Lots of PR, little substance

Dave Bartlett
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APEC will review Hydro-Quebec's deal to buy NB Power

The president of the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council (APEC) says there are a lot of unanswered questions about a deal which will see Hydro-Quebec buy New Brunswick Power.

Elizabeth Beale told a business conference in St. John's Thursday the council will do a full policy review of the memorandum of understanding (MOU) before it passes judgment on how good or bad the deal is for both New Brunswick and the Atlantic region as a whole.

Elizabeth Beale, president of the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council, says the organization will review the agreement which will see Hydro-Quebec buy New Brunswick Power for $10 billion. - Photo by Dave Bartlett/The Telegram.

The president of the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council (APEC) says there are a lot of unanswered questions about a deal which will see Hydro-Quebec buy New Brunswick Power.

Elizabeth Beale told a business conference in St. John's Thursday the council will do a full policy review of the memorandum of understanding (MOU) before it passes judgment on how good or bad the deal is for both New Brunswick and the Atlantic region as a whole.

The $10-billion deal was announced late last month and characterized by Premier Danny Williams as a power grab by a "greedy" company.

The topic was brought up a couple of times before Beale's speech at APEC's annual economic outlook for the year.

APEC economist Patrick Brannon called it a "hot topic in the region."

His colleague and co-panelist Fred Bergman took a question from the floor about the deal, but said it's too early to draw many conclusions about it.

"APEC has committed to look at the deal closer," he said.

When it was Beale's turn to speak, she called the agreement a divisive topic.

She said when APEC held a similar conference in Saint John, N.B. earlier this week it was the focus of many conversations.

"We might as well have talked about nothing else," she said.

But Beale cautioned people not to jump to conclusions about the deal, as a lot of the research that went into the deal has still not been made public.

"We're looking (at) and evaluating this deal and I think it's very honest to say at this point that (there's) such a complex set of issues around this," Beale said.

"There are many questions about the proposed rate structure in the MOU," she continued. "The benefits are clearly steered towards a very narrow group of large industrial users."

Beale said there is considerable unease in New Brunswick about the deal.

She said there's been "lots of (public relations but) not an awful lot of substance behind this debate."

"At this point, the MOU has been released in New Brunswick with absolutely no policy papers (or) discussion papers behind it. I think that's a mistake, frankly," Beale said.

She said other Atlantic-Canadians feel "left on the sidelines" of the historic debate.

Beale said APEC is putting pressure on the government of New Brunswick to also do a full policy review.

And she said the deal raises the need for a national energy strategy.

Beale said that when the Atlantic premiers meet in Labrador next week, there will be a good opportunity for discussion of the issue.

dbartlett@thetelegram.com

Organizations: APEC, Hydro-Quebec, NB Power New Brunswick Power

Geographic location: New Brunswick, Atlantic, St. John's Saint John Labrador

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