New Brunswick

Blaine Higgs set to resurrect debate over shale-gas development

Premier-designate Blaine Higgs expects his minority government will start talking about issues that have been avoided for a long time, including shale gas development.

Premier-designate says a PC minority will also focus on softwood lumber agreement, health-care wait times

New Brunswick Progressive Conservative Leader Blaine Higgs answers questions from the news media Friday after the Liberal government was defeated in the legislature. (James West/Canadian Press)

Premier-designate Blaine Higgs expects his new minority government will start talking about issues that have been avoided lately or seemed settled, including shale gas development.

The Progressive Conservative platform for the election last month called for allowing resource development in areas such as Sussex where there's public support for it.

Higgs feels this is a compromise approach to shale gas.

"We're not imposing this on anyone in any region," Higgs told Information Morning Fredericton.

"But to keep saying no to economic development at a time when we're going to see in the next year or two the gas prices significantly increase because we're going to be bringing everything in from the U.S. We just keep saying, 'No' and expect we can tax people more."

New Brunswick is the largest consumer of natural gas in the Maritimes, with more than 8,600 homeowners, businesses and government buildings using the fuel.  

Shale gas an election issue

Shale gas was a bigger issue in the 2014 provincial election won by the Liberals under Brian Gallant. His government was defeated in a confidence vote on Friday, almost six weeks after another provincial election. 

The Liberals kept a moratorium on shale gas exploration, which had provoked protests by First Nations groups and others, culminating in a violent clash in Rexton in the fall of 2013.

Fracking is the process of injecting fluids — like propane or mixtures of water, sand and chemicals — at high pressure deep into underground shale formations containing natural gas. The process forces cracks to open in the rock allowing the gas to be extracted.

In September, almost half the people who responded to Vote Compass, an online election tool offered by CBC News, said they would support a ban on fracking. (Brennan Linsley/Associated Press)

Higgs said his goal was to develop the economy across New Brunswick. 

Although he'd rather lead a majority government, he said he's excited about getting down to work on issues.

"We may not agree on all the solutions and how we get there, but once we know there is an opportunity to fix, we have to find a solution," he said. 

New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant lost the confidence vote in the legislature 25-23. 1:34

Higgs said he also wants to address wait times in health care and possibly try to revive the Energy East pipeline proposal, since Ontario and Quebec, where there was opposition to the now-dropped project, both have new governments.

"My goal is to serve the entire province and my goal is to show that through actions," he said. "I can talk about a lot of things but it's through actions."

Cannabis NB retail model

Once he officially becomes premier, Higgs said, he wants to look at Cannabis NB's retail model and the economics behind it. (Photo: Ed Hunter/CBC)

Higgs said he'll also be studying Cannabis NB, its retail model and the economics behind it. 

"It's implemented, the stores are built," he said. "But we think it's the most expensive retail model you could possibly have."

With files from Information Morning Fredericton

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