Assembly of New Brunswick
The Government of New Brunswick tabled a discussion document, Electricity in New Brunswick Beyond 2000, on February 20, 1998. On the same day, it established a task force to consult with "stakeholder groups" to review its discussion paper and to prepare a report on options to a Select Committee of the Legislative Assembly.
The government also made clear its intentions to ask the Select Committee to hold "public hearings" on its discussion paper and on our task force report. It is for this reason that we were asked to identify options rather than to come forward with a series of specific recommendations (see Appendix A for the mandates of both this task force and the Select Committee). In brief, the public hearings on the future of electricity in New Brunswick will begin in earnest with the Legislative Assemblys Select Committee and every effort will be made to review in detail a series of options. The role of the Select Committee will be to identify specific options and to make recommendations to the government.
That said, we can hardly overstate the importance of the contributions made by the "stakeholders" and others in their presentations to the task force. Their contributions had a profound impact on our findings. We both came away from the consultations deeply impressed with the commitment, energy, and knowledge of all those who appeared before the task force. We would also like to highlight the participation of David Folster and Doug Goss in the work of the task force. Both provided extremely valuable assistance and advice throughout the public consultations and the work of the task force would certainly not be as complete without their participation.
In planning the consultations, we decided that we would not turn down anyone who requested a meeting with us. It will be recalled that we placed advertisements in New Brunswick newspapers to invite all interested parties to voice their concerns and opinions. Many responded. In addition, we decided to draw up a list of possible participants and we invited all of them to make a representation to the task force. Again, many responded to our invitation. All in all, over 100 individuals participated in the work of the task force (see Appendix B for a list of the groups and associations who met with the task force). In addition, a number of New Brunswickers wrote to us to register their views on the future of electricity in New Brunswick.
It is important to stress at the outset that we did not have any resources to hire consultants or experts to guide us in our work. We did, however, invite consultants, professionals, and investment bankers to offer their advice and expertise. In doing so, we made it clear that we would not pay any honorarium. Still, many responded positively and provided extremely valuable information. We also want to stress that we did not have a background in the energy sector when we were asked to undertake this work. The disadvantage, of course, is that we both had to deal with a sharp learning curve in planning the public consultations and in writing this report. The advantage, however, was that neither one of us came to this task force with preconceived solutions to the challenges facing New Brunswickers in the electricity sector.
The ground rules for the public consultations were straightforward. Participants were asked to prepare a written brief and to make a presentation to open the discussion. This was followed by an informal question and answer period. We made arrangements to have the presentations and discussions taped and we will make further arrangements to have the tapes turned over to the provincial archives. We have no doubt that the presentations have an historical value and we decided to ensure that a record of them would be available. However, to ensure that the respondents would be free to express their views and to promote a free-wheeling and candid discussion, we agreed to ensure that the contents of the tapes not be made publicly available for a five-year period.
In our meetings with stakeholders, we made it clear that we were there to listen to their views. We wanted to hear all viewpoints and we were careful not to try to shape the discussions to a particular point of view. Indeed, we decided very early on that we would explore all of the options identified in the governments discussion document and we would give them all equal weight. The only direction we gave to the respondents was to state, at the outset in the discussions, that we were not interested in rewriting history. Decisions were made in the past for whatever reasons and New Brunswickers now had a set of assets and liabilities in generating, transmitting, and distributing electricity. The challenge for New Brunswickers is to deal with this reality and to identify measures to strengthen the provinces position in electric power. In brief, we wanted to look to the future and not dwell on the past.
It soon became clear that we were being asked to deal with not only numerous issues but highly complex ones. One respondent noted the massive amount of resources the province of Ontario has committed over a seven-year period to identifying options for the future of electricity in that province. To be sure, the issues in New Brunswick are no less complex. Still, the quality of the presentations made to the task force was such that New Brunswick need not take a back seat to anyone, as it plans for its electric future. We believe that the governments discussion paper, this report and the work of the Select Committee will go a long way in identifying and weighing the key issues and challenges.
There is no shortage of issues when one looks at the future of electrical energy in New Brunswick. The discussion paper identifies many and some of the participants also identified new ones. We decided to focus on what we consider to be the most important ones as defined in the discussion paper. A wide variety of views was expressed throughout the consultations. We can report a widely held consensus that the provinces main objective in electrical energy should be to promote long-term low rates and to ensure that all New Brunswickers have full access to stable and reliable service. It will be recalled that the government made it clear in its discussion paper that one of its key objectives was to "create and maintain jobs through competitively priced electricity."
What then are the main issues? Put differently, what fundamental questions need to be answered? In our view, they include: is the status quo viable? What is the public policy purpose of the New Brunswick Power Commission (NB Power)? Is it still valid today? What are the advantages of public and private ownership? Is there merit in defining more clearly NB Powers three lines of activities generating, transmitting and distributing electrical energy? What are the advantages and disadvantages of monopoly and competitive markets? Should we continue to subsidize residential rates? What about stranded costs? What are the key environmental issues?
Before we consider these questions, it is important to look back and review briefly why New Brunswickers, and indeed all of Canada, embraced the crown corporation concept. In addition, there were some compelling reasons why New Brunswickers opted for a crown corporation to generate and distribute electricity and we need to review those.