Since the announcement of a Memorandum of Understanding between New Brunswick and Quebec to sell the majority of NB Power to Hydro Quebec it has been near impossible to turn on the radio, watch the local news, or read the local papers without some mention of the sale – and the public’s reaction.

More than simply ingesting this news, New Brunswickers are responding, en mass, by organizing protests, writing letters to MLAs and newspapers, participating in phone ins, and creating Facebook groups in an effort to have their views heard and included.

This high volume of reaction and civil engagement is a direct result of the Government’s approach to conceptualizing, designing, and implementing a major social policy without consulting the public. Instead, the initiative was announced and a campaign was launched to win approval by illustrating the necessity and good merits of the sale.

The Government has been forced to defend the benefits of each point in the MOU, from tying rate increases to inflation or explaining the consequences to energy sovereignty. This exercise of point by point criticism and rebuttal has left the public feeling vulnerable and disenfranchised by the process of governance chosen.

The New Brunswick Government is no stranger to public consultations, having launched a number of initiatives ranging from failure in reference to forestry policy development to reasonable success in reference to poverty reduction policy. Minister Kelly Lamrock has even gone so far as launching a program entitled The Democracy 101 Project in his riding where each week consultative meetings are held.

What kind of a message is the Government sending when consultative efforts are made when shaping poverty reduction policy, or emersion language programs for schools, but no efforts are made when it comes to selling one of New Brunswick’s most valuable assets?

Long ago are the days when elected representatives were provided deference that allowed such discretionary control over governance and decisions of such resounding impact. Today, the public demands involvement in each of the steps of identifying policy issues, conceptualizing a response, designing the policy and ensuring its implementation.

Whether the deal to sell NB Power is successful or faulty, it will forever be marred by the process which excluded a venue of participatory democracy to which New Brunswickers are entitled. We all have a right to participate in our governance, and this participation is not encapsulated on Election Day.

Marc Gionet

Marc Gionet is a blogger and Project Manager and Researcher at the Atlantic Human Rights Centre.