New Brunswick

N.B. government won't call inquiry into 'Orimulsion fiasco'

The Liberal government says it won't hold a public inquiry into what went wrong when a multimillion-dollar fuel deal fell through between NB Power and the Venezuelan government.

The Liberal governmentsays it won't hold a public inquiry into what went wrong when a multimillion-dollar fueldeal fell through between NB Power and the Venezuelan government.

The "Orimulsion fiasco," as Liberals dubbed it during the 2006 election campaign, became a major issue, with now-premier Shawn Graham promising a million-dollar inquiry into what happened.

NB Power had claimed it signed a supply contract with a Venezuelan government-owned fuel company in 2004 to buy inexpensive Orimulsion, a bitumen-based fuel. Venezuela then stopped selling the fuel, causing the deal to fall through.

Last week, the utility announced it reached an out-of-court settlement over the affair.

Venezuela agreed out of court to pay NB Power $338 million to settle a lawsuit over the country's refusal to sell Orimulsion to the utility, even after NB Power spent more than $700 million to renovate the Coleson Cove generating station to burn it.

New Brunswick Energy Minister Jack Keir said his government's about-face on the inquiry issuecomes down to dollars and cents andthat the promised inquiry would be a waste of money.

"I don't know that we want to spend money needlessly for New Brunswickers to do a judicial inquiry that we don't believe now is needed in terms of what we've found since we've come into power," he said Thursday.

Lawyer and prominent NB Power critic Rod Gillis said he wants to see an inquiry go ahead.

Gillis, who represented the Public Utilities Board at rate hearings in the past, said the province should call a judicial inquiry to ensuresuch an expensiveloss isn't sustainedby the province again.

"If there aren't some guidelines to the utility in how to run itself put down by some external review, I'm afraid we might have the same problem all over again," he said.

Gillis's comments echo those made by the premier before he was elected.

"By putting in place an independent judge, we can ensure that the governance process is put in place to ensure this fiasco is never repeated again in our province," Graham said in fall 2006. "New Brunswickers expect leadership on this issue and I'm ready to supply that leadership."

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