NB Power deal cannot be reopened

QUEBEC CITY, QUEBEC - New Brunswick Premier Shawn Graham may find it more difficult than he expects to make major changes to the deal allowing Hydro-Quebec to purchase NB Power by March 2010.

Quebec's Minister of Natural Resources Nathalie Normandeau said that the sale of NB Power to Hydro-Quebec was a done deal, with no chance of changing the proposed agreement.

“For now we have no intention of re-opening the deal. That's not at all on our radar screen,” Ms. Normandeau said following a cabinet meeting. “There's an agreement that was signed and negotiated beforehand. So that's it.

”

In fact, Ms. Normandeau said that Mr. Graham was well aware that deal would unleash a backlash in New Brunswick, but reassured the Quebec government that he would be able to sell the deal to voters in his province.

“We remain confident in Mr. Graham and his team to explain the deal. There's an important pedagogical exercise that has to be done regarding this agreement,” the minister said.

Ms. Normandeau's comments appeared to contradict those made by Premier Graham in his year-end televised address, in which he suggested changes could be made to the deal after it was reviewed by an independent advisory panel.

“In mid-January, we will receive the report and recommendations from an independent advisory panel. This group of six prominent New Brunswickers volunteered to review the proposed agreement to ensure their fellow New Brunswickers get the maximum benefits,” Mr. Graham said.

“They will undertake a thorough and rigorous analysis of the proposed agreement and offer expert advice to our government. I look forward to their report which will assist our government as we continue towards finalizing this agreement.”

The proposed agreement, unveiled in October, paves the way for Hydro-Quebec to purchase NB Power for $4.8-billion. The deal unleashed strong opposition in New Brunswick, with opponents accusing the Graham government of being short-sighted and handing over the province's sovereignty to Hydro-Quebec.

Mr. Graham addressed those concerns, reiterating that the deal will offer residents lower rates, lower debt and less dependency on fossil fuels while still maintaining the province's “energy sovereignty.”

“Our government will continue to decide what the energy priorities are, what kind of power plants can be built here, and where they can be built,” Mr. Graham said during his televised speech. “And New Brunswick's Energy and Utilities Board will make the final decisions on whether rates can increase.”



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