Janice Harvey diametrically opposed to anything.

  3. mikel says:

    Personally, I can’t understand why anybody wouldn’t understand the ’emotion’. Letting an alberta company set up a wind farm is a FAR cry from selling all generation assets to PQ hydro. Hate to say it but that’s just a nutty analogy.

    They say political animosity starts with an inability to walk in another guys shoes. The ‘relief valve’ theory is a bit of a misnomer, it is simply a question of authority. I am simply amazed that ANYONE can endorse a deal that was so poorly thought out and so dictatorially enforced. I’m amazed-but I do at least understand it. Fascist tendencies run deep in Canada, though people don’t see it. I recently read where canadians have the most jingoistic tendencies of any country in the world-even the US.

    Remember, this is a battle. This is a battle to stop a policy. This is not a referendum, this is not ‘politics as usual’. This is political warfare that Graham started. So you can’t be surprised there is emotion or casualties. It IS too bad, but again, it all falls at Graham’s feet.

    But I wouldn’t get too complacent. There are TWO court cases on this, and David Alward has written to Charest and told him that he’s going to tear up the deal. It gets formalized in April, and there are supposedly 1000 pages to the deal, so in those five months its doubtful HQ will even get all the forms signed. Believe what you want, this is all far from over.

    I don’t think ‘silly’ is the right word. Ganong here is picking sides. He shouldn’t have agreed to be on this panel, one that excluded numourous groups from even presenting to them. There conclusions are pretty much parroting the government line, no surprise when you look at who gave them the information. And somebody pointed out that Ganongs have gotten more than three million of YOUR dollars just in the past three years. Funny nobody was talking about that when they were griping that fatkat got a measly 1.5 million over six years. So its quite something that a guy with a company that gets taxpayers money would say ‘owning assets really isn’t that big a deal’.

    So its really not that silly. It’s ALL unfortunate. I think if David Alward has any kinds of brains at all, when he’s elected he’s going to take the whole thing-any penalties that Hydro Quebec may impose, and call a referendum. If he doesn’t, he’s the DUMBEST politician I’ve seen since Graham. Oh yeah, and Graham is getting sued for his health care amalgamation as well-and THIS is a guy people trust to make a good deal?

  4. richard says:

    “I get the feeling that all this resentment and acrimony is due to a lack of a political relief valve”

    I think that is right. But there is also the surprise factor; NBers have been kept in the dark re the status of NB Power. McKenna saw the problems, did nothing; Lord saw the problems, did nothing. Various experts have weighed in over the past few decades sounding the alarm bells; nothing was done. EUB lacks the authority to get data from NBP, so everyone outside a tight circle was deprived of information. Where would we be now if, a couple of decades ago, the story had been properly told and a public discussion ensued. Perhaps NBP could have been fixed at little cost; perhaps we would have a sensible energy policy instead of a utility that has been used a job creation agency.

    Its been the same for many issues facing NB. Lack of real discussion, lack of information, a press with its own agenda, and a public that prefers to sleep most of the time.

    ” I never thought in my life I would see David Coon and Janice Harvey diametrically opposed to anything.”

    Strange, eh? Perhaps CCNB is hedging its bets.

  5. It turned personal because that’s how party politics are played out these days (mostly, but not exclusively, from one side of the political spectrum).

    The intent is not to criticize, but to intimidate into silence, thereby gaining exclusive control of the field of public discourse, from which opinion is created by constant repetition of the same ‘fact’.

    This tactic has been applied on an meta-scale with the widespread acquisition and domination of major media, and a medium level through flooding of letters-to-the-editor pages and the like, and at ground level by personal attacks and intimidation.

    It had been relatively absent in new Brunswick while the Conservatives were in power, but the election of the Liberals and consequent power vacuum in the Conservatives set off a firestorm. The local newspapers embarked on a campaign of raw hatred and individual operatives initiated the personal attacks you are observing here.

