Cocagne – Under sunny skies with temperatures pushing into the 30s, Premier David Alward, a bevy of protesters and the Canadian Armed Forces came together in Cocagne Monday, August 4th, to celebrate New Brunswick Day 2014 with politics, platitudes and, best of all for some, free hot dogs. With Monday also marking the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I, the Armed Forces were on hand honoring Canadian veterans who have served in armed conflict.
To his credit, Premier Alward did not engage in any of the historical flights of fancy so favoured by Prime Minister Stephen Harper who seems to love nothing more than reveling in the imagined glories of past carnage. Instead, the Conservative leader chose to talk about New Brunswick’s “rich heritage,” all the things New Brunswickers have to be “proud about,” and concluded his remarks by reassuring a crowd of about 250 people sheltering from the heat under a tent canopy that “we live in a wonderful province.”
While acknowledging the veterans’ great sacrifice, Alward also noted the presence of fire fighters and paramedics at the celebration, and thanked the province’s public employees for “working hard every day to make New Brunswick better.” Meanwhile, protesters from the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) representing those public employees at the event paraded around the grounds calling on the Premier not to raid the pension fund of the working people he was praising.
The Premier, however, had nothing to say to, or about, the largest and most obvious contingent of protesters on hand for New Brunswick Day. Hosted by the Kent South No Shale Gas group, the shale gas protesters included Anglophone, Francophone and Aboriginal people seeking to preserve New Brunswick’s rich natural heritage for future generations.
Perhaps recognizing that it is now traditional for politicians to wrap themselves in the flag, protesters were silent when Premier Alward led the assembled veterans to their place in front of the stage where the official ceremonies took place. The silence evaporated in the sun as soon as the many dignitaries in attendance were introduced.
Kent County mayors, unanimous in their opposition to shale gas, all received warm welcomes. The biggest cheer of all, however, was for Green Party leader David Coon who was the first political leader in the province to call for an outright ban on shale gas.
During the Premier’s brief talk, a lone drum beat sounded slowly as protesters displayed signs warning of the dangers of radioactive fracking waste and reminding people that money invested in renewable energy sources creates far more jobs than investing in oil and gas.
Prominent among the protesters were Kent South Green candidate Tina Beers and her prospective counter-part in Kent North, Rebeka Frazer-Chaisson who is expected to be nominated this Thursday in St. Louis-de-Kent.
Already trailing the Liberals by 25 points with less than two months to go until the September 22 provincial vote, Monday’s foray into Kent County may well be the last by Premier Alward as Premier. With attention focused on Cocagne, Conservative strategists also chose to use New Brunswick Day to nominate quietly their candidate, Nancy Blanchard, for Kent North who is thought by most to be simply Tory cannon fodder in this campaign.
For the governing Conservatives, with the provincial election rapidly approaching and their economic policy anchored by shale gas development in tatters, Kent County looks like a political wasteland. The only real question to be answered here is whether Tory heavyweight Claude Williams, who currently holds Kent South, will manage to do so again. Williams will be challenged by Liberal Benoit Bourque, a Cocagne resident who is relatively unknown politically, and the Green Party’s Tina Beers, the Local Service District Chairperson for Harcourt, who is also running provincially for the first time.
After fighting the Alward government to a standstill on its controversial shale gas policy, and fending off a multi-billion dollar resource company in the process, those promoting clean energy sources clearly think the end of the Alward regime is in sight. On the back of his ‘Say NO to Shale Gas’ sign, one protester had written in block lettering “The David Alward Farewell Tour.”
For those concerned about climate change and pollution, the hope now is that a new government will take the opinion of doctors and scientists about the dangers of shale gas seriously instead of following the Conservative practice of just ignoring them.
The one official act Premier Alward did perform in Cocagne Monday was to announce this year’s recipients of the Order of New Brunsick.
The 10 new members of the Order for 2014 are Caraquet social justice advocate Claude Snow; Edmundston singer-songwriter Roch Voisine; Moncton fiddler Ivan Hicks; Roger Augustine of the Eel Ground First Nation; writer and salmon conservationist Wayne Curtis of Fredericton; teacher and community volunteer Lorraine Diotte of Dalhousie; businesswoman Roxanne Fairweather of Saint John; public health advocate Himanshu Kumar Mukherjee of Fredericton; researcher Guy A. Richard of Bouctouche; and former New Brunswick Community College principal Cheryl Robertson of Rothesay.