Social Development Minister Kelly Lamrock is denying there is any rift between him and the Liberal government over the proposed NB Power sale.
Lamrock was asked by Radio-Canada after Tuesday's throne speech whether he plans to vote in favour of the agreement that will sell the majority of NB Power's assets to Hydro-Québec for $4.8 billion.
Lamrock refused to offer a definitive answer and said he's studying the deal. He will listen to constituents at a public meeting that he will arrange in his Fredericton riding and then vote according to his conscience, he said.
"Each MLA, on such a historic vote, and in a sense on a vote that's final, has to be prepared to think about the provincial interest, and not his or her partisan interest. What that means is that I'm learning, but that's all I'm prepared to say," Lamrock said in French.
"There are people in whom I have a lot of confidence who want to present something to me. I'm prepared to read it. I'm going to listen, I'm going to hold a few public meetings in my riding and I'm going to vote my conscience."
If Lamrock were to vote against the NB Power sale, he'd likely have to resign his cabinet post.
Lamrock issued a statement saying that his insistence on listening to his constituents should not be interpreted as being opposed to his government.
"I support the government and its agenda. As I expressed in the interview, I have great faith in my premier and I believe that the MOU with Hydro-Québec deals with issues like lower power rates, a competitive edge for the businesses that employ New Brunswickers, and a reduction of a debt that is unseemly large for a small population," Lamrock's statement said.
"My statements that my colleagues and I are listening to and learning from New Brunswickers, and prepared to act in what we sincerely believe is the provincial interest, do not change the fact that I support the leader, the government and its agenda for self-sufficiency without reservation."
Graham defended Lamrock during a province-wide CBC call-in program on Wednesday morning.
"He clearly supports this deal that's going to lower power rates for every single New Brunswicker, and eliminate debt. He was a member of the cabinet team that made this decision," Graham said.
Deal about jobs
Graham told reporters during a news conference on Tuesday that any opposition leader who opposes the deal is standing in the way of job creation.
"So when people hear the criticism of this deal today from the opposition parties, that they're against this deal, they're against creating jobs," Graham said.
"The Conservative Party is against creating jobs when they stand up and say they're against this deal."
Under the proposed agreement, Hydro-Québec will pay $4.8 billion for the majority of NB Power's assets, a sum that will wipe out the utility's debt.
Additionally, Hydro-Québec will freeze residential rates for five years and then cut large industrial rates to the level paid currently by Quebec companies. The New Brunswick government values the rate savings at $5 billion.
'I think the premier is clearly being quite disingenuous if he would expect anybody would come out immediately with a plan.' — Opposition leader David Alward
The Liberals used the throne speech to highlight the benefits of the deal as an economic stimulus package.
The throne speech quoted several business leaders who supported the agreement. And Graham told reporters that he's spoken with corporate executives since the deal was announced who are interested in investing in the province to take advantage of the power prices and lower taxes.
Graham then criticized Opposition leader David Alward on Tuesday for failing to offer an alternative solution to selling NB Power.
Alward's Progressive Conservatives are against the proposal and have demanded an election over the sale.
When confronted with Graham's challenge to present a different way to cut power rates and pay down the utility's debt, Alward said it's too early for him to offer any solutions.
"I think the premier is clearly being quite disingenuous if he would expect anybody would come out immediately with a plan. Our plan, No. 1, is this is not a good deal. We are going to work very hard with the people of New Brunswick to stop this plan," Alward said.
"Right now we need to make sure the people of New Brunswick understand what the implications of this agreement are, and then we'll move forward."