It is not unusual for elected governments to support industrial development in their jurisdictions. Conservative political parties, in particular, are more likely to champion big business, but this is not a hard-and-fast rule because pro-corporate policies can alienate the “populist”-wing of the party and voters that hew to populist sentiments.
What is unusual today is the degree to which conservative politicians — both in Canada and the United States — have become beholden to corporate interests, especially those in the oil and gas sector.
The United Nations Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has just released its latest scientific assessment. Its findings are dire and an urgent call for action.
In fact, a large majority of the public in both Canada and the U.S. support government leadership on climate change.
But they are unlikely to get it from either Canadian Conservatives or their American, Republican-party counterparts, whose respective commitments to the oil and gas industry border on the scandalous.
It is not much exaggeration to suggest that the Harper Conservatives and the U.S. Republican Party have become the political front for the fossil fuel industry.
Closer to home, New Brunswick Conservatives have lately demonstrated a similar drift that extends deeper into the clutches of big industry.
For example, Premier Alward’s recent policy reversal on forestry is astonishing in the extent of its capitulation to industry interests. By sharply increasing the allocation of wood from already heavily cut public lands, the government has ignored not only the expressed wishes of the public (as measured by various opinion surveys) and the expert advice of many scientists, but also the past recommendations of theNew Brunswick Legislative Assembly’s own select committee on wood supply.
The Alward government’s unshakable support for shale gas development is even more troubling given the seriousness of the risks, and the evidence that supports such risks, and the fact that the corporate interests involved appear to have no long-term vested interest in the welfare of the Province and its people.
In fact, corporations rarely do have a vested interest, despite their spin to suggest otherwise. That the Minister of Energy now publically disparages (almost daily) any and all critics of shale gas re-affirms where this government’s loyalties lie.
And yet, this same government insists it will protect the public interest from harm once the oil and gas multinationals get down to the risky business of drilling and fracking.
The Minister will have to forgive the many New Brunswickers who view such assurances with skepticism.
One can debate and speculate whether the public interest is likely to be served in the long run by these unabashedly pro-corporate policies. I am inclined to think it is not. Either way, this government’s complete disregard for current public interest is very disconcerting.
The government knows that the majority of New Brunswick citizens wants policy leadership on climate change, views a diverse forest and forest economy as desirable, and prefers a halt to further shale gas development (at least until the risks and benefits can be more truthfully assessed).
The government knows where public sentiments lie, but just doesn’t care.
Instead, bargains with industry are being struck behind closed doors without proper independent scrutiny or due consideration of the public interest.
Perhaps it is time for the people of New Brunswick (and of Canada) to remind their governments who it is they really work for.
Dr. Brad Walters is a professor of Geography & Environmental Studies at Mount Allison University.