The Alward government is downplaying the backlash stemming from Louis LaPierre's resignation from the province’s Energy Institute and other positions after he admitted he misrepresented some of his academic credentials.
Energy Minister Craig Leonard contends the ongoing controversy does not taint the work the former University of Moncton professor did for the government on the possible development of a shale gas industry in the province.
"It's incredibly unfortunate and it's a situation that Dr. LaPierre obviously, I'm sure, is going to have regrets about from this day forward," said Leonard.
"But the reality is that the work that he did for the Energy Institute was based on his ability to bring these individuals who have this scientific knowledge together to deal with the issues we have in New Brunswick to address concerns."
Leonard says science was never part of LaPierre's job on shale gas — a shift in message from last winter when LaPierre's scientific reputation was heavily promoted by the provincial government as a reason he was chosen to chair the institute.
"Dr. LaPierre is an internationally-recognized scientist," Premier David Alward had said on Jan. 31. "He's the right man to provide leadership on this file while working with communities, experts and industry."
Political problems predicted
During CBC's weekly political panel on Thursday, all four opposition parties predicted the Alward government's use of LaPierre on the contentious shale gas issue will pose a significant political problem.
"The fact that he now acknowledges that he's misrepresented his academic credentials really does blow the confidence the public would have in anything the government has used Dr. LaPierre for," said Green Party Leader David Coon.
"It does undermine the whole process," agreed People's Alliance Leader Kris Austin. "How could it not?"
Rick Doucet, Liberal critic for energy and mines, said, "The institute's credibility is definitely on the line."
"Anything that's been on shale gas that he has prepared must be peer reviewed before it can be used going forward," said NDP candidate Brian Duplessis.
But Health Minister Ted Flemming predicted a short shelf life for the LaPierre controversy, with minimum political damage.
"This doesn't stand or fall on Dr. LaPierre. He was a part of a much greater plan," Flemming said.
LaPierre accepts 'full responsibility'
LaPierre announced his resignation on Thursday, two weeks after questions were raised about his academic credentials.
“Needless to say I was taken aback by the controversy, but I have now accepted that I played a role in bringing it about,” his statement to the Moncton Times & Transcript said.
'Regardless, during the years, in documents and among various bios, I have misrepresented my academic credentials and have admitted the same to the Université de Moncton. I take full responsibility for my actions and offer a full apology for the embarrassment this situation has caused to so many that placed their trust in me.' - Louis LaPierre
“Regardless, during the years, in documents and among various bios, I have misrepresented my academic credentials and have admitted the same to the Université de Moncton. I take full responsibility for my actions and offer a full apology for the embarrassment this situation has caused to so many that placed their trust in me.”
LaPierre’s statement to the newspaper said he now wants to focus on his family and he stepped away from the institute so he would not become a distraction.
“So now, at 71 years of age, the time has come for me to step aside from my various responsibilities and attend to my family and my health, in the wake of these revelations,” he said.
“To that end, I have tendered my resignation to the Minister of Energy and Mines as chair of the New Brunswick Energy Institute to ensure that the distraction of my credentials does not take away from the important work the institute has to do to move our province forward.”
LaPierre also resigned from a federal environmental review panel on Wednesday, citing "medical reasons."
University stands by screening process
Raymond Théberge, the president of the University of Moncton, issued a statement on Thursday afternoon, where he said he was "relieved" that LaPierre "personally admitted to deliberately misleading the university" on his academic history.
Théberge said he believes the university has a thorough academic screening process for staff.
“The procedure we use is similar to other universities,” Théberge said.
“A university’s reputation is built on many things, including the integrity of its teaching body. We cannot tolerate any doubt whatsoever insofar as this integrity goes. This is an isolated case, and I am fully confident that the mechanisms we have in place are sufficient so that a similar situation does not reoccur in the future.”
Teresa Fishman, the director of the International centre for Academic Integrity at Clemson University in South Carolina, said the University of Moncton must explain what happened when it accepted LaPierre's credentials.
"It appears someone dropped the ball in checking his credentials," she said.
"If that's what happened the university should come clean about that and they should apologize. They need to reiterate to their students that academic credentials are important and maintaining the integrity of the academic system is also important."
Search for successor
Energy Minister Craig Leonard said the next task for the energy institute will be to find a replacement for LaPierre. His department and the institution will work together to find a successor, he said.
Leonard thanked LaPierre for his service in a statement issued on Thursday morning, accepting his resignation.
"I wish to thank LaPierre for the work he has done in assisting the provincial government in establishing the institute," Leonard said in the statement.
"In a very short time, the institute has brought world-renowned experts together to research and study the most pressing energy issues facing our province and represents a scientific model that has already received recognition from the National Academy of Sciences in the United States for its innovative approach."
A report by Radio-Canada on Sept. 4 raised questions about LaPierre's academic history. For years, the prominent professor's biography has claimed he holds a PhD in ecology from the University of Maine.
Biographical notes issued by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, when the review panel on the proposed Marathon mine was announced in August 2011, also list LaPierre as holding a PhD in ecology from the University of Maine.
The University of Maine confirmed he does have a master's degree in science education, but does not have a master's degree in wildlife ecology. The university also confirmed LaPierre does not have a doctorate from the institute.
LaPierre said there was a mix up in his academic biography. He said the PhD was in association with the University of Maine and Walden University back in 1985.
He does have a PhD from Walden University, but it's in education, not science, spokeswoman Tamara Chumley told CBC News last week.