Premier David Alward is leaving open the possibility of pursuing legal action against the federal government for the cost overruns associated with the Point Lepreau refurbishment project.
Alward was defending his close relationship to the re-elected Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Wednesday and discussing whether that would help the provincial government secure the estimated $1 billion in costs related to the nuclear refurbishment project.
Opposition Leader Victor Boudreau asked Alward during question period whether the New Brunswick government would sue the federal government if it did not offer to pay for the cost overruns.
Alward said he's asked Energy Minister Craig Leonard to compile all of the costs associated with the refurbishment and pass that onto the federal government.
'If we cannot get a deal that we believe is in the best interests of New Brunswickers, we will do whatever other actions we have to do to protect the interests of New Brunswickers.' — Premier David Alward
"We are doing that. We will be providing that. We will be sitting down with the federal government," Alward said.
"Yes, if we cannot get a deal that we believe is in the best interests of New Brunswickers, we will do whatever other actions we have to do to protect the interests of New Brunswickers."
Boudreau did not follow up on what specifically Alward meant by "other actions" or whether the provincial government would settle for less than what it deems to be full compensation for the cost overruns.
Boudreau said the Alward government must begin legal action against the federal government for the cost overruns if there is not money set aside in the upcoming federal budget.
"If full compensation for Point Lepreau overruns is not in the first budget tabled by the Harper government, will the premier finally take the next step and take the federal government and [Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd.] to court to make sure that New Brunswickers get full compensation for the Point Lepreau overruns?" Boudreau asked in question period.
The former Liberal government had threatened to file legal action against the federal government over the cost overruns.
It is unlikely that Point Lepreau compensation will be written into the federal budget, which is expected to be tabled within weeks.
Harper said during the federal election campaign he would reintroduce the budget that was brought forward but not implemented before the election was called.
The March budget did not include a mention of compensation for the reactor project.
Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. had promised to have the reactor generating power again in September 2009. It is now expected Point Lepreau will not be running again until the fall of 2012.
The delays were caused when dozens of calandria tubes flunked air tightness tests after being fused with special inserts designed to hold them in place.
Full compensation sought
The Legislative Assembly passed a motion calling for full compensation for the reactor's delays in April. As well, Leonard said shortly after becoming the province's energy minister that he expected full compensation.
The federal government, however, has never committed to paying for all of the extra costs associated with the delayed nuclear refurbishment project.
Harper has repeatedly said AECL would pay its contractual obligations.
When former premier Bernard Lord signed the refurbishment contract with the federal agency, fixed costs and penalties were set into the contract but it also left the provincial government open for paying for extra costs if the project was delayed.
During the election campaign, Harper visited New Brunswick twice but did not visit Saint John, where the Point Lepreau issue would be of greater significance, and he did not mention the troubled reactor project in any of his public speeches.
While Harper did not address the issue in public during the election, Alward said he spoke to the prime minister about the project on his campaign bus. It is during that meeting where Alward said he agreed to share additional information with the federal government.
He has not said what material specifically the federal government is chasing. AECL is a federal agency that reports directly to the minister of Natural Resources Canada.
The reactor project has been a top priority for both AECL and NB Power for more than six years.