Two N.B. reactor developers defend use of Liberal-connected lobbyists
Small nuclear reactor developers Moltex, Arc Nuclear say lobbyists' insight into government relations crucial
The two companies developing small modular nuclear reactors in New Brunswick are defending their use of Liberal-connected lobbyists.
ARC Nuclear has former premier Shawn Graham working on their behalf, while Moltex Energy is using Jordan O'Brien, the one-time chief of staff to another Liberal premier, Brian Gallant.
O'Brien has lobbied several federal government departments and ministerial staffers, along with Liberal cabinet minister Dominic LeBlanc, Saint John-Rothesay Liberal MP Wayne Long and Conservative Senator Percy Mockler.
Moltex's Canadian CEO, Rory O'Sullivan, said they need the government relations expertise lobbyists can provide.
"We are experts in nuclear energy, clean nuclear power," O'Sullivan said. "We are not experts in government relations, but it's almost as difficult.
"So we are hiring lobbyists because we need to know who to go to in government, how government works. … We would love to not have any need for government at all."
Public registrations show who's being lobbied
Graham's public registrations show him lobbying NB Power and the provincial Department of Natural Resources and Energy Development, and contacting Louis Leger, the chief of staff to Premier Blaine Higgs.
He has not recently lobbied his federal Liberal allies in Ottawa.
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Susan O'Donnell of the Coalition for Responsible Energy Development, which opposes small modular nuclear reactors, says the lobbying shows how political connections are driving support for a technology she calls questionable.
"It's a club," she says.
O'Brien would not comment on his work for Moltex, instead deferring to O'Sullivan.
Graham also declined to comment, saying answers from ARC Canada CEO Norm Sawyer would suffice.
Sawyer said Graham is "a bit of an ambassador for us, really."
The former power utility executive, who is from New Brunswick, said Graham has advised ARC on which parts of the province could be part of its supply chain.
"He knows where some areas of the province would need more help than others from an economic perspective," Sawyer said.
"We use him for that piece and because of that he does talk to government a little bit, so he had to register."
Sawyer said he's been able to arrange his own meetings with NB Power.
Lobbyists dealing with government must register publicly
Consultants and in-house lobbyists dealing with the provincial government have been required to register publicly since 2017.
Graham's registration to lobby the federal government for ARC Nuclear lists him as "inactive."
Until last year, Moltex was also using Moncton-based consultant Chad Peters, who has Progressive Conservative connections, as a provincial lobbyist.
His registration showed he lobbied or arranged meetings with several cabinet ministers and NB Power executives.
O'Brien lobbied the federal departments of Innovation, Science and Economic Development;
Finance; Indigenous Services; Environment and Climate Change Canada; Foreign Affairs and Infrastructure Canada.
One of the Finance Department contacts he listed on his registration was Matt DeCourcey, the former Fredericton Liberal MP who was a senior advisor to the minister of finance at the time. O'Brien also lobbied the Prime Minister's Office.
"It's government relations we're buying," O'Sullivan said.
we're doing the meetings and presenting. They're not doing the lobbying.- Rory O'Sullivan, CEO of Moltex Energy Canada
"We're buying to know who to go to, what conversations to have, and that's been very valuable. And we're going to continue with that."
He said the consultants were making introductions but "we're doing the meetings and presenting. They're not doing the lobbying."
ARC Nuclear and Moltex Energy have been waiting for word of federal funding to support their development work.
During last year's provincial election campaign, Higgs said a federal announcement would happen soon after voting day.
Four months later, there's still no sign of it. Ottawa announced an SMR strategy in December, but with no money attached.
O'Sullivan says his team was disappointed. "Of course, yeah. We were hopeful there were going to be some announcements in there."
He said SMRs are "a very complicated file" that takes time for anyone to understand.
Sawyer says he didn't assume that the December announcement of a federal strategy would necessarily involve immediate funding.
"I didn't see that link," he said. "That was an intermediate step, hopefully, to the next step."