Liberals ram Enbridge settlement through legislature

New Brunswick's Liberal government rammed through a bill to implement its legal settlement with Enbridge Gas on Friday, the final bill to win approval of the legislature before the Christmas break.

Final bill approved before Christmas allows government to implement settlement of lawsuit

Enbridge's lawsuit settlement with New Brunswick once again gave the company exclusive natural gas distribution rights in the province. (CBC )

New Brunswick's Liberal government rammed through a bill to implement its legal settlement with Enbridge Gas on Friday, the final bill to win approval of the legislature before the Christmas break.

There was a festive air in the chamber with MLAs from all parties reciting Christmas poems and exchanging best wishes, which may explain why the controversial bill passed with no fireworks.

"Trash-talking Enbridge, trash-talking Enbridge, that got us closure, whoa!" Green Party Leader David Coon sang to the tune of Jingle Bells in his Christmas message, referring to a Liberal motion earlier in the week to limit debate on the legislation.

The Opposition Progressive Conservatives complained about the bill for weeks but offered only a muted "nay" when it came time to vote.

2011 law repealed

The bill repeals a 2011 PC government law that unilaterally tore up Enbridge's agreement with the province, ending its exclusive gas distribution franchise and putting new limits on the rate increases it could seek.

Enbridge responded with two lawsuits claiming $820 million in damages. Earlier this fall, the Gallant Liberals reached an agreement with the company to end the legal battle.

In return, Enbridge will get the right to seek uncapped rate increases starting in 2020.

"Residential ratepayers especially, I believe they're going to get hit quite hard," PC Jake Stewart said after the vote.

Stewart also criticized the settlement for extending Enbridge's franchise for another 25 years, to 2044.

He said the government should have simply repealed the Progressive Conservative law and then started fresh with Enbridge when the company's existing agreement expired in 2019.

25-year deal

Energy Minister Rick Doucet said the company needed a 25-year agreement because pipeline companies need to plan for the long term.

Energy Minster Rick Doucet said Enbridge needed a 25-year deal so it could plan for the long term. (CBC)
"They have a longer contract because the fact of the matter is they have significant amount of infrastructure spending they have to do in the ground, and it's amortized over a longer time," he said.

Doucet wouldn't say what will happen to rates starting in 2020. "If I had a crystal ball, I'd be doing good, but the Energy and Utilities Board will make that determination," he said.

He pointed out the board turned down a request for a two per cent rate increase from NB Power, granting the utility a 1.7 per cent increase instead.

Coon said he opposed the bill because the legislature should have had more time to study it. He wanted it sent to the law amendments committee for public hearings, including witnesses such as Enbridge officials.

"If we looked at it in a committee where we could call witnesses, we'd have the opportunity to examine the deal itself," he said.