NB Power: A Treasure or a Burden?
By Mike Lushington
Once again, I am confused. For years, it seemed that the only words anyone had to say about NB Power was that it was an economic disaster. The nuclear facility at Point LePreau has been costing the taxpayers of the province a million dollars a day in supplementary fuel costs while the refurbishment drags on and on ... and on. Safe to say, LePreau will be an albatross around the collective neck of the New Brunswick taxpayer for some generations to come. One doesn't want to whisper the word "Orimulsion" too loudly around sensitive corporation officials, ministers of the government, or generally aware taxpayers, either. That supposedly lucrative deal with our good friends from Venezuela has been another disaster, particularly as it applied to the fiasco at Colson Cove.
Not much else seemed to be working well either - or at least, that seemed to be the theme of media reports and "letters to the editor" of provincial and local newspapers for at least the past ten years. Governments have tried to privatize the corporation, to divide it into more workable, smaller entities, and so on. Talk to anyone in the street about NB Power about what a great deal it was and has been for New Brunswickers and you were very likely to get that "What did you put in your coffee this morning?' look.
And then the current government shocked everyone in the province that it was going to sell the corporation - our very own NB Power, a treasured piece of our heritage and our legacy. Mr. Graham might as well have announced that he was going to dam the Reversing Falls or bulldoze the Hopewell Rocks and turn the area into a parking lot. At times, fervour for this suddenly sacrosanct monument to our independence and our very identity seemed to rise to what one might expect if the Pope were to announce that the Church was selling the Sistine Chapel to a group of brothel operators.
Before I further demonstrate my confusion (or dig a hole too deep to scramble out of) I should admit that when I heard the news of the proposed sale of NB Power to Quebec (minus LePreau, I realize), I reacted with mild surprise that this government, which so often has seemed very indecisive, would take such a bold move. I then thought that it might not be a bad deal at all, at least if the initial terms (as I understood them) were to hold up: that Quebec would assume the debt of the corporation (thereby removing the albatross) and provide us with clean hydroelectricity at market competitive prices. In the end, I guess that I simply failed to understand that, in the minds of many people in the province, this was not an economic proposition at all, but a sacrilege against everything that we are supposed to hold sacred.
In the end, I really don't care much one way or the other. I am acting on the assumption that when I flick a light switch, the lights will come on, that I am going to have to pay something for that, and that, in that regard, the future will seem pretty much like the present. But I do have to wonder what it is about NB Power itself that makes it such a symbol of New Brunswick identity. Would we had had the same collective sentiment over the wholesale selling of our forests over the past century. And I must admit that I have to wonder how we would be reacting if the proposed purchaser were from Ontario, or that model of political restraint from Newfoundland.