January 2010

North of 49°
New Brunswick Local Rallies to Stop Sale of Provincial Utility
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The proposed sale of New Brunswick's public power company to Hydro-Quebec is raising concerns among utility workers and consumers across the province.

Under the terms of the deal, Hydro-Quebec, the largest utility in Canada, would acquire NB Power's transmission and distribution system and the majority of its generating stations.

But the $4.8 billion merger, announced on October 29, could end up leading to higher energy prices for New Brunswick residents, who have some of the lowest in eastern North America.

For Fredericton Local 37 Business Manager Ross Galbraith, the sale places the job security and terms and conditions of employment of more than 2,200 IBEW members at risk. Local 37 represents the majority of workers at the utility.

Under the terms set by an agreement between New Brunswick and Quebec, the Dalhousie thermal generating station—which employs more than 100 Local 37 members—would be closed by late 2010.

Two other generating stations, Belledune and Coleson Cove, are also at risk and could be shut down with as little as 12 months notice. Local 37's lawyer Ron Pink told the Canadian Press that there is nothing in the agreement that would guarantee that existing collective bargaining agreements would be respected.

"Our members should not have to wake up every morning wondering if this is the day the clock starts ticking on the closure of their generation station," Galbraith said.

Liberal Premier Shawn Graham says that NB Power is a financial drain on the province, necessitating the sale.

It is an argument that doesn't hold up against the facts, says Galbraith. "NB Power has turned a profit for the last five years in a row."

The move by Graham to sell off New Brunswick's power system has motivated a firestorm of opposition from across the province. Graham has said he hopes to have the deal finalized by the end of March.

On November 17, more than 1,000 protestors came to Fredericton to show their displeasure with the deal.

"This government came to power talking about how NB Power was our greatest asset," Galbraith told the crowd. "Overnight they did a 180-degree turn, telling you it's a m illstone around our necks."

An anti-sale Facebook page has attracted more than 26,000 supporters.

Galbraith says that the IBEW will continue to fight the sale and demand that the government make a firm commitment to uphold its obligations to NB Power's employees.

Fredericton, New Brunswick, Local 37 Business Manager Ross Galbraith spoke to more than 1,000 protestors in the provincial capital on November 17 at a rally against the proposed sale of NB Power to Hydro-Quebec.