Fracking poised to be key issue in new legislature
CBC New Brunswick Political Panel discusses upcoming Tory throne speech
In less than two weeks, a Progressive Conservative throne speech will be read in the New Brunswick legislature, and representatives from the four political parties are in agreement about some elements they expect and hope to hear.
For instance, the speech will likely address the priorities of all parties and strike a collaborative tone. It will touch on a new style of governance, a less centralized version of previous governments. It will promise solutions to ongoing health-care issues, such as staff shortages, improved seniors care and better ambulance response times.
But one topic is poised to create division in the house: the environment — specifically fracking and climate change
PC Leader Blaine Higgs has said the Tory government would be open to lifting the moratorium on shale gas for communities that supported fracking, and PC MLA Bruce Northrup said this week they hope to allow fracking by Christmas.
Green Party Leader David Coon said for the Tories to express a desire for collaboration and then plan to permit fracking is like "poking a stick in the eye" of the Greens and their supporters.
"With something that was so socially divisive and led to so much social unrest in this province, in the face of climate change, concerns over water quality, I can't for the life of me imagine why Blaine Higgs, in a minority government, is pursuing this," Coon said on the CBC New Brunswick Political Panel Podcast.
Liberal MLA Robert McKee suggested fracking could even turn into a "confidence issue." He walked back his comment somewhat but said it's an issue that can't be "rammed through" and should be put to the house.
Tory MLA Jeff Carr disagreed with the notion that it would be a confidence issue.
"I think we have to make sure we make decisions in the legislature based on the facts and how things are written, not on a motion," he said.
Coon predicted any pro-fracking legislation would be defeated.
The Tories hold 22 seats and need three more votes for a majority in the 49-seat legislature. The People's Alliance, which holds three seats, has said it will prop up a Tory government for 18 months.
Alliance Leader Kris Austin said his MLAs have a free vote on the issue of fracking.
Austin himself said on the podcast he's not opposed to allowing fracking in specific areas and that it would be "irresponsible" to defeat a throne speech on a "vague" notion of shale gas.
The party leader added that market conditions indicate it probably isn't the best time to extract shale gas anyway.
Opposition parties are also interested to hear whether the throne speech will touch on climate change.
"We've got 12 years now to actually significantly reduce our dependence on fossil fuels," said Coon.
The deadline Coon mentioned is from a damning United Nations report that suggests the planet will reach the crucial temperature that would precipitate extreme weather and food shortages.
McKee said he wants to hear what the Tories have in store to address climate change. Higgs was critical of the federal carbon tax plan, describing it as a job killer during the provincial election campaign.
The Liberals' own carbon pricing plan failed to meet Ottawa's standards, so the federal backstop was imposed on New Brunswick.