The New Democratic Party (NDP) has raised the stakes in its bid for the support of shale gas opponents with a July 19 call by its leader Dominic Cardy for a “legislated ban on fracking” in New Brunswick.
Speaking in Richibucto on a hot, muggy Saturday night climaxing the town’s annual Scallop Festival, Cardy also pledged an NDP government would “suspend the gas leases the day after being elected” and “pass legislation establishing an independent Environmental Protection Agency for New Brunswick.”
Cardy was in Richibucto for the NDP’s nomination of Allan Marsh, a poultry producer and chairman of the St. Charles Local Service District. Marsh is attempting to unseat Liberal incumbent Bertrand LeBlanc in the September 22 provincial election.
Cardy’s promise of a “legislated ban on fracking” and the immediate suspension of exploration and development leases on September 23, means both the NDP and the Greens are now calling for a ban on shale gas. By beefing up the NDP’s opposition to the controversial industry, Cardy is drawing a clear distinction between his party and the Liberals who are under increasing fire from shale gas opponents here for being vague about the details of their proposed moratorium.
Marsh has been an active participant in protests against the shale gas industry in Kent County. He was harshly critical of the Conservative government for having the RCMP use force, including the arrest of dozens of local residents, to try to suppress peaceful protest here a year ago.
The Constituency of Kent North is the obvious place to begin for any party seeking to attract anti-shale gas voters. It includes two sites, St. Charles and Galloway, selected by Southwestern Resources Canada (SWN) for shale gas test wells later this year. St. Charles was also the site of the first reclaiming of ancestral lands by Aboriginal people following the historic June 26 Supreme Court decision affirming Aboriginal ownership of land not sold or ceded by treaty. As well, last year in Rexton, the RCMP attacked and overran a peaceful protest camp.
The NDP’s Cardy says his party’s legislated ban on fracking would remain in place until three conditions to remove it can be met.
First, independent scientific studies would have to demonstrate that the resource can be developed safely. Second, the government would have to be satisfied that the industry can be developed in a cost-effective manner that benefits New Brunswickers. Finally, if the first two conditions were met, an “open” or “free vote” in the legislature would then be required to lift the legislated ban.
Many Kent County shale gas opponents were angered by Cardy’s criticism of them last year, and remain skeptical of the NDP because of it. By ‘swinging for the fences’ on shale gas, Cardy is moving to allay those concerns, no doubt hoping to ride the wave of anti-shale gas sentiment sweeping rural areas all the way to Fredericton.
While most pundits see the Liberal’s 25-point lead in the polls as insurmountable, polling data released in June by Corporate Research Associates also showed the NDP had closed to within 12 points of the slumping Conservatives. Seizing the initiative on shale gas would give the NDP a chance to overtake the Conservatives and become the Official Opposition.
Cardy may also be trying to neutralize the Green’s in Kent North by offering voters a hard-line stance on shale gas. Green leader David Coon says his party “supports a ban on shale gas exploration and exploitation because it cannot be made safe or acceptable,” but unlike Kent South where the Green have nominated popular Local Service District chair Tina Beers, there is no evident Green candidate in Kent North. Without a Green candidate in Kent North, the NDP’s call or a legislated ban on shale gas may hold some attraction for would-be Green voters in Kent County who so far lack a standard bearer for the provincial election.
In his first campaign to become an NDP MLA, Marsh is keenly aware of the significance of the recent June 26 Supreme Court decision for New Brunswick. He terms that decision “a huge plus for people here” and is calling on the Alward government to “respect the rule of law” and allow no development on traditional Aboriginal lands without the consent of the Aboriginal people themselves who are the rightful owners of that land.
While hoping that a government that respects human and democratic rights is elected September 22, people living here are now bracing for yet another shale gas invasion after the election. A training session on peaceful, non-violent resistance took place on the nearby Elsipogtog First Nation the same day as Cardy issued his call in Richibucto for a legislated ban on fracking.
Speaking to the St. John Board of Trade recently, Liberal chief Brian Gallant said his party favors “a moratorium on fracking because we believe we should press pause until New Brunswickers’ questions can be answered.” As well, he accused the Conservatives of “pushing a fake timeline.”
While Marsh concedes that shale gas is the dominant issue in Kent County, he also plans to spend a lot of time talking with voters about “fishing, farming and forestry.”
He talks about the opportunities in agriculture arising from declining production in California, and decries a fishing policy that gives fishermen from other provinces preferential treatment in terms of both production and marketing.
Forestry may prove a trickier issue for the NDP to manage. Despite a firestorm of opposition from almost all quarters, including the unanimous opposition to it by local governments in Kent County, the NDP remains non-committal on the new Tory forestry policy on the grounds that it doesn’t have enough information on that plan.
Still, in terms of election issues in Kent County, no issue even comes close to that of stopping shale gas.
The Liberal Party’s policy resolution on the issue, put in place on April 26, says that a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing “will remain in place until there is thorough and extensive public consultation; there is sufficient information on potential risks to the environment, our health, and water; methods to mitigate the risks; and we are able to maximize the economic and financial benefit to the province.”
Liberal incumbent Bertrand LeBlanc remains confident his opposition to shale gas since 2010 will stand him in good stead with voters here. The Green Party has not nominated in Kent North, but did manage to land popular Local Service District Chairperson Tina Beers as a Green candidate in the adjacent constituency of Kent South.
Green Party leader David Coon says his party will “cancel licenses for shale gas exploration and leases for shale gases extraction.” He says that action is necessary because “the consequences of shale gas development for communities and the environment are unacceptable.”
Coon is also very critical of the Conservatives’ shale gas policy because that policy “deepens our economic dependence on fossil fuels that are unsustainable” given the reality of the climate change crisis.
“We must wean ourselves off fossil fuels, not increase our dependence on them,” Coon said. “The exploitation of shale gas is simply unsustainable, so we would not permit it in New Brunswick.”
In Kent North, where Green support is thought to be relatively high, ‘Conservative’ is now a hated brand, and there is apprehension about the vagueness of the Liberal plan, the lack of a Green candidate in the race means the choice for most voters here may be limited to deciding between the Liberals and the NDP.
Dallas McQuarrie is a Media Co-op writer living in the unceded Mi’kmaq territory of Signiktuk.