The new Parti Québécois government is earning some unflattering reviews from one of its former leaders even before completing its first half-week in office.
Lucien Bouchard issued a statement Friday condemning comments about shale gas made by the new PQ minister in charge of the industry.
While an environmental review process is only barely underway, Natural Resources Minister Martine Ouellet has already said the resource can never be developed safely. Before entering politics, Ouellet was an environmental activist, mechanical engineer, and official at Hydro-Québec.
She can now add another line to her CV: Bouchard foe. A popular former leader of the PQ and premier from 1996 to 2001, Bouchard is now the president of the Quebec Oil and Gas Association.
"Confusion reigns," Bouchard said.
He listed six questions raised by Ouellet's comments: Is the ongoing environmental review cancelled? Should that review be allowed to complete its work? What did Ouellet mean by the "complete moratorium" she appeared to be announcing this week? Has the government already written off the industry?
Bouchard also asked why Quebec would have such an attitude when, in the U.S., the Obama administration is eager to exploit the resource in order to reduce fossil fuel emissions and achieve energy independence. Finally, he asked, why not consider studies that suggest shale gas can be exploited safely while creating jobs?
"In any case a government decision to formally impose a moratorium would be a little bit like kicking in an open door," Bouchard added.
"Because for the last two years, and certainly for the next two or three, there has not been and there won't be any exploration — let alone production — of shale gas on Quebec's territory."
In interviews he gave after the Sept. 4 provincial election, Bouchard had already criticized some of his old party's campaign promises and he suggested it was time to focus on priorities other than achieving independence. The PQ took office Wednesday.
The remarks about shale gas also drew criticism from another ex-leader of the PQ, André Boisclair, who also works for the industry. Premier Pauline Marois has since tried to downplay the remarks, saying the government is keeping an open mind.
The reaction of Marois' predecessors echoes a frequent complaint from the PQ's opponents since the cabinet was sworn in.
Much of the opposition attacks since Wednesday, and media punditry, has focused on the notion that the composition of the PQ cabinet tilts heavily toward environmental activism but isn't quite so business-friendly. Bouchard has in the past lamented that his old party has shifted too far to the left.
But environmentalists have celebrated the PQ's shale comments.
Exploitation of the resource has been linked to water, soil and air pollution, along with an increase in earthquakes.