NB Power won’t bully me into silence: Critic

Alan White
The Telegraph Journal
May 8, 1997

FREDERICTON – A vocal critic of NB Power says he isn’t going to be bullied into silence by a lawsuit brought against him by the publicly owned utility.

While NB Power dropped its recently filed lawsuit against the high-profile directors of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies Tuesday, it is still suing Energy Probe executive director Thomas Adams for defamation. Mr. Adams wrote Energizing New Brunswick Power: A Brighter Future for Consumers and Taxpayers, which was published earlier this year by AIMS and which the utility alleges defames it and president James Hankinson.

“I stand by my work,” said Mr. Adams yesterday. “If they prove that some facts are incorrect, that’s fine and that’s public debate. But a bully is not going to push me off my position that I believe to be – that is correct.”

In its statement of claim submitted to the Court of Queen’s Bench, NB Power contends that certain passages in Mr. Adams’ report suggest the utility lied to the public and that Mr. Hankinson is irresponsible, untrustworthy and unfit to run the utility.

A summary of the report published in The Telegraph Journal called on the utility to be more accountable to the public and charged that it was not being responsibly managed. NB Power was also criticized for being defensive and dismissive in an October 1996 appearance before the legislature’s standing committee on Crown corporations following a scathing report by AIMS and Energy Probe.

NB Power dropped its lawsuit AIMS and its directors late Tuesday after the institute agreed to issue an apology, which was formally released yesterday.

In its statement, AIMS officials said they stood by the report but made it clear the criticisms were not directed at individuals, including Mr. Hankinson.

“To the extent that remarks made in the report suggested that Mr. Hankinson misled the Legislative Committee, questioned his integrity and veracity, or cast doubt on his and NB Power’s concern for safety issues at Point Lepreau, AIMS is sorry and apologizes for having published such remarks,” AIMS chairman Purdy Crawford said in a three-paragraph statement.

“We at AIMS have the greatest respect for the integrity of the management of NB Power, including specifically Mr. Hankinson and the Board of NB Power.”

Because Mr. Adams will no longer be headed to court alongside the likes of AIMS directors John Crosbie, a former federal cabinet minister, and former New Brunswick Economic Development minister Denis Losier, his trepidation has increased, but he vows to stand up to NB Power in court.

“Our organization is a tiny little consumer and environmental charitable foundation,” he said. “We’re going to be defending ourselves, but having the full weight of a controlled utility and their unlimited legal budgets against us is cause for some serious concern here. I’m not going to put too shiny a face on that one.”

Mr. Adams said the lawsuit feels like a “SLAPP suit,” a term coined by U.S. environmentalists to describe corporations using “Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation” to try to “silence their critics and shoot the messenger.”

The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, isn’t going to silence Mr. Adams and Energy Probe, he said.

“We’re not going away,” he said. “NB Power is about to announce its business plan and they’re about to announce their financial results. There are major decisions required in the near term and we’re in this for the long haul.

“We remain very concerned about where the utility is going.”

In its statement of claim, NB Power took exception to the following four specific statements in Mr. Adams’ report and the accompanying news release:

“The utility responded to many of the criticisms with incorrect assertions and incomplete information that may have created confusion among members of the legislature and the public. Future official inquiries into NB Power should require presenters to testify under oath …

“… NB Power’s management appears to be in denial, unwilling to acknowledge the grave problems the utility faces, instead offering false assurances to the legislature and the public. Taxpayers and ratepayers are both at risk, and the risks can only increase while management’s approach persists …

“… Mr. Hankinson offered assurances to the legislators and to the public about the condition of the Point Lepreau reactor without having made an appropriate effort to ensure that those assurances were warranted. Rather than responding to the issue by focusing on resolving technical uncertainties that can undermine safety, Mr. Hankinson instead focused on assuaging public concerns …

“By putting public relations assurances ahead of caution, he failed one of the most basic requirements of nuclear management – the requirement that safety comes first.”

NB Power’s view of the report was that it intended to suggest its management and Mr. Hankinson:

“Knew of existing problems at NB Power and intentionally and deliberately lied and withheld the information from the public and the legislative standing committee on crown corporations;

“Are irresponsible and untrustworthy in the discharge of their obligation to inform the public and the Legislative Assembly Standing Committee on Crown Corporations and should replaced.”

NB Power also said:

The report suggested Mr. Hankinson “is irresponsible and unfit to be in charge of NB Power and cannot be trusted to tell the truth about a nuclear plant and is prepared to put public relations ahead of public safety;”

The report’s “words and statements … were maliciously calculated to bring Mr. Hankinson’s character into contempt and lower the high estimation he holds in the business community and the community at large.”

Mr. Adams said he appreciated the opportunity to work with AIMS and believes they have done some “good work together,” but would not comment on the institute’s decision to apologize for statements made in his report.

Brian Crowley, AIMS’ executive director, said yesterday his group’s statement was aimed at putting the focus on the public policy questions raised in the newsletter, rather than on personalities.

“It was never our intention to criticize anyone personally, but we believe these are still important public policy questions that should be addressed,” he said in an interview yesterday.

“That’s where the focus should be, and we hope this will put it back there.”

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