  6. Speaking of personal attacks, I am still getting 10-15 a day from some guy who likes to impress me with his anti-immigrant, anti-French, racist, anti-government and essentially pseudo-intellectualism. In fact, it has gotten downright creepy with him Googling me, finding old comments or elements of my resume and sending them to me with annotations. When I contacted Aliant they told me to contact the RCMP. I am not willing to bring in the RCMP – it seems strange to bother them with this silliness. I have been trying to dodge his comments by blocking his IP (he figured this out) and other tactics. All this to say that if you don’t see a post getting approved, send me a private email and I’ll post it for you. It could be possible that my settings will block out some interesting commentary. For those of you that post regularly you should be fine.

  7. Don Dennison says:

    Folowing this dabate carefully, I see that people are beginning to see, especially after the release of the’Ganong’ Report(in pointing the way to investments in power saving new technologies and better regulation) that the second deal is better than the first in many repects. The second does provide what many are calling for – a block power purchase by NB Power from Hydro Quebec, while leaving the crown owned utility in place.
    Additional load beyond that block will have to be acquired at invevitably higher prices, putting the onus on conservation and engineering innovation. In this regard I see David Coon and Janice Harvey being in the same place and entirely consistent with their long standing aims.

  8. Chris Baker says:

    Did you mean that “distrust of ‘institutions’ (government, churches, universities, etc.) is at all time low” or that “trust” in these institutions is at an all-time low? (I think you mean the latter.)

    I find the most worrying this about the current state of politics in NB is the almost complete substitution of research and thought by hysterics and invective – regardless of which side of the issue people might be. The fact that you are being bombarded by an individual with a particilar axe to grind is just one example of the the larger symptom.

    The media is also complicit. Who, What, Where, When and Why has been replaced by Crisis, Conflict, Controversy and Crime. Not a good basis for a public debate.

    Keep up the good work!

  9. RKA says:

    I have to agree with mikel. Graham’s 100% responsible for this situation – at it was easily avoidable. Unfortunately he’s put himself in a position where he can’t back down and really has nothing more to lose politically by pushing it through.

    But the consequences would be that he’d be leaving in his wake a bunch of very angry New Brunswickers with a grudge against the Liberal party, HQ, Irving, and now Ganongs, McCains, etc. That’s a lose-lose way to start a ‘forever’ relationship and not the environment new big business is going to find welcoming.

    He’s got to put it to the people to make this really go away. The sooner he figures that out the better.

  10. Chris, if you are right then it would logically follow that politicians would take the path of least resistance. Do the absolute minimum required to keep the lights on and the cheques signed but don’t actually propose any bold new initiatives that might be needed but that would trigger the invective you talk about.

    I can tell you from a personal perspective that I am more skiddish now to even mention NB Power in a face-to-face for fear of provoking a verbal assault (which has happened on multiple occasions). I’ll usually tiptoe into it and if I sense a diatribe coming, I quickly steer the conversation elsewhere.

  11. Anoymous says:

    @David Campbell

    “I can tell you from a personal perspective that I am more skiddish now to even mention NB Power in a face-to-face for fear of provoking a verbal assault (which has happened on multiple occasions). I’ll usually tiptoe into it and if I sense a diatribe coming, I quickly steer the conversation elsewhere.”
    >> (*Tongue-in-cheek*) I had to adopt the same strategy when I lived in Atlantic Canada and wanted to expose my thoughts about why equalization is not good for the region…

  12. Samonymous says:

    Good article. I agree, it’s time to change the chanel to important things like the growing fiscal deficit, democratic reform, etc. But I do take acception to one thing you said (surprise lol):

    So I understand those that are opposed to this deal but I can’t envision a scenario where I would be bitterly opposed and deeply emotional about it. I would trust the consensus view from experts. I am sure of that.

