St. Louis-de-Kent – Residents in the riding of Kent North feel that three of the five candidates running for election were dodging their shale gas questions when they failed to show up to an all candidates meeting on Tuesday night (Sept. 16) in St. Louis-de-Kent. Only the NDP and Green Party showed up at a public meeting organized to give voters a chance to ask candidates questions.
While almost 150 voters did show up at the local high school, the Liberal, Progressive Conservative and People’s Alliance party candidates seeking their votes were nowhere to be seen or, more importantly on this night, heard. Their absence was highlighted by the three empty chairs placed on stage for the duration of the evening, each labeled with a missing candidate’s name and party affiliation.
That left only the Green Party’s Rebeka Frazer-Chiasson and the NDP’s Allan Marsh to dialogue with voters. For more than two hours, the people peppered the pair with their questions.
It’s no secret that the two primary issues in Kent North are shale gas and the provincial government’s controversial forestry deal. With both Frazer-Chiasson and Marsh having solid track records of opposing shale gas on the ground in Kent County, the positions of their respective parties and the roles of their respective leaders dominated that discussion.
Both the NDP and the Green Party are promising a legislative ban on fracking, but critical comments about shale gas protesters by NDP leader Dominic Cardy have clearly not been forgotten here.
Last summer Cardy condemned protesters for using non-violent resistance against shale gas companies, and said they should not break the law by using civil disobedience to slow down shale gas exploration activity. Cardy’s position then was similar to the position taken by the government and SWN, the company exploring for shale gas. In contrast, David Coon of the Green Party was the only leader to visit protesters on site and to defend their right to use non-violent resistance to protect their homes and families.
Since then, Cardy has moved closer to the Green Party position of a permanent ban on shale gas with an NDP promise of a two-year legislated ban on fracking, but Cardy’s failure to modify his criticism of protesters still rankles some people.
While Frazer-Chiasson and Marsh have well-established credentials opposing shale gas, differences on other issues soon became apparent. The NDP favors building the pipeline to the Irving refinery, and see it as a separate issue from shale gas. Frazer-Chiasson and the Green Party oppose the pipeline, and see both shale gas and the pipeline as unacceptable because they will make climate change even worse.
Similarly, the NDP has been refusing to criticize the Alward government’s new forestry plan because, it says, not enough details have been released to properly evaluate that plan. Frazer-Chiasson and the Greens say the deal is another Conservative give-away to big forestry companies, and they point to the condemnation of the forestry plan by almost 200 scientists and researchers as backing up their criticisms.
Taking a harder line than the NDP, Marsh, in his capacity as head of the St. Charles local service district, seconded a motion—passed unanimously—that condemns the forestry plan. That motion, at an August Kent County Regional Services Commission meeting, was put forward by Kent South Green candidate Tina Beers, who was then acting in her capacity as head of the Harcourt local service district.
Frazer-Chiasson also pointed out that the Green Party is alone in not accepting donations from the Irving family. Marsh stoutly defended the NDP taking money from the Irving family. He said the $6,000 donation in question was made by an Irving family member who is a personal friend of NDP leader Dominic Cardy, and did not come from the Irving business empire.
What remains to be seen is whether the NDP and Greens, who finished in third and fourth spots respectively in 2010, will be able to improve on those results. Both the NDP and the Greens hope to become the alternative to the Liberal government in waiting, and that’s what’s being decided in this election in Kent North.
With the Liberal Party riding a wave of support provincially, incumbent Liberal Bertrand LeBlanc is keeping his head down in the wake of recent remarks on shale gas by Liberal leader Brian Gallant. This week Gallant began backing away from a long-standing Liberal “promise” to put a moratorium on shale gas development that has been a big seller on the hustings.
For LeBlanc, staying away from the all candidates meeting was probably a much safer course of action than trying to explain his leader’s dithering on the top issue here. LeBlanc has consistently spoken out against shale gas development, and is probably banking on his personal record to overcome his leader’s vacillation.
More understandable is the refusal of the Conservatives’ Nancy Blanchard to meet voters in open forum. With the PC vote in apparent free fall, Blanchard chose not to make herself a lightning rod for the pent up anger against the Alward Conservatives in Kent County.
The meeting itself was ably chaired by Paul Lang, the respected Executive Director of the Kent County Regional Services Commission. Lang informed citizens who had come out for an exercise in democracy that the RCMP were keeping an eye on the meeting because the Conservatives had expressed concern about violence. That was hardly news to people who have become used to the RCMP spying on shale gas protestors and their organizations.
Postscript: The Alward Government has consistently said it has significant support for its shale gas policy in Kent County, and that demonstrators are noisy minorities and dangerous radicals. On Monday night, the Conservative vote total in Kent North will put that claim to the test.