Rexton – For the first time since his election almost four years ago, Premier David Alward has begun direct talks with Mi’kmaq warriors and representatives of community groups across the province seeking to stop shale gas development in New Brunswick. Following a meeting Sunday (Oct. 6) in Moncton between Mi’kmaq leaders, community groups protesting shale gas development and Premier Alward, more talks are planned for Fredericton.
Those at the meeting report the talks were, at times, emotional. Protesters expect the camp to remain in place at least as long as those talks continue.
The Moncton talks were precipitated by mounting tension at an encampment outside the Irving Compound on Highway 134 just south of Rexton where five “thumper” trucks have now been trapped for more than a week. A Houston-based shale gas company, SWN, had planned to use the thumper trucks for its seismic testing work in Kent County.
SWN’s plans were thwarted when Mi’kmaq warriors set up a camp outside the Irving compound to which protesters from across New Brunswick quickly rallied. At times several hundred people have been on hand. Last Tuesday the camp was the scene of Chief Arren Sock’s historic announcement that the Mi’kmaq were resuming direct control of so-called Crown lands that have never been sold or ceded.
Tension at the camp escalated sharply late last week when SWN obtained an injunction against the camp and several protestors, but that injunction has not been served on the persons named in it. Further, following several private meetings over the weekend, it is now virtually certain that SWN’s injunction will itself be challenged in court and the camp will remain in place pending that challenge.
Premier Alward and his cabinet insist what happens to the camp in light of the injunction is a matter for SWN and the RCMP to decide. In the process, the Premier may be inadvertently making a point the protesters have been asserting all along, namely that the Texas-based shale gas company is calling the shots for the government.
Further, pressure to reconsider its brash move into shale gas has also been mounting on the Alward government since it was learned a few weeks ago that the person hired to evaluate shale gas for the province three years ago did not have the scientific qualifications he claimed at the time. The revelation that Louis LaPierre did not have the credentials he claimed reduced his report on shale gas – a document called The Path Forward – to nothing more than junk science.
The LaPierre scandal has effectively kicked out from under the Alward government the so-called scientific underpinnings of its decision to proceed with shale gas development. The speed with which cabinet rushed in to say shale gas would go ahead anyway was ample demonstration that the provincial government’s commitment to shale gas was ideology masquerading as science.
With the scientific basis of his shale gas policy torn to shreds, and facing mounting tension in Rexton, Premier Alward finally agreed to direct talks with his shale gas opponents. Ironically, his decision to meet with Mi’kmaq and non-Aboriginal community representatives opposed to shale gas came on the same week the New Brunswick Anti-Shale Gas Alliance (NBASGA) released a major information package at the Union of New Brunswick Municipalities annual meeting detailing serious problems with shale gas that the province has failed to address.
NBASGA is an advisory body to the coalition of 28 community groups across the province opposed to shale gas development. It met in St. Ignace Sunday to formulate its plans to oppose the SWN injunction and continue the struggle against shale gas. Three NBASGA members from the St. Ignace meeting were dispatched to Moncton to join others at the talks with the Premier. Other NBASCA members also took time to pay a solidarity visit to the Rexton camp Sunday afternoon.
Today the camp is celebrating the 250th anniversary of the Royal Proclamation of October 7, 1763 with a turkey supper. That proclamation explicitly states that Aboriginal title has existed, and continues to exist, and that all land is considered Aboriginal land until ceded by treaty. The Mi’kmaq have never ceded or sold their land to the Crown, and Chief Sock’s historic announcement last week underlines that fact.