CORRECTION: please note, Mr. Baillie questions how money flows between Emera and Nova Scotia Power [NSP], not the New Democratic Party [NDP], as noted in an earlier version of this story.
SPRINGHILL – It’s interesting how important a cup of coffee in the morning can be.
Looking back at 2012, it was about this time of year when Cumberland South MLA Jamie Baillie met with some constituents from Advocate Harbour for a cup of coffee that would set in motion a major challenge for the leader of Nova Scotia’s Progressive Conservatives.
“They couldn’t afford another increase in electricity costs and they weren’t alone,” Baillie said.
Nova Scotia Power (NSP) had made application to increase its rates to consumers and Baillie began following the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board process. He was angered NSP was looking to increase rates again, this time by another six per cent, and it wasn’t long before he applied for intervener status at the September hearing.
“I went through the entire budget with a fine-tooth comb. I’m a chartered accountant. Those skills come in handy sometimes and this was one of those times,” he said.
Baillie concluded NSP could not only freeze its prices, but a number of practices needed to change to the benefit of Nova Scotians, including how bonuses were paid to top level executives. Baillie didn’t just challenge it as an MLA, however, he made it a party issue.
The real fight began in September, where Baillie raised issue when lawyers for both sides requested a 24-hour adjournment to settle negotiations between NSP, the province’s consumer advocates and several big customers. Baillie sparred with the board, saying if a deal could be made behind closed doors instead of at the public hearing, then the process is broken. The chair of the board countered nothing nefarious was taking place, but Baillie maintained power rates were being set behind closed doors.
“I was prepared for the hearing. I wasn’t expecting the chair of the UARB to push back like he did,” Baillie said. “I knew I was on to something.”
Before 2012 ended, a deal was reached with the six per cent increase being split over two years, but the fallout from the hearings and public distaste from the process continues today. An audit showing NSP overspent $23 million on fuel costs from its parent company, Emera, and confirmation Emera executives held a party after an earlier rate increase was approved by the board didn’t do much to improve NSP’s image with Nova Scotians but it did help shape a party platform.
“As premier, I will have a price freeze and we will have all hearings held in the light of day,” Baillie said. “One of the things I learned this year is the mystery how money flows between NSP and Emera. We need stronger legislation… and it all started with that coffee at Rite Stop in Advocate Harbour.”
Local economy, local schools
The fight with NSP and the UARB was just one issue Baillie tackled in 2012. He’s also been championing the local economy here in Cumberland South and laments the road it has gone done.
“The biggest issue, locally, is the economy. We watch government make it worse when we need to reinforce workers,” Baillie said. “We have to turn the economy around and in 2013 we will roll out the results when we unveil the PC employment policy.”
Baillie said he’s also looking forward to the Parrsboro aboiteau being replaced this year, another issue he championed through 2012, and the completion of the River Hebert school. The delay to its work, he said, was the greatest heartache he suffered in 2012.
“Education is very important to me. A real low point for me was when the NDP took $20 million from education and gave it to New Page,” Baillie said. “As MLA it was very personal because the River Hebert school was sitting half-done because they said there wasn’t any money.”
2013 an election year?
The legislature will retire in 2014, but many speculate 2013 could be an election year for Nova Scotia, either in the spring or the fall. If the writ is dropped this year, Baillie said he is ready and his party is ready.