When 1,500 people from diverse backgrounds and all parts of the province gather at the legislature on a sunny, summer holiday to say no to fracking for gas, they deserve to be taken seriously. The government’s response appears to attribute this manifestation and subsequent ones to misinformed fear. If only that were the case! Fear, yes, but misinformed, no.
At the very least, the government owes the people the opportunity for a thoroughgoing public debate, one informed by unbiased research on the benefits and risks of shale gas extraction, rather than fossil fuel industry public relations. Such a discussion needs to take place well before proceeding further down the path of unconventional exploration and extraction of another fossil fuel.
This debate needs to include one about our values as a people. How far are we prepared to risk future generations to satisfy the short term needs of the present one? Are there not safer short term solutions to our energy and financial problems?
The present divide in public opinion will not go away short of such a thorough public examination of the relevant issues and action based on informed public consent. In particular, the environmental movement is not going away anytime soon.
When running for office, the leaders of the present government appeared to recognize that public consent on controversial issues could only be achieved through thorough discussion and debate. Now in office, they appear to imagine they can persuade the public to accept their present course without such a discussion. We all need to realize that ours is a relatively small community. Good decisions on controversial issues require the engagement of a larger number of informed people than can be found in any representative provincial government we might elect. The smaller the population, the greater the opportunity and the need for more direct participation in democratic decision making.
So, here is an opportunity for Premier Alward and his government to give genuine leadership of the kind they promised when running for office. Let’s have the promised public discussion, if need be with a referendum as a galvanizing focus!
In the meantime, here is my two cents worth. In my view, hydrofracking for gas is a deadly consequence of a policy trend towards turning everything, including air, water, public land, the earth under the water table, and in its extreme form even education and human health into a source of profits for multinational corporations. Indeed, hydro fracking for gas, tar sands as a source of oil, and mountain top removal for coal may represent the end of the line for this particular variant of socio-economic policy. For an elaboration of this viewpoint, see www.greensocialdemocracy.org.