Liberals' shale gas stance is anti-jobs, Alward says

The Alward government is adopting a new defence in the shale gas controversy, accusing the Liberals of being against job creation by being opposed to developing the industry.

Brian Gallant says premier's criticism is nothing but a PR move

Watch two exchanges between Premier David Alward and Liberal Leader Brian Gallant in question period on Wednesday over job creation and shale gas 3:07

The Alward government is accusing the Liberal party of being against job creation because of its call for a moratorium on the shale gas industry.

Premier David Alward said on Wednesday New Brunswickers have a choice between economic development and a moratorium.

He made the comments in response to Liberal Leader Brian Gallant calling on the provincial government to do more to create jobs after a job fair hosted by Alberta companies in Fredericton on Tuesday attracted hundreds of people looking for work.

Liberal Leader Brian Gallant questioned the Alward government on its job creation record on Wednesday. (CBC)

Alward argued if Gallant wants jobs created, he should drop his opposition to the shale gas industry.

"I wonder why the member opposite came out yesterday against that," Alward said.

"We're focused on allowing New Brunswickers to work in New Brunswick."

The premier equated a freeze on the shale gas industry to a freeze on job creation.

"You cannot separate the two," Deputy Premier Paul Robichaud told reporters.

"What is the job fair in Fredericton to bring those people out west? It was to work in the gas industry. So that's the reason the premier made that link," he said.

But Gallant contends the provincial government is presenting New Brunswickers with a false choice.

"It's nothing but a [public relations] move," Gallant said.

"They're very well aware of what we're concerned about. We're concerned about the health of New Brunswickers, we're concerned about the environment."

The provincial government has faced mounting opposition to development of the shale gas industry over the past two years.

Opponents are worried about the impact hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as hydro-fracking, will have on the water supply and surrounding environment.

Hydro-fracking is a process where exploration companies inject a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into the ground, creating cracks in shale rock formations to extract natural gas from areas that would otherwise go untapped.

In February, the Alward government introduced new rules governing the oil and gas industry. Energy Minister Craig Leonard has said they are among the strictest in North America.

Alward's use of the controversial shale gas industry to attack the Liberals may reflect a very political calculation — that New Brunswick's unemployment situation has become so desperate that the vague promise of fracking jobs could be a political winner.

The unemployment rate jumped to 10.5 per cent in March as the province's economy lost 2,100 jobs, according to Statistics Canada.