New Brunswick

Opposition unveils energy plan

Opposition Leader David Alward has unveiled what he calls the first part of his energy policy heading into this year's provincial election.

Liberals argue consultation is not a plan

Opposition Leader David Alward has unveiled what he calls the first part of his energy policy heading into this year's provincial election.

But the Progressive Conservative plan does not include any concrete steps before the campaign for the Sept. 27 election, only public consultations.

Alward said he wouldn't make any major decisions on a long-term energy policy for the province until six months after becoming premier.

"I would be disingenuous if I came to you today and said, `Have I got a deal for you,' because the energy sector is complex, and New Brunswickers, one thing that has happened over the last few months, they'd said pretty loud and clear, New Brunswick doing things behind closed doors, a few people in a backroom making decisions is not acceptable," he said Wednesday at a luncheon hosted by the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce.

Alward and his party opposed the government's failed plan to sell parts of NB Power's assets to Hydro-Québec.

During that debate, the Liberals taunted him for not having a plan of his own for the utility.

On Wednesday, those criticisms continued. Liberal cabinet minister Kelly Lamrock said consultation is fine, but it's not a plan.

"I feel a little like someone invited me to lunch and gave us a seminar on how to write a grocery list instead," he said.

Stakeholders and experts to be consulted

Alward has asked a Saint John lawyer and a Moncton economist to hold consultations over the next three months with stakeholders across the province, including industry, businesses, First Nations groups and community organizations, as well as experts from NB Power, the Energy and Utilities Baord and the Department of Energy.

Darrell Stephenson and Pierre-Marcel Desjardins will recommend how a future PC government could consult with New Brunswickers on what to do with NB Power.

"Since the Graham government announced its intention to sell our assets to Hydro-Québec, New Brunswickers have become very engaged in discussions regarding how we can make positive changes to address our energy challenges," Alward said. "We want to capitalize on this interest, capture this input and keep the momentum going as we work together to determine solid solutions.

"This will be followed by a number of specific energy related commitments that will be announced over the coming weeks and months," he said.

J.D. Irving Ltd., which had been pushing for the industrial power rate cut proposed under the Quebec deal, will take part in the consultations, said spokeswoman Mary Keith.

"We look forward to participating in what hopefully will be ideas that get deployed sooner rather than later," she said.

Alward promised monthly updates on the consultations.

He also plans to request all documents, studies and analysis gathered by the Liberal government during the failed negotiations with Quebec.

A PC government would not sell part or all of NB Power, he said. If there were recommendations in favour of selling, he said he would put them to a referendum in the spring of 2012.

Alward would also establish an energy commission within a week of being sworn-in as premier, he said. It would have a dual purpose - recommending a progressive energy policy for the province and on the future direction of NB Power within six months.

Stephenson is a Saint John lawyer whose areas of expertise include energy law. Desjardins is an economist at the University of Moncton.