Fredericton South candidates, residents continue to debate shale gas

Written by Shawn Martin and Matt Mosher on September 18, 2014

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Shale gas opponents in Fredericton have taken to the streets since 2011 against the industry in New Brunswick. Photo by Tracy Glynn.

Fredericton – Fredericton South candidates in this provincial election are getting an earful from local residents about shale gas development as New Brunswickers prepare to go to the polls on September 22nd.

In describing feedback from residents during door-to-door canvassing, Green Party leader and Fredericton South candidate David Coon stated, “The majority of people who mention shale gas at the door are opposed to its exploitation.”

Incumbent Progressive Conservative candidate and Energy Minister Craig Leonard shared a different view on how constituents feel about shale gas exploration: “They are very much in support as they recognize the industry has been operating in NB (New Brunswick) with no issues for over a decade and see western economies performing very well due to resource development including shale gas.”

Meanwhile, People’s Alliance candidate for Fredericton North, Patricia Wilkins called to mind the divisive nature of shale gas exploration in describing feedback from her own door-to-door canvassing: “An overwhelming majority of people that we have talked to say they do not want shale gas.”

Liberal Candidate Roy Wiggins, and New Democrat candidate Kelly Lamrock were unavailable for comment.

As the provincial election campaign moves into its final days, candidates in this urban riding are making a last push to get their messages out to potential voters, and rally support.

Some residents, however, are left unsure of just where certain parties stand on the issue of shale gas development.

“Mr. Wiggins of the Liberals appears to need the opinion of Brian Gallant before he will ‘speak to the issue,’” stated Aldona Grinius, a Fredericton South resident, about the shale gas debate.

Margo Sheppard, another Fredericton South resident, described her efforts to differentiate the candidates’ and parties’ positions on the issue of shale gas development: “Two parties are very clear. The Progressive Conservatives are ‘full steam ahead’ on shale gas, while the Green Party is totally opposed.”

She continued in stating, “The Liberals want to have it both ways, and are using a bait and switch technique… The NDP are more restrictive on shale gas, but their positive stance on the Energy East Pipeline makes me doubt their appreciation of the climate crisis.”

The Progressive Conservative Party has made it clear in their election platform that they will “say yes” to shale gas development and hydraulic fracturing throughout New Brunswick.

The Green Party’s election platform, on the other hand, states that a Green Party government would ban shale gas exploration and cancel existing shale gas licenses and production leases.

Craig Leonard, the Progressive Conservative candidate for Fredericton South affirmed his party’s position on shale gas development by stating: “We are very much in favour of the safe and responsible development of shale gas.”

Green Party leader and Fredericton South candidate David Coon explained his own party’s position on the issue in stating that, “The exploitation of shale gas is unsustainable, unsafe, and uneconomic in that the costs far outweigh the benefits.”

The Liberal Party’s election platform calls for an unspecified moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, and states that any further decision on shale gas development would be contingent on:  gaining social consensus, extraction methods that avoid unacceptable risk to the environment, maximizing benefits through a royalty regime, a regulatory regime, and economic benefits that outweigh any residual risks.

The New Democratic Party’s election platform calls for a two year legislative ban on shale gas exploration, followed by the application of a “two test, one vote” system. Under this system, shale gas development would not go forward unless it were deemed to be environmentally safe, profitable, and supported by a majority of MLA’s following a vote in the provincial legislature.

Finally, the People’s Alliance Party’s election platform proposes that the people of New Brunswick would be consulted on the topic of shale gas development, and that any such development would be subject to strict regulations, and a long term economic development strategy.

In response to our question as to whether the People’s Alliance Party would call a province-wide referendum on the issue, Patricia Wilkins – the party’s candidate for Fredericton North – explained, “PANB (People’s Alliance of New Brunswick) would call for a referendum and let an informed public make the final decision.”

As this provincial election campaign comes to a close, Fredericton candidates will doubtlessly make a final push to get their messages out to the public, and firm up electoral support. However, based on feedback from some local residents, certain candidates appear to be working harder than others to clarify their party’s positions on shale gas development.

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