The only First Nations member of the New Brunswick Energy Institute has resigned, saying he was not comfortable with the level of intervention by the provincial government in the supposedly independent body.
Fred Metallic, a member of the Listuguj Mi'gmaq First Nation in Quebec near Campbellton, says he quit because the institute was too preoccupied with how the Alward government wanted it to respond to shale gas development.
But Energy Minister Craig Leonard dismisses the claim and says he believes Metallic quit for another reason.
Leonard says Metallic's resignation letter mentioned a lack of consultation with First Nations members over shale gas. But he says that is not part of the institute's mandate.
"We feel that the institute is a scientific body; that the place for discussing treaty rights and consultations with First Nations is with government itself. And obviously we want to keep those two separate," Leonard said.
The institute was set up as an independent body to provide research on energy projects, such as shale gas development, Leonard said.
Some government involvement was required to deal with the recent resignation of Louis LaPierre as chair after he admitted he had misrepresented his academic credentials, he said.
But the group is, and will continue to be, at arms-length from government, the minister said.
And while LaPierre's resignation cast doubts over the institute's credibility, Leonard says Metallic's departure won't have the same impact.
"I certainly would never question the credibility of Dr. Metallic whatsoever," he said. "It's a personal decision that he made that he wasn't comfortable being involved in the institute."
David Besner, the institute's interim chair, said he is "saddened" by Metallic's decision.
"I can honestly say that he never mentioned the issue of government intervention and I am rather surprised because certainly the board has made it clear and I've made it clear in conversations with the Department of Energy that the board sees itself as an independent agent," he said.
Besner says the institute will now try to find a replacement for Metallic.
Metallic holds a PhD in environmental studies from York University; a master of arts in Canadian and native studies from Trent University; and a bachelor of arts with honours in native studies and sociology, also from Trent University, according to the government's website.