    Firstly, as a small “d” democrat, I always consider the “voters” the expert, not unelected people with opinions appointed or hired by government, so lets get that out of the way right away. Secondly, if government is truly representative of the people, it would realize that they were not elected with that strong a mandate, regardless of the rhetoric coming from the premiers office that a majority of voters voted for his charter of change (and thus for radical changes like his power MOU). It was the opposite, in that, more people voted for the status quo than they did for change (PC: 47.50 % of popular vote as opposed to the Liberals with 47.10 %).

    More importantly, when you win with such a weak mandate, I think it is essential that you find ways to work with the others folks across the isle, not to mention, if you decide to shift direction on a particular policy you ran on (not selling NB Power), I think it is important that if legislation goes forward making radical changes, it must go forward with bipartisan legislative support. At the moment, there is no such thing, actually, you have some on the government side telling folks behind close doors that they are not comfortable with it at all. So expert appointed government panels can come out with as many reports as they so choose, but the bottom line is they still have not sold this well if the scales continue to tip in favour of “partisan” support (the already converted) while bringing nobody over from across the isle in favour of this.

    So those in favour of the deal can continue with the line of belittling those who disapprove with the deal and the manner in which it was brought forward (by using terms for citizens speaking out as invective, hystria, rhetoric, conspiracy theories, etc.) or they can respect the other sides current sentiments realizing that most common citizens don’t show up to protest with a ten point power point plan on where we should move forward with the utility.

    Again, if this deal is as good as so many are advertising (including the recent appointed panel), then it should easily move forward with strong bipartisan support. Not just those that are whipped into voting one way or the other.

  13. Sanonymous you are a good man and I appreciate your comments but I have to say I have never heard anybody supports the deal belittling those against it. The belittling – sometimes incredibly savage – is coming from those opposed to the deal.

    Most understand why people might be unsure and nervous about such a large public policy issue and having experts weigh in is exactly the right thing to do. Otherwise it’s just people yelling. I understand the point about mandate but certainly not about expert opinion. By the way, some of the most credible opinion has not been paid by the government in any way (or appointed for that matter) including Bill Marshall and Derek Burney (and I would add Norm Betts although he has been silent publicly on the deal).

  14. mikel says:

    Very interesting comments. For Dave, if I didn’t say it before this is why its better to be in an organization. We went to see Ralph Nader at U Waterloo last year and his advice was ‘start organizations’ or join them. That way, loose cannons have a harder time.

    The effect no doubt is to get you to ‘stop talking about it’. That’s it. Very rarely do people change their minds-although it seems Randy McKeen has changed his. The other problem, again, is a government that is unreachable. Terrorists know what they are doing when they attack civilians-you don’t attack where people are strong, but where they are weak. You can’t reach Graham (until september) but other supporters and businesses you can.

    And this is unfortunate because its all over the web. Years ago when these torture allegations in Afghanistan were in the media I pointed out that being in the ICC then canadian soldiers who hand over suspects who are summarily tortured can be tried with war crimes. And boy did that get responses. Try criticizing the seal hunt in the maritimes, usually now at the CBC when I post comments on certain topics I don’t bother looking at them again because I can guess what they look like.

    I should point out that I know many fairly high ‘local liberals’ (not the kind with any clout), and many now say they aren’t that unhappy with the new deal. The biggest problem many liberals say now is that its going to be next to impossible to campaign effectively for the next election.

    But again, I understand the emotion, and even here we’ve seen comments that simply aren’t true, so lets not talk like we’re a panel of wise men and everybody else is just stupid. Had this been handled correctly I think New Brunswickers COULD have looked into this issue and voted on a referendum with good information without all the animosity. They may not have voted the way some want, but thats democracy. Perhaps thats one of the reasons Graham did it this way, I don’t know.

    Unfortunately thats what emotions do (although I think the anti french comments are pretty regular regardless). Like I said before, I was in the facebook group the first week and posted fairly regularly-even suggested MONTHS ago that there should be a court challenge. Then I argued that a girl had wrong information on NBPOwers finances and you should have seen the *&^% fly! And I am an OPPONENT of the deal. There were people within the group attacking other people within the group! But again, it was very few people, but their noise can often make them sound bigger than they really are.

