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Coalition helps topple Liberals after botched NB Power sale

We recognized that people power worked in New Brunswick – Tom Mann, NBU.

We recognized that people power worked in New Brunswick - Tom Mann.FREDERICTON, New Brunswick, September 27, 2010: The New Brunswick Liberal government of Premier Shawn Graham was swept from power after a single term on Monday as voters across the province vented their anger on key issues, primarily the botched sale of NB Power (ENBP) to Hydro Quebec (HQ).

Conservative Leader David Alward will become the province's new premier while Graham leaves office as the first government leader in New Brunswick history to be denied a second term. He was elected in 2006.

So pitched was the anger over NB Power that media outlets speculated on a pending Liberal disaster throughout the campaign and declared a Conservative victory almost the moment the polls were closed. Not a single vote had been reported before CTV News projected a Tory majority.

The proposed sale of NB Power was the clear flashpoint that doomed the Liberals.

Tom Mann of the New Brunswick Union attributes much of the backlash to the work of a coalition of unions and social activists. "From the outset of the announcement of the government in October of last year when the government sprung onto New Brunswickers that they were selling New Brunswick Power to Quebec, a coalition of resisters to the sale of the utility gathered and we were able to coordinate that resistances over the course of the winter to a place where we were able to have the deal pulled. We went to a variety of activities including court challenges, some of the largest rallies New Brunswick had ever seen. It brought together people from all political stripes, plus the Liberals, who felts something was really wrong with the democratic process that allowed the Liberals to make this deal behind closed doors."

Tom Mann of the New Brunswick Union (NBU) talks about the People Power popular coalition that helped defeat the Liberal government in his province in this YouTube video:

Announced without warning by Graham last November, the deal touched a province-wide nerve, producing such a backlash that the premier was forced to back down within months.

By January the $4.8 billion sale had been scaled back to a more limited $3.2 billion deal and by March it was history. As of Monday night so were Graham and his Liberal administration. He could not recover from the damage even though the sale was cancelled completely.

"We recognized that people power worked in New Brunswick," said Mann. "We were able to shut a government off and make them back down. When we got together to debrief [after the decision to cancel the sell-off] we recognized people were upset about the process." This led to the formation of a new group. "We morphed the coalition into Public Power for the Public Good," said Mann.

The coalition promoted a set of "good government principles" and rated the province's political parties monthly on these principles in the pre-election period. "We were quite amazed that through the months of June, July and August, the parties revised and resubmitted their positions," said Mann.

At first, all parties were rated F. "We encouraged them to go back to the drawing board. Politics as usual was no longer acceptable in New Brunswick. Politics had to change." All the opposition parties appeared to understand this, but the Liberals refused to accommodate the coalition's concerns or admit fault over the proposed NB Power sale.

"We're very pleased that a government that was hanging onto old ways was defeated at the polls," said Mann. "Now we have the challenge of a new governing party, how do you keep them accountable? The Conservatives committed to us publicly they would introduce legislation for an ethics commissioner who would have the right to order government information to citizens because citizens have the right to know. That is something that doesn't exist anywhere else in Canada. We are still very wary."

The Conservatives also committed themselves to establishing a lobby registration in the province. "Who was behind the NB Power deal?" asked Mann. "That was the basis of pushing for lobbyist registration."

"We encourage people to see the issues as value-based and something they can believe in themselves. If an individual can believe in something, then they'll work hard."

Posted: October 06, 2010

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