FREDERICTON - A New Brunswick politician who was booted out of cabinet for challenging the premier's position on the proposed sale of NB Power assets to Hydro-Quebec is leaving the Liberal caucus.
Stuart Jamieson was tourism minister until he was asked by Premier Shawn Graham to resign last week after he called for a referendum on the proposed $3.2-billion sale of 10 power plants to Hydro-Quebec.
"I will continue to fight for the people of New Brunswick to have a say in this decision," Jamieson said Tuesday in the legislature.
"I want to also state that I support the deal between NB Power and Hydro-Quebec although I feel a referendum is necessary for me to agree."
Jamieson said he fears that the public will not support the deal unless they have a say in it.
He is also worried that the Opposition Conservatives could become the next government by default without ever outlining their own policy on NB Power.
Jamieson said he remains a member of the Liberal party, and will sit in the legislature as such, but will continue to fight for a referendum.
"I feel that the people of New Brunswick deserve to be able to be part of this decision and I will defend that," he said outside the legislature.
Jamieson said unless there is a referendum he will vote against the deal.
The 60-year-old politician was first elected in 1987, but doesn't plan to run in this September's election.
Last month, a number of other Liberal members - including Social Development Minister Kelly Lamrock - openly criticized the original $4.75 billion power deal which included transmission and distribution systems. However, they were allowed to remain in cabinet, and Premier Shawn Graham then stated there was unanimous support of the amended deal.
"The premier said that everybody within his caucus - for the second time - is in complete support of the deal," said Conservative Leader David Alward. It's very evident that they're not and we know there are other MLAs that still have troubles with this deal."
Jamieson refused to tell reporters if any of his colleagues were also ready to break ranks. He said they would have to come forward on their own.
Graham said he is sticking by his decision not to hold a referendum.
"I'm more confident than ever that this is the right decision," he said.
"When you look at other jurisdictions that are going to see huge increases in their power costs, we're going to be able to take that burden away from New Brunswickers."
The deal would see residential power rates frozen for five years, while rates for large industrial customers would drop by about 23 per cent.
Graham said he's hearing support from grassroot Liberals, but admits his party is paying a heavy political price by forging ahead with the power deal.
"We weren't given power simply for the sake of hanging onto power. We were given the opportunity to govern the province of New Brunswick and we're going to do that over a four year period," he said.