The Jamer Quarry Decision: A Crucial Test for Democracy in New Brunswick

Written by Larry Lack on January 26, 2009

And the watershed of Chamcook Lake, the source of St. Andrews’ municipal water, which was contaminated by arsenic laden tailings dumped by the quarry, would be in even greater jeopardy if Jamer’s U.S. owners were allowed to move their operation closer to the lake and its feeder streams as they are proposing.

Bayside residents have already officially informed the provincial government as to what they want done about the mega-quarry that has been undermining the quality of life in their community for more than a decade. A petition signed by more than 95 per cent of the adult population of Bayside was formally presented to the Legislature by Charlotte County MLA Tony Huntjens in 2007.

Also signed by several hundred residents of Chamcook, Bocabec, St. Andrews and other areas affected by the quarry, the petition called on the province to limit Jamer to one more year of operation. It also asked the province to deny any future expansion requests from Jamer and called on it to close the quarry by the end of December 2008.

The petition was flatly rejected by Minister Hache, who instead gave the quarry another five year permit to operate. And this month–when the petitioners had hoped that the quarry would be closed–was the month that Jamer’s management defiantly selected to announce the company’s plan to expand across Route 127 against the clearly stated wishes of the region that is their unwilling host.

If Environment Minister Roland Hache opts to allow the proposed expansion of the quarry, he’ll confirm what too many of us have already sadly concluded about our political system here in New Brunswick: it’s democracy Soviet style, with critical decisions like this one left to politicians and bureaucrats who feel free to ignore the wishes of the affected communities.

But this decision is going to be different. Charlotte County people know what’s at stake and are determined not to be bamboozled or intimidated by Jamer management or its allies at Business New Brunswick and elsewhere in Fredericton. New Brunswick’s government and minister Hache need to understand that a decision to allow the quarry to expand will not be tolerated by the people who would have to live with the results of this decision.

While Minister Hache may think he has the right to decide about the future of the quarry, in reality he and his government have an unmistakable moral and political obligation to respect and carry out the will of the people in the communities that are affected by the quarry. Permitting the quarry to expand in the face of united community opposition would amount to a declaration of contempt for the people of Charlotte County. And a decision so out of keeping with the desires of the community and with the most basic principles of democracy should not and will not be allowed to stand.

The essence of democracy is that it assures that people and communities have the right to control their own destinies And when this essential right, the right of home rule, is not respected–even in normally placid and uncomplaining rural Charlotte County–serious consequences for government are sure to follow.

New Brunswick’s government must give priority to protecting its citizens and respecting their wishes. If Minister Hache and his government choose to ignore the wishes of an overwhelming majority of Charlotte County’s people by deciding against them and in favour of the quarry’s American owners, they will forfeit their legitimacy and their right to govern.

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