A pair of New Brunswick activists, who got to question Brian Gallant today on CBC Radio, are not happy with the answers the premier gave them about climate change, the Energy East pipeline and the spraying of glyphosate on public forests.
“I think Premier Gallant’s answer was weak,” Pamela Ross said during a telephone interview after the CBC broadcast. “I think he’s making excuses.”
Ross, who serves as Chairperson of the Greater Moncton chapter of the Council of Canadians, phoned into the 40-minute program to ask why the province is not promoting the use of workers to thin the forests instead of allowing the spraying of glyphosate, an herbicide that the World Health Organization has flagged as a probable cause of cancer.
She noted that when the province hands out hundreds of thousands of dollars to big companies to subsidize call centres, it routinely argues that the government will get the money back through increased consumer spending and income tax revenue.
“But when it comes to the forestry, the province chooses the opposite theory, they say that it’s too expensive to hire workers,” she told the premier adding that those workers would also be paying taxes and spending money.
Spraying to continue
Gallant responded that when it comes to the use of glyphosate, the province makes decisions based on the best available evidence.
“The evidence before us is that Health Canada says that, for the time being, that it (the spraying) can continue and that will continue to be the position of the government barring that it would change,” he said.
He added that call centres are an important industry employing thousands of New Brunswickers.
“We should be proud of the fact we’re one of the best in North America at it,” he said, arguing that New Brunswick needs to offer payroll rebates to attract businesses because governments all over the world are offering them and companies base their decisions on where to locate partly on those incentives.
Ross did not get an opportunity to respond to Gallant during the program, but reiterated later that the province could create thousands of good-paying forestry jobs if it banned glyphosate forcing the use of workers instead.
“I think they’re too afraid of Irving,” she said referring to the J.D. Irving company’s use of glyphosate.
“New Brunswick is run by an oligarchy and the Liberals and Conservatives are both complicit,” she added. “I like to refer to them as Team Irving… Consistently, over the decades, they’ve ruled the legislature and they’ve been ruled by the oligarchs.”
Meantime, the premier refused to respond to a question from CBC host Terry Seguin about the timing of the firing of Dr. Eilish Cleary as New Brunswick’s Chief Medical Officer of Health. She was fired shortly after beginning a study of glyphosate.
“Unfortunately, I can’t speak about that as I’m sure you can understand Terry,” Gallant said adding that it was a personnel matter “and I’d be very much stepping out of bounds if I would talk about that whatsoever.”
Energy East and climate change
Sam Arnold, Co-ordinator of the Sustainable Energy Group in Woodstock, asked the premier to explain “the apparent inconsistency on the need to tackle climate change while at the same time promoting a carbon-emitting industry like the Energy East Pipeline to the Irving oil refinery in Saint John.
Gallant conceded there is no doubt that “climate change is the largest challenge that we face as a generation.”
But he said it is important to strike a balance especially since the production and consumption of oil will continue to increase over the next few years until more renewable sources of energy are available.
“We have to prioritize growing the economy. Too many Canadians, too many New Brunswickers want to work, they want to be able to have a job and we have to do whatever we can as governments to enable that,” he said.
“The Energy East Pipeline is a project that could help us create thousands of jobs, it could help increase our GDP, increase revenues for the province that we can then invest in things like education and health care.”
Later, during a telephone interview, Arnold said that while he was not surprised by Gallant’s answer, he was disappointed. “Basically, what he said is he wants to prioritize the economy while climate change comes in second,” he added.
“He’s hoping to create targets and policies that he thinks will mitigate climate change, but I don’t think that’s possible if you’re going to be building a pipeline and supporting a growth in the fossil fuel economy.”
Arnold said that instead, we need to find new ways of doing things.
“New Brunswick is in the perfect situation where we can actually do that by developing a low-carbon economy and working on efficiencies in homes, buildings, that sort of thing and create jobs that way rather than having jobs created building pipelines that will increase global temperatures.”
Bruce Wark worked in broadcasting and journalism education for more than 35 years. He was at CBC Radio for nearly 20 years as senior editor of network programs such as The World at Six and World Report. He was the first producer of The House, a Saturday morning program on national politics. He currently resides in Sackville where he publishes Warktimes.