COMMUNITY: Could citizens participate directly in a publicly owned business like NB Power? Food for thought.


Here’s an example for the International St. Croix River.

I’m part owner of my power company and I want my shares! …and my dividends!

Milltown Dam

by Art MacKay

Our earth is filled with valuable assets. Consider our quarries, our gold fields, our water, the lead, zinc, tin, antimony, copper, and other minerals; the potash, the gas, the fish, the forests, and the energy that we generate or can generate through hydro, tidal, solar, geothermal, and more. Although these resources belong to the citizens of New Brunswick and their enormous value has never really been calculated, we still operate as a poverty-stricken “have-not” province. We are often told that the assets of New Brunswick actually belong to the citizens of NB, not the government that represents us and not the companies that lease and hold our assets. What if the profits from our assets were to flow directly to the citizens and business partners who own and develop those assets? If that could be accomplished, then I believe that poverty in New Brunswick would become a thing of the past. NB Power is a good example to use in determining how this could be accomplished.

NB Power has been run as a “Politicians Playground” for too long. Perhaps it is time for the Citizens to benefit from the successes of this Crown Corporation. Perhaps we need to seize the power to create a restructuring plan that will achieve a pathway to prosperity.

While NB citizens are referred to as “shareholders” of NB Power by virtually every politician I have heard or spoken to, nothing could be further from the truth since the voters of New Brunswick have no rights that are afforded to shareholders by law. They do not receive shares. They do not vote or have representatives at annual meetings. They do not select and vote on board members … nor do they participate in any way in the management of the corporation. To refer to citizens as “shareholders” is a sham meant only to appease the voters. Clearly for the citizens of New Brunswick to benefit from the business of NB Power a unique business structure must be created to make NB citizens participants in their business of power.

Perhaps it’s time to restructured NB Power as a business … not a “cookie” jar and to allow NB Power to operate efficiently on behalf of its customers and shareholders. Citizens should fight for the stabilizing of NB Power operations while urging the development of a restructuring plan that would bring Citizen Shareholders into active involvement in this their most important asset.

What if qualified citizens actually received shares and dividends or dividend benefits when a surplus is declared? While this would be a challenge and the details would need to be carefully worked out, any voting citizen of New Brunswick over the age of 18 could qualify as a shareholder of NB Power and special shares could be created that would, if dividends are declared, give a return to those citizens. Various registries exist that could be used to identified qualified citizens. The voter registry maintained by Elections NB, perhaps the customer list of NB Power, tax registry and health care registry, for example, could be used to develop the shareholders list. Certainly residency would be the key requirement. It would be unnecessary to create printed shares, since share verified and management could be maintained online.

So, let’s supposed that our wildest dreams come true and the resident users of NB Power actually become the shareholders that they should be. How would they participate in the management of the business?

Citizen shareholders would elect regional representatives to the NB Power board of directors. Current ridings would be used as the mechanism for the election of their member to the Board of Directors. Interested individual citizens would run and be selected as part of the regular election ballot every 4 years. These board members would represent the interests of their constituent shareholders in NB Power.

The details need to be worked out, of course. But, in its simplest form, individuals would offer from various ridings. The choices would be on the ballots and selections would be made by the voters at each election. Alternately, voters could elect or confirm their representatives at the regional Annual General Meetings. In addition to the elected citizens directors, the board would also include representatives of management, union and/or worker representatives, external shareholders and representatives from appropriate government departments.

All management, financial, development, and administrative functions would be consolidated into a holding company which will be wholly owned by the citizens of New Brunswick. The operating companies (previously Transco and Genco) would operate as wholly owned subsidiaries with the holding company always, by law, maintaining controlling interest (to be determined but at or near 60%). External investors would be invited to participate and profit on various levels through special PREFERRED share offerings.

Communities, businesses, investors and individuals will be encouraged to invest in and partner with NB Power in profitable commercial ventures. Communities, investors and businesses of all sizes will develop partnerships with NB Power in a professional, equal and business-like manner to develop their energy potential (hydro, tidal, solar …) and will grow and prosper. Most communities have some form of energy that can be developed or which can be re-established as a community asset. Communities will be urged to partner with NB Power to develop their assets and to handle their own domestic and business needs first and THEN to profit from energy surpluses sold elsewhere on the grid.

NB Power would develop a corporate share structure that will keep ownership in the hands of the citizen of New Brunswick but would allow investors from around the world and locally to help develop the many energy assets of New Brunswick communities. NB Power would turn its attention to re-establishing a smoothly operating corporation that would develop its assets and partnerships in an aggressive and professional manner for the best interests of its shareholders and community partners.

Significant savings and efficiencies will result from this restructuring while allowing the subsidiaries to grow and expand. Consolidation of operating functions would result in substantial up-front and ongoing savings.

Worried about voter turnout? A declining population? Brain drain? This energy plan creates a climate of professional business growth for communities across the province.

The concept of “Citizen Shareholders” is a vision for the future which could push our development ahead and change our status from “the drive-through province” to the “ stay-here province”. By developing energy partnerships with communities, this move would allow communities across New Brunswick to attract businesses and jobs and to profit from their contribution to the energy exports of NB.

Would you stay and vote in New Brunswick for a share of NB Power and a potential monitory return or a chance to build your business at home? Just imagine what the impacts on voter turnout, jobs, growth and emigration would be if each New Brunswicker qualified as a shareholder and receives a real benefit from any profits on which dividends are declared. It could take the form of a tax credit, a credit on your power bill, or, perhaps, real cash like most real shareholders receive.

And consider the additional jobs that would be created if local energy assets were developed.

Maybe all crown corporations should operate in this manner. In fact, perhaps new citizen-owned crown corporations should take charge of our other business assets like NB Liquor, transportation, forests and mining? Something to think about.

Art MacKay



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