Decision follows massive 'people power' protest by citizens across New Brunswick. Updated.
Fredericton (25 March 2010) - The New Brunswick and Quebec governments announced Wednesday that the sale of NB Power (ENBP) to Hydro Quebec (HQ) has been called off, ostensibly because of last-minute risks and complications that arose as the two utilities were finalizing details of the $3.2-billion deal.
The announcement was hailed as a major victory by critics of the controversial proposal and widely seen as an attempt by Liberal Premier Shawn Graham to salvage his embattled government as it prepares to face voters in a provincial election this fall.
A massive groundswell of opposition to the sale had built up across the province in recent months, led by a coalition that included the New Brunswick Union of Public and Private Employees (NBUPPE/NUPGE).
James Clancy, national president of the 340,000-member National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE), praised the work of the New Brunswick Union.
"I am proud of the role that the NBU played in building such a broad-based coalition in New Brunswick," said Clancy.
"Hopefully this is an indication that we are going to see more transparency and accountability in the New Brunswick government."
"It was a great day for the every day New Brunswicker," said Tom Mann, the NBUPPE's executive director.
While many people were not shocked to learn the deal had fallen apart, it was nonetheless came as a surprise to hear the news a mere four days after thousands of protesters gathered at the New Brunswick legislature to oppose the sale. The rally coincided with a palpable shift toward a more "democractic, open and accountable government," he said.
"What we've learned over the past three and a half months is that New Brunswickers no longer want to be spectators of politics," Mann added. "They want to be able to participate and they want to have robust debate about decisions that impact them significantly. I believe the premier learned that lesson."
The government's popularity plummeted after the deal was first announced last fall. Polls showed a solid majority of citizens opposed to the sale. The final rally at the the legislature was one of the largest public demonstrations in recent memory in New Brunswick – on any issue.
Critics of the deal included several members of Graham's Liberal caucus, including Tourism Minister Stuart Jamieson who resigned from the cabinet after demanding publicly that the deal be put to a province-wide referendum.
Originally, the sale was to have totalled $4.8 billion and included all of NB Power's generating and distribution assets. The deal was scaled back to $3.2 billion in January in an attempt to appease critics.
By then, several cabinet ministers and backbench MLAs were said to have told the premier privately they would vote against the sale.
When he finally bowed to pressure on Wednesday, Graham did not discuss the backlash against his government but focused instead on what he said was a last-minute dispute with Quebec over risks associated with the deal.
"Hydro Quebec has asked for changes to the agreement that would have unacceptably taken away some of the value and increased some of the risks for New Brunswickers," he said.
Meanwhile, Quebec Premier Jean Charest made a similar statement, claiming that Hydro Quebec was also worried about risks encountered during final negotiations. He also claimed that the price Quebec would have paid did not reflect the value of the assets it would have acquired.
New Brunswick Opposition Leader David Alward said the decision was a victory for all of the people who fought against the sale. "This is a wonderful day for democracy in New Brunswick," he said.
Yves Gagnon, a University of Moncton professor who was one of the loudest opponents, welcomed the news and said it clears the way for true reform. "I think we need to work to restructure the energy sector both in New Brunswick but also in the Maritime region," he said.
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE
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