Premier David Alward has confirmed he'll allow a free vote next week on a resolution about the controversial shale gas industry, backing up an earlier pledge by the natural resources minister.

"I've already said our motion will be a free vote, and I'm looking forward to that," Alward said.

The legislature will vote Tuesday on a non-binding resolution saying it supports the "responsible development of a shale gas industry."

Free votes allow MLAs to vote against their party line without facing any consequences.

Some members are feeling the pressure in their ridings from anti-shale protesters.

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Tory MLA Kirk MacDonald said he is not breaking ranks with his party even though he tabled an anti-shale gas petition with almost 16,000 names on it in the legislature. ((CBC))

Conservative MLA, Kirk MacDonald, of York North, tabled a petition against the industry earlier this week with nearly 16,000 signatures, and hasn't said how he will vote on the contentious issue.

MacDonald said he is not breaking ranks with his party. He did not endorse or repudiate the petition’s call for a ban on shale gas development. However, he did say he shares the same questions and concerns as some of his constituents.

Alward said all Tory members will be free to vote the way they want.

But the premier would not commit to letting his members vote freely on shale gas resolutions introduced by the Liberal opposition.

On Wednesday, Natural Resources Minister Bruce Northrup vowed that MLAs would get a free vote on how they feel about the development of the industry and hydraulic fracturing.