New Brunswick's ombudsman says the number of complaints his office has received about shale gas development in the province is unprecedented, but his mandate is limited.
Charles Murray says more than 1,000 people opposed to the industry have submitted letters, including the organizers of a recent petition calling for a review of disgraced academic Louis LaPierre's work for the provincial government on shale gas.
The problem, however, is that many people are writing to say they don't agree with the Alward government's policies on the issue, which isn't something his office can change, said Murray.
"The legislative assembly didn't appoint me to go and overrule them on a series of policy decisions they've made," he told CBC News. "They've given me a limited ability to double check what they do and to be a watchdog on what they do."
Murray is trying to educate people on the mandate of his office, which is to ensure government is following the rules of administrative fairness and natural justice, and to mediate between the two sides.
"In a polarized debate, which is unfortunately what's happening on this issue, people have a tendency to put people in one of two categories — 'You're either with me or against me.'
"And so when we try to give them a more nuanced understanding of what they do, they tend to say, 'Oh well you're going to be no help to me at all you're obviously on the side of the pro-shale gas people,’ that sort of thing. They have a sort of a knee-jerk reaction, they're disappointed.”
Will meet with protesters near Rexton
Murray says he plans to meet this week with the organizers of the Louis LaPierre petition, as well as the anti-shale gas protesters near Rexton.
“I want to hear the real meat of their complaint, I want them to also see that if there's a way that we can help them with their complaint, we can do that, but also to recognize we have to respect our mandate,” he said.
LaPierre resigned from the province's Energy Institute and other positions last month after he admitted he had misrepresented some of his academic credentials.
Energy Minister Craig Leonard has argued the controversy does not taint the work the former University of Moncton professor did for the government on the possible development of the shale gas industry in the province.
Meanwhile, protesters continue to block Route 134 near Rexton, hoping to put an end to seismic exploration work by SWN Resources Canada in the area.
The demonstrators have also blocked a staging and storage area where the company had vehicles parked.
Although SWN obtained a court injunction last Thursday, neither protest site has been removed.
Two days of talks between the premier and the chief of Elsipogtog First Nation about the protest ended late Monday afternoon with plans to form a working group.