Skabar confident utility board will help retailers

Darrell Cole
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AMHERST - Less than a week after the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board held hearings in Amherst, the area's MLA continues to believe something needs to be done to help struggling gas retailers along the border with New Brunswick.
Speaking to members of the Amherst Rotary Club on Monday, NDP MLA Brian Skabar said he believes a model in use in Saskatchewan, and one he proposed to the utility and review board here, is workable.
"I believe it can work and will work, but the utility and review board will look at all the evidence that was submitted and make a decision they feel best meets the needs of both Cumberland North and the province in general," said Skabar, making his first speech to Rotary since being elected last June.
Skabar, who appeared before the utility and review board hearings last month, said the Saskatchewan model gives retailers in one zone a 100 per cent rebate from the provincial government will a second zone gets a 50 per cent rebate. The boundaries of each zone would be set by the utility and review board.
"Whatever the utility and review board decides, I'm hoping it will help curb cross-border fuel-ups," said Skabar. "I'm still optimistic the board will come back with something that works."
While Skabar has been pushing for action since he was a candidate last spring, the utility and review board faces a tough decision since opposition politicians and consultants feel that adjusting the price along the border to level the playing field with New Brunswick may inadvertently create an artificial boundary within the province.
He doesn't feel the proposal floated by Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil won't work because the province can't afford to alter the way HST is calculated on gasoline.
"If they reduced it in Amherst and Springhill on a sliding scale we will still have a net gain, although it will be marginal. The thing is, we'll be keeping money in Nova Scotia."
Skabar said the tax loss to Nova Scotia has been about $1.28 million since 2006. He feels lowering the gas tax by five cents a litre would cost $1.1 million. However, if that lost business comes back to Nova Scotia it would represent an increase in tax revenue.
"The net difference would be a gain of about $180,000," he said.
Looking at what has happened since the first NDP government was elected last June and what's expected in the coming months of 2010, Skabar said there are numerous challenges facing the young government.
"Our province is in debt. To put it simply, we are spending more than we take in. We spend money paying the interest on this debt instead of focusing our funds on the programs and services Nova Scotians need," Skabar said. "Interest payments along have cost us $10 billion over 10 years. Yes, that's billion. Interest on the debt is the fourth largest government expense, right after health care, education and community services."
Other challenges facing the government include dealing with an aging population, climate change and the out-migration of young people to other parts of Canada.
"We need to ensure more young people stay and build a future here. We need to attract and retain young families, including immigrant families, to help fill a growing gap," he said.

Organizations: Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board, Amherst Rotary Club

Geographic location: AMHERST, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan Nova Scotia Cumberland North Springhill Canada

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