Brian Gallant’s big campaign bus rolled up to Léo-Paul Gaudet’s home on Rue Centrale in Memramcook on Saturday where the Liberal leader announced that if his government is re-elected on September 24th, it will increase its investments in two energy efficiency programs administered by NB Power.
“We will double the province’s investment in the Low Income Energy Savings Program going from $2 million to $4 million per year. We will also double our investment in the Energy Retrofit Program going from approximately $20 million to approximately $40 million per year to make hospitals, schools and other government buildings more energy efficient,” Gallant promised as he stood at a lectern in Gaudet’s yard beside an LG heat pump.
The premier also took the opportunity to slam PC leader Blaine Higgs and his Conservatives for slashing funding to Efficiency New Brunswick when they were in office and appointing former Conservative cabinet minister Margaret-Ann Blaney to head it.
“Investments in energy efficiency programs have grown over our first mandate,” Gallant added without mentioning the Liberals’ own controversial decision to scrap Efficiency New Brunswick and fold the Crown corporation’s energy-saving mandate into NB Power.
When a reporter asked whether he was sending conflicting messages about energy efficiency, Gallant suggested that giving NB Power responsibility for it was the right thing to do.
He explained that it is in NB Power’s interest to be as energy efficient as possible in order to reduce its generating costs during times of peak demand.
“What happens is they have to generate electricity, more electricity, in a way that is not as economically sound,” the premier said, “so making sure that we’re more energy efficient is actually very much in line with NB Power’s plans, with our plans, to have NB Power freeze their rates.”
Gallant was referring to his controversial promise earlier in the campaign to legislate a four-year freeze on residential and small business power rates. He added that such a rate freeze would force NB Power “to keep costs as low as possible” and that encouraging more efficient use of electricity, especially during times of peak demand, is one way the utility could do it.
NB Power’s record questioned
In spite of the premier’s contention that NB Power is best suited to promote energy efficiency programs, the utility’s record for implementing them was criticized earlier this year during rate hearings before New Brunswick’s Energy and Utilities Board.
For one thing, Angela Vitulli an energy consultant from Massachusetts who had been hired by the public intervener, questioned the effectiveness of the utility’s program for low-income homeowners.
Her report showed that NB Power helps 328 such homeowners per year — only 0.61 per cent of its low-income customer base while Nova Scotia Power’s low-income participation rate was over one per cent (660 homeowners) and Manitoba Hydro’s was more than five per cent (3,785 homeowners).
“NB Power appears to be too focused on a small number of participants, and we recommend that they expand their programming to serve more of the population,” her report said. (For a CBC summary of Vitulli’s other criticisms, click here. To read her entire 40-page report, click here.)
Gallant defends jobs record
Meantime, at his Memramcook campaign stop on Saturday, Gallant defended his government’s record on job creation in light of a report from Statistics Canada that New Brunswick lost 3,900 jobs over the last three months.
And, an online CBC report says the province gained only 1,500 jobs over the last four years in spite of the Liberals’ promise to create at least 10,000 jobs during their first term in office.
When asked about the figures, Gallant said the investments his government made in building infrastructure and on programs like the youth employment fund and supporting business start-ups actually created 15,000 jobs.
“We’ve had a net gain of jobs, there’s more jobs today that there were when we became the government, the unemployment rate has gone down from 10.1 per cent to 8.3 per cent, we’ve seen the population be at its largest level during our mandate, exports have gone up every single year (and) wages have gone up significantly over the last four years,” Gallant said.
Student loan relief
The premier was also asked why his government has delayed implementing a program to eliminate interest payments on provincial post-secondary student loans for graduates who stay in New Brunswick.
Gallant himself first mentioned the program during a speech last January and money was allocated for it in the provincial budget, but the premier now says it won’t go into effect until January 1, 2019.
“The fiscal year that we currently find ourselves in started on April 1st,” Gallant said, adding that the fiscal year runs until the end of March, 2019.
“We…have prioritized over the last four years investments in education, investments to improve the accessibility and affordability of post-secondary education and allowing that the interest on provincial loans be forgiven is something that we have planned in this fiscal year and it’s something that a re-elected Liberal government will be very pleased to do,” he said.