N.B. premier shrugs off dissent and will press ahead with sale of power plants

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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FREDERICTON - Despite sustained public opposition and the resignation of a cabinet minister, New Brunswick Premier Shawn Graham says he's pushing ahead with the sale of parts of NB Power because he believes it's in the best interest of the province.
The renewed commitment came a day after Graham asked Stuart Jamieson to quit as tourism and parks minister, saying Jamieson broke cabinet solidarity over the pending sale.
"As a premier today I am more confident than ever, even with these challenges before us, we have to do what we were elected to do," Graham said Saturday. "That's to provide leadership and do what's right for the future of our province."
Jamieson, who has reservations about the $3.2-billion agreement to sell 10 power plants to Hydro-Quebec, argued it should be put to a public referendum.
The proposal was watered down from a $4.75-billion agreement announced last fall, which included transmission and distribution systems.
The government made the changes following a public outcry and open dissent within the Liberal caucus.
A number of caucus members, including Social Development Minister Kelly Lamrock and Saint John-Lancaster member Abel LeBlanc, said they could not vote in favour of the original deal.
"We listened to what the MLAs were saying, and they made the error of talking publicly about what we were discussing behind closed doors, but the difference here today is that Stuart Jamieson - a cabinet minister - has made a decision that he cannot support the revised deal," Graham said.
With just seven months to go until a scheduled provincial election, Graham said there's no need for a referendum.
"Reforms like equal opportunity, and reforms like official languages - those reforms were not taken to the people in a referendum," Graham said. "It was the courage of a government of the day to see them through and today New Brunswickers have that benefit."
But Conservative Opposition Leader David Alward said Graham's Liberal government is collapsing like a house of cards.
"Over the last several days we've heard of more discontent within the Liberal caucus," Alward said Saturday. "The premier is trying to manage a crisis, and he's not managing the province."
Alward said Jamieson's resignation came as no surprise to him, and he expects other cabinet ministers will follow.
He said the premier has shown disrespect for New Brunswickers by refusing to hold a referendum, and by pressing ahead with controversial reforms to post-secondary education, French second-language training, and reforms in the health-care system.
Jamieson is the third minister to quit Graham's cabinet in the last seven months. Mike Murphy and T.J. Burke have returned to their law practices.
Jamieson's departure is the first resignation linked to the controversial power deal.
Graham said lawyers are working on the final wording of the agreement and the necessary legislation, and he plans to sign a final agreement with Quebec by the end of March.

Organizations: NB Power, Hydro-Quebec, Jamieson's

Geographic location: FREDERICTON, New Brunswick, Quebec

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