    The unfortunate thing is that this is ONE issue (albeit a big one). So the opposition may very well win a mandate, perhaps a LARGE mandate, by essentially not advancing any policy at all. It was bad when it happened with McKenna, it’ll be bad now.

  15. Samonymous says:

    Point taken (and you are a better man than I as I would have launched an RCMP investigation on those anon crackheads) ;).

    Anyway, back to your point about people “yelling” and “screaming.” And as I say, there is a reason for that. I think the deal itself (even if it does involve another provincial jurisdiction gaining such a foothold on the industry, not to mention, the fire sale price we are uncompetitively parting with our assets in a buyers market) is livable.

    But where we (“we” being the government’s that get elected to represent us) always come up short is in the top down, heavy handed approach which, by and large, bypasses the “voters.” I think we may have gotten into some bad habits in the late 80s and 90s with consecutive McKenna governments that carried the day with such inflated mandates (i think it was Peter Donolo who once compared Cuba to “Fredericton with palm trees”). Anyway, that said, you could be right about the public getting a bit emotional, but that is because the policy makers underestimated NBers resolve to be included.

    That said, if the Liberals do get turfed in the spring or fall (I say spring because they’ll probably call a snap election so they don’t afford the opposition any time to craft a message), I will hope that the new government their tax cut policy permanent and continues with the debate on NB Power with the people of NB. And if that means breaking a deal with Quebec Hydro 9and probaly paying a penalty) so be it. It’s what Chretien did with the EH101 project, and rightfully so since that is what he presented to the people.

  16. Samonymous says:

    Oh btw, if there was a missed opportunity (or loser) at all in this, it was the fact that the New Brunswick Progressive Conservatives were not able to exploit the outrage and turn it into a couple of million through individual party donations. They will look back and regret that.

  17. richard says:

    “The other problem, again, is a government that is unreachable.”

    Well, that is certainly not correct. GNB has made revisions to the original deal largely because of protests that ‘reached’ right into caucus. Clearly the public opposition to the plan has had them wavering. Furthermore, GNB (under Graham) has modifed or backed down on a number of other policy initiatives, when segments of the public have been vocal. They can be and have been influenced by public displeasure.

  18. Rob says:

    @mikel
    But again, it was very few people, but their noise can often make them sound bigger than they really are.

    There’s a really interesting post on the Facebook discussion board about someone quitting the group due to its increasing radical nature. The fellow is generally against the sale, but feels that the loudest amongst them have made the group look worse than they actually are. He’ll be savaged by the regulars on the group, but I would guess the vast majority of the 30,000 or so members would agree with him.

    We’re at the point where some people honestly think the only way to get their point across is to stop buying chocolate, and we still have another two months of “debate” to go. It’s probably going to get worse as those same people grow increasingly frustrated and March 31 approaches.

  19. mikel says:

    What I meant by unreachable is that apart from the anger and protest there is little anybody can do. I”m not in NB so I first mentioned a court challenge, I think there is ample precedent in NB for a court challenge to be successful and that would have helped keep things ‘civil’. For whatever reason they ignored it, and the court challenges that finally arose I don’t think were even from members of the group. I think many feel that simply JOINING is an act of protest, and many, well, us HERE too think that just talking is some sort of political activism. Some may feel that the more they shout down the opposition, the ‘more they are doing for the cause’. That’s certainly not new.

    The government backed down, which unfortunately gives people MORE license, because they’ve seen it be successful. However, it has been sheer numbers that made the changes possible. I agree with the above about the PC’s AND the NDP. The fact that neither of them increased their party membership or donations really says something about the political climate.

    But like I said, an irish friend once said to me that if that were Ireland something would have been burned down by now. It IS too bad that there are few blogs, and few in support, I hope David gets a couple of contracts just because of his taking so much flak for something he didn’t do.

