Toll scrapping deal going under microscope

New Brunswickers will get an inside look Monday at premier Bernard Lord's deal to remove tolls from the Fredericton-Moncton Trans-Canada Highway.

Politicians will have three days to grill the people who wrote the new arrangement.

Liberal transportation critic Shawn Graham can't wait to get into the committee room at the legislature. Graham says he has a lot of tough questions for the people who drafted this new agreement to remove tolls from the Fredericton-Moncton highway.

"The debate on tolls is over now," he says. "Now the new debate is what it really cost New Brunswickers and the next week is going to be very interesting to see if the Lord government has given us the best bang for our taxpayer's dollars."

One of the issues Graham wants to focus on is the fact that tolls haven't disappeared. A "shadow tolling system" is in place. It counts the number of vehicles using the highway and instead of motorists picking up the tab the government pays the Maritime Road Development Corporation directly.

Premier Bernard Lord says the annual ceiling on those shadow tolls will be $13 million. But Graham hasn't found that number anywhere in the contract.

NDP leader Elizabeth Weir says she wants to know how Lord can claim the new deal will actually save taxpayers money. Especially when it just paid MRDC $30 million to alter the original deal.

"Where did they come up with these mythical future savings and how was it possible to give MRDC a $30 million cheque out of money that you don't have today?" she asked.

Weir says the toll highway deal has been extremely tough to understand. All along she has said the auditor general should review the deal before politicians get a crack at questioning the government.