Political action and inaction in New Brunswick on the climate crisis

Written by Susan O'Donnell on June 15, 2019

Labour activist Sharon Teare and environmental activist Ann McAlister join members of Unifor and CUPE at a rally to protest speech by Jason Kenney in Saint John on June 14.
Photo by Martin Melanson.

Early on the cold and wet morning of June 14, a group of environmental and labour activists gathered outside the Saint John Convention Centre to protest the speech inside the building by Alberta premier, pipeline booster and union buster Jason Kenney. Their political action contrasted sharply with the lack of climate action inside the New Brunswick Legislature on the same day.

The government moved to end the second session of New Brunswick’s 59th Legislature and only return in November. Their inaction on the climate crisis is two months after the release of the Canada’s Changing Climate report and six weeks after residents living near the Wəlastək (Saint John River) experienced historic flooding for the second year in a row. The report confirmed that emissions from fossil fuels are creating the climate crisis and extreme weather events, while it urges Canadians to act immediately.

June 14 in the Legislature proved to be just as frustrating for environmental activists concerned with the spraying of glyphosate on public lands. Green Party leader David Coon attempted to extend the legislature sitting by calling for an emergency debate on the spraying of glyphosate this summer. Rather than extend the legislature for this debate, the Speaker, a Liberal MLA, ruled that he did not view this as an emergency, and he refused the request.

This week in June provided many snapshots that together tell a story of inaction by most of our political leaders on the most urgent political, environmental, social and economic issue of our time: the climate crisis. They included: a defeated renewable energy bill, political debates about if fracking is part of a transition to renewable energy, and support by the leader of the PC Party and the leader of the Liberal Party for pipelines and for the premier of Alberta, who rivals the New Brunswick premier as the biggest pipeline advocate in the country.

On June 12, the Green Party’s bill to revise the Electricity Act to allow communities and First Nations to develop community renewable energy generation that had passed its second reading, was voted down in committee by the Progressive Conservative government together with its allies, the People’s Alliance MLAs.

On June 13, the government presented its carbon tax plan that was criticized for charging our largest industrial polluters only a fraction of what other industries are paying under the federal plan. During the statements by members in the Legislature, Megan Mitton (Green Party, Memramcook-Tantramar), who earlier had called for a declaration of a climate emergency, said: “Imagine if we had leaders who focused on energy efficiency, and solar energy, and worked with a coalition of premiers to ramp up renewable energy jobs.”

Mitton asked the premier: “What if you are wrong?” and said she wanted to know if he was getting his information from oil companies, stating that her information came from climate scientists. During question period, Premier Blaine Higgs repeated his assertions that fracking is part of his government’s plan to transition the economy to renewable energy sources and reduce carbon emissions.

Later that day, the government cut into the time for Opposition motions to introduce the premier of Alberta and allow Jason Kenney to make a short speech. When he thanked Premier Higgs for his dedication to the dream of a national pipeline corridor, Megan Mitton rose and left the Legislature. The other Green Party members, David Coon and Kevin Arseneau, were also visibly absent during Kenney’s presentation. The government and People’s Alliance members gave Kenney a standing ovation.  

Earlier in the day, in his speech to the Saint John Chamber of Commerce, Liberal Party leader Kevin Vickers called Jason Kenney “my good friend” and spoke in support of the Energy East pipeline.

Given that the New Brunswick legislature is in recess until November, the main political movement for climate action in New Brunswick until then will be outside the arena of party politics. Last week we reported on the resistance to fracking by Indigenous leaders. Earlier this week, the New Brunswick Federation of Labour released a statement supporting the moratorium on fracking. The next international student strike for the climate is scheduled for September 20, and this time adults are specifically requested to join the protest.

This story was updated hours after posting to add info about the government’s carbon tax plan.

Susan O’Donnell is a member of the NB Media Co-op Editorial Board and a researcher on the RAVEN project.

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