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Fracking a key issue in the defeat of the Alward government in New Brunswick

The Liberals have won a majority government in New Brunswick defeating the incumbent Progressive Conservative government that had backed fracking.

Liberal leader Brian Gallant is the new premier with the Liberals winning 27 seats in the provincial legislature, the PCs taking 23 and the Green Party electing its first ever member. Prior to last night the PCs held 41 seats, the Liberals 13 and there was 1 Independent.

Two weeks ago the Canadian Press reported, “The dominant issue in the New Brunswick election campaign … is jobs and whether the shale gas industry can provide a solution.” This morning it reports, “[Gallant] was the perceived front-runner when the campaign started. He has promised to place a moratorium on the shale gas industry until risks to the environment, health and water are known.”

“[The now-defeated premier David] Alward’s decision to embrace the shale gas industry was polarizing in the province, where a series of public protests culminated in a violent demonstration last fall in Rexton that saw 40 people arrested and six police vehicles burned. Alward had said New Brunswick was on the verge of $10 billion in private investment if it develops its deposits of shale gas and welcomes the proposed Energy East Pipeline, which could see oil shipped from Alberta to Saint John.”

The Globe and Mail adds, “[Alward’s] campaign slogan was ‘Say Yes’ to fracking, jobs and prosperity – and another Tory mandate. He forecast that the province would see $10-billion in private investment in the energy sector through the government’s promotion of natural resource development, including shale gas and the proposed Energy East pipeline.”

And Global News notes, “In a 32-election campaign fought largely over fracking and the shale gas sector, [Green Party leader David] Coon his solutions to the province’s carbon footprint would resonate with voters. Coon spent the last day of campaigning in the 2014 New Brunswick election pushing for action on climate change. …Fredericton South emerged as a riding to watch, with Coon competing against the PC Minister of Energy Craig Leonard [who backed fracking].” Coon defeated Leonard last night.

Clearly voters rejected the the Alward government’s agenda of fracking. The now-former premier should have listened to Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow who told him back in February 2012 to end his ‘love affair’ with fracking.

There are cautions to keep in mind regarding Gallant and fracking. His Liberals called for a moratorium on the technique of hydraulic fracturing, but have not ruled out shale gas development. He has also not been specific about how long a moratorium would last. And as the Canadian Press has pointed out, “At one point he refused to rule out allowing shale gas companies to use hydraulic fracturing during his government’s first term, a position that anti-fracking activists assailed as muddled.”

Gallant’s commitment to oppose fracking will be tested almost immediately. It was expected that Houston-based SWN Resources would return to New Brunswick in the summer of 2015 to drill exploratory wells for fracking, but there are now indications that the Alward government gave SWN the approvals needed to drill those test wells this fall.

Council of Canadians chapters have been opposing fracking in New Brunswick for years and stepped up that activity during this election. The Fredericton chapter had been tabling in their local farmers market on key issues of concern since August and organized an all-candidates debate in Fredericton South (the riding won by the Green Party leader). Among other activities the Saint John chapter organized all-candidates debates in each of the five ridings in Saint John. For more, please read Fredericton chapter hosts all-candidates meeting for Sept. 22 provincial election. Several days prior to the election, the Council of Canadians also issued a media release outlining the party positions on key issues, notably fracking, to assist voters make their decision.