  20. Chris Baker says:

    It was Sheila Copps, a politician who never shied (sp?) away from a good scrap, who said “Never fear the fire.”

    There are many politicians, including the previous Premier of NB, who embrace the notion that the best way to avoid making mistakes is to never make decisions. While that may be a good strategy for political survival, it never makes good sense from governance aspect. Timely decisions are often less costly than those that are dragged out of the system.

    And, frankly, how can you expect to enter public life and believe that it will be all sunshine and roses?

    It was Louis Robichaud who said “Half measures plus half measures equals nothing.”

    @David Campbell

  21. richard says:

    ” I will hope that the new government their tax cut policy permanent ”

    Any party that promises that will have to state exactly how they are going to deal with the fiscal debt. If they say that keeping the tax cuts will stimulate growth and pay for themselves (in stark contrast to historical data), then, yes, perhaps we should start burning a few things down. NBers need some hard honesty from politicians, not more rhetorical BS. If they had been honest with the electorate over the past few decades, NB Power would not be a political issue today.

  22. LJR said that? That’s a real zinger.

  23. Samonymous says:

    It IS too bad that there are few blogs, and few in support, I hope David gets a couple of contracts just because of his taking so much flak for something he didn’t do.

    Contracts? Contracts? So you’re insinuating that David would only take abuse in the public sphere if it meant financial gain and not because he believes strongly in his position? I find that hard to believe that David would go for that (as I’m sure he’s just glad to get the extra hits on his blog). As for you mikel, I’m quite surprised (actually shocked) that someone like yourself who self appoints himself as such a believer in grassroots democracy and citizen inclusion would be touting top down political patronage as a reward for public duty. Shame! 😉

  24. I have a 10 1/2 year streak as a consultant that has never received a dime of business from any provincial government department or agency. My business is mostly local economic development organizations, a little bit of federal government-level work and private sector. I have done work for provincial departments/agencies in other provinces.

    I certainly wouldn’t mind doing some consulting in related areas for the provincial government but I am not holding my breath.

  25. Samonymous says:

    I’d like to see the base salaries of all the ED consultants at the provincial level shrink, thus giving them larger incentives/commissions to those that are successful attracting business investment and opportunities. You could even write in bonuses and penalties for those investment that pan out or fail so as to prevent economic developers to attract risky (or should I say) political driven bad ventures. Just a thought.

  26. mikel says:

    Hits on a blog don’t pay the mortgage. From many a bloggers perspective the number of viewers is irrelevant. Ask David whether he’d rather have 1000 readers a day-or just 200 who are MLA’s and senior bureaucrats.

    If I thought David only stated his opinion in order to gain favours then I wouldn’t have made the claim about getting contracts-particularly since I don’t agree with him on it. I would happily boot out most of the Moncton government ED workers and stick David in there. Or better yet, as part of their job make every ED worker in NB blog their daily activities. If you read the Auditor General’s report on BNB, you’ll note just how little gets accomplished. They list the number of leads various programs get-and their not numbers to be proud of.

    Like Charles Leblanc, even if I don’t agree with their opinions, I have a lot of respect for the work-and sacrifice that goes into it. I’d put Charles on a CBC salary and Dave in charge of economic development-and give them one year to ‘produce':)

  27. Samonymous says:

    Ask David whether he’d rather have 1000 readers a day-or just 200 who are MLA’s and senior bureaucrats.

    Since I don’t profess to know what goes on in David’s mind, I’ll take you up on that. David, would you rather have a diverse group of a thousand or more readers from across the country (some may be expats like mikel or even guys like Paul Wells and editors of the Globe) or a localized bunch that you interact with anyway here in New Brunswick?

  28. My intention with this blog was to generate a broader interest in economic development. If I could have a fraction of the success that Tom Mann has had energizing people against HydroQuebec I’d be thrilled.

  29. Samonymous says:

    Tom Mann you are definitely not. And that’s a good thing.

    It’s like not being Jim Pankiw. 😉

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