'They've lost all control'

Rob Antle
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Williams calls N.B. deal 'a complete capitulation'

Premier Danny Williams says a tentative deal that will see Hydro-Quebec gobble up NB Power for $10 billion in cash and other considerations is a "complete capitulation" by New Brunswick.

"The people of New Brunswick have to look at what they're getting and what they've lost, and I think they've sold the farm here," Williams told reporters in St. John's Thursday.

Premier Danny Williams addresses the media at Confederation Building in St. John's Thursday. Williams was critical of a power deal involving Quebec and New Brunswick. - Photo by Rob Antle/The Telegram

Premier Danny Williams says a tentative deal that will see Hydro-Quebec gobble up NB Power for $10 billion in cash and other considerations is a "complete capitulation" by New Brunswick.

"The people of New Brunswick have to look at what they're getting and what they've lost, and I think they've sold the farm here," Williams told reporters in St. John's Thursday.

"They've lost all control, so it's a complete capitulation."

Earlier in the day, in Fredericton, Quebec Premier Jean Charest lauded the agreement as "an unprecedented energy partnership in Canada."

Charest said the agreement will "provide Quebec with a strategic geographic position with regards to the markets of Atlantic Canada and New England. All Quebecers will benefit from this agreement."

New Brunswick Premier Shawn Graham called it "an exciting opportunity" for his province.

"Homeowners will see rates much lower than under the status quo, and we will now share Quebec's competitive industrial rates. ... Moreover, the elimination of NB Power's massive debt will help us attain self-sufficiency and relieve our children and grandchildren of this burden."

Hydro-Quebec will pay nearly $5 billion for most of NB Power's assets. Rate freezes and rollbacks will add another $5 billion in value to the deal, which must be ratified by the New Brunswick legislature.

Williams advised New Brunswickers to just say no.

"I would think that in the final analysis the people of New Brunswick would reject this," Williams said.

"They've agreed to sell away their future."

Williams said residential customers in New Brunswick will have their power rates frozen at nearly twice the Quebec rates, while industrial prices will drop by a "significant" 20 per cent.

"Perhaps big business, some of the bigger businesses in New Brunswick, I'm being told they're driving this whole exercise," Williams alleged, specifically citing the Irvings.

But the premier insisted Newfoundland and Labrador's plans to develop the Lower Churchill have not suffered a fatal blow.

"We have a good project here. Newfoundland and Labrador fortunately is not totally dependent on the Lower Churchill project being developed. But it will be developed, and it'll be developed on our terms. As I've said before, over my dead body am I going to hand this over to Jean Charest in Quebec."

Thursday's deal, if ratified, would effectively put the two routes to market for Labrador power in the hands of one company.

While open-access rules require jurisdictions to allow the transmission of power, Williams claims Hydro-Quebec is trying to obstruct that process.

But Hydro-Quebec officials attempted to assuage any such concerns.

"The New Brunswick network will remain absolutely open," Thierry Vandal, Hydro-Quebec's president and CEO, told The Globe and Mail.

"All transmission requests will be handled on the basis of absolute respect for the rules of the market and of the regulatory framework."

But Williams said the New Brunswick deal - and possible Hydro-Quebec acquisitions of power companies in Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia - will put Quebec in a position "to direct the economic direction of these three provinces."

rantle@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Hydro-Quebec, NB Power, Globe and Mail

Geographic location: New Brunswick, Quebec, Atlantic Canada St. John's Newfoundland and Labrador Fredericton New England Irvings Prince Edward Island Nova Scotia

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