Bud Bird blasts 'devious' natural gas reforms

The Alward government's legislative reforms to Enbridge Gas New Brunswick are being criticized as "devious" by a high-profile New Brunswick Progressive Conservative.

The Alward government's legislative reforms to Enbridge Gas New Brunswick are being denounced as "devious" by a high-profile New Brunswick Progressive Conservative.

Bud Bird, a former provincial cabinet minister and a founding investor in Enbridge Gas New Brunswick, issued a statement on Friday, condemning the decision to rewrite the natural gas company’s contract.

Bird called the amendments to the Gas Distribution Act as a "devious breach of a legal franchise agreement."

"What is even worse and indeed unthinkable, is that this legislation also decrees impunity for the government against legal recourse for the damages and losses which result from its actions," Bird’s letter said.

"In my view, Bill 18 is likely the most oppressive legislation in the history of New Brunswick and, as opposed to creating economic development, it places our province’s reputation for trust and integrity in serious jeopardy, inviting reputational damage that will inhibit business investment in New Brunswick for years to come."

The controversy started when the Progressive Conservative government passed the Gas Distribution Act amendments in December.

The reforms came after months of negotiations between the provincial government and Enbridge Gas. The legislative overhaul was introduced without the company's consent.

Under the reforms, Enbridge’s rate categories were changed. It also outlines several key dates on when the company must have its new rates approved by the Energy and Utilities Board.

Current rates are fixed until Sept. 30. Enbridge must make a new application to the EUB under the new rules by May 31.

The rates for residential electricity and residential oil clients are expected to be merged on June 1, then the EUB will make an order setting rates and tariffs.

The distribution system is based on a system that has 30,000 homes and businesses on it. So far, Enbridge has 11,000 customers.

Bird said in his letter that Alward and Energy Minister Craig Leonard are aware of his concerns.

Bird and Denis Loser, a former Liberal cabinet minister and a director of Enbridge Gas New Brunswick, sent a letter to MLAs on their concerns in December.

"It is my strong view that Bill 18 should be rescinded because otherwise it leaves a stain on New Brunswick’s reputation that will not otherwise be eradicated," Bird’s letter stated.

Enbridge Gas said in January that the New Brunswick government is jeopardizing the 400 jobs that have been created around the natural gas system because of the legislative changes.

The company also said the government is risking its reputation as a good place for business to invest by its unilateral attempt to reform the natural gas market.

Bird said he will give interviews about the government's move against Enbridge in the days to come. 

In the 1990s he predicted New Brunswick's distribution system wouldn't work properly because of side deals the government made with JD Irving, Irving Oil and NB Power to avoid distribution fees altogether.

Bird is now calling on government to rewrite those deals to fix the distribution problem, which the government has so far refused to consider.