New Brunswick

Northrup ponders more power to the people

The Alward government is looking at changing regulations to give citizens more power to take on big resource companies, says Natural Resources Minister Bruce Northrup.

Government may give citizens more power taking on corporations

The Alward government is looking at changing regulations to give citizens more power to take on big resource companies.

Natural Resources Minister Bruce Northrup made the comments while discussing mining commission hearings in Sussex.

Penobsquis residents are currently seeking financial compensation from PotashCorp for the loss of their well water, but believe the company has an unfair advantage at the hearings.

The 25 residents say they don't have the money to hire attorneys who can match high-priced corporate lawyers.

Liberal MLA Denis Landry describes the case as a David and Goliath fight.

Northrup, whose riding includes Penobsquis, said he's aware of the concerns and he hopes to address them.

He’s looking at changes that could create more of a level playing field for citizens, he said.

"It is with the attorney-general right now to get a legal opinion on that, to put regulations in place so that that wouldn't happen again. So we haven't forgot about that, I can guarantee you that."

Put burden of proof on corporations

The Opposition Liberals contend it should be up to a corporation to prove it’s not causing environmental damage - instead of requiring residents to prove that it is.

Legal experts are looking at the legal implications of making that change, said Northrup.

The Penobsquis residents claim about 60 people lost their well water starting in 2004 after PotashCorp began seismic testing in the area for a new mine.

Northrup said he sympathizes with the residents.

"They went through hell and back again, and I'm not going to sit here and make excuses or anything like that," he said.

Still, he can’t prejudge the mining commission hearings, he stressed.

"I don't know why they lost [their water.] You go down in the potash mine and there's 12 hundred gallons a minute coming into the potash mine."

The Penobsquis residents decided to take their concerns with PotashCorp to the province's mining Commissioner, which is a rarely used option allowed for in the Mining Act, instead of taking the company to court.

The ongoing fight is one of the longest hearings ever held by the commissioner.

Last fall, the residents cut their ties with lawyer Michel DesNeiges, who had been representing them for years. Resident Beth Nixon told CBC News they made the decision because their legal bills were piling up as the hearing dragged on.

The provincial mining commissioner has the power to award financial compensation to the homeowners. However, the decision can be appealed to the courts.