New Brunswick

PCs will be making 'wrong move' if fracking is allowed outside Sussex without a vote

People’s Alliance Leader Kris Austin says the new Higgs government will be making “a wrong move” if it allows shale gas development outside the Sussex area without a vote in the legislature.

People's Alliance Leader Kris Austin says his party wants a vote on allowing fracking in their ridings

People's Alliance of New Brunswick Leader Kris Austin said it would the 'wrong move' if the PCs were to lift the moratorium on areas outside Sussex without bringing the matter to the House for a vote. (James West/Canadian Press)

People's Alliance Leader Kris Austin says the new Higgs government will be making "a wrong move" if it allows shale gas development outside the Sussex area without a vote in the legislature.

Austin said he and his two fellow Alliance MLAs will want a say on any lifting of a province-wide moratorium in areas they represent.

While the party has promised to support the new Progressive Conservative minority government in confidence votes for 18 months, Austin said he'd allow his members a free vote on fracking in their ridings.

"If it affects our riding, and where we are elected, we certainly want a say in that. I'll just leave it at that," Austin said. "Our caucus wants a say in what happens in our ridings."

The PCs hope to lift the moratorium in the Sussex area before the end of the year and, eventually, in other areas where there is support.

PC MLA Bruce Northrup said the Tories hope to allow fracking in areas that support it by Christmas. (CBC)

"We're looking at different areas and municipalities that want it," Sussex-Fundy-St. Martins PC MLA Bruce Northrup said last week.

Corridor Resources started extracting gas in the Sussex area since 1999.

"They could proceed certainly in Sussex," Austin said Tuesday. "If they start going outside of that, I think they're going to have some problems on their hands if they don't bring it to the legislature for a vote. I think that would be a wrong move."

Liberal moratorium

The Liberal government imposed a moratorium on shale gas development in 2015.

The Liberals first amended the Oil and Natural Gas Act to give the cabinet the power to impose the moratorium through regulations. The cabinet then issued the order.

It's not clear whether the new PC government will introduce legislation to end the moratorium.

The Liberal-imposed moratorium was at a cabinet order, meaning it could be repealed by cabinet, according to a Tory spokesperson.

"Technically speaking, the 2015 moratorium was imposed through a regulation of cabinet which could be repealed by cabinet," spokesperson Jean Bertin said in a written statement.

"However, government staff are investigating whether implementing regional resource development and outlining a mechanism for determining support would require amendments to legislation."

Austin said whether legislation is required or not, the issue should still come to a vote.

"Absolutely," he said. "With such a contentious issue like that, I think that all members should have a right to vote."

And he said he is not sure how he'd vote, given the chance.

"I don't know. I would have to go back to my constituents, talk to my people, try to get a feel for where my riding's at on it, then vote according to them.

'A line in the sand'

Fracking was a key issue in the 2014 election, in which the PCs campaigned on the need to "Say Yes" to resource development. The Liberals promised a moratorium and won a narrow majority.

In this year's campaign, PC Leader Blaine Higgs promised to lift the moratorium in areas of the province "where communities are interested in pursuing" development. He cited the Sussex area and Albert County as two possible examples.

Premier Blaine Higgs identified Sussex and Albert County as communities interested in shale gas development. (James West/Canadian Press)

He didn't say how a PC government would define the boundaries of those local areas.

Higgs said in August that he'd measure support for development by listening to municipal councils, then letting the consultations "spread out" to surrounding local service districts through open meetings.

Austin said the three Alliance MLAs will support the upcoming PC throne speech if it mentions lifting the moratorium.

"We're not going to collapse a government on a general statement in a throne speech on shale gas," Austin said.

Green Party Leader David Coon has already called fracking "a line in the sand" for him and all three of the party's MLAs said they would not support any change to the moratorium.

Green Party of New Brunswick Leader David Coon answers questions from the media. (James West/Canadian Press)

A Liberal spokesperson said Tuesday the party won't have any comment until its MLAs have been assigned their critic roles in the legislature.

The Liberals said they'd lift the moratorium if five conditions were met: a "social licence," or community approval, to extract shale gas; reliable data on health, environmental and water impacts; a plan to dispose of wastewater; proper Indigenous consultations; and a proper structure for the province to collect royalty payments.


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