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It’s time to talk about fracking – seriously

On Sept. 22, New Brunswick voters took a turn in an interesting direction.

After four years of Tory rule, voters decided that it was time for a fresh face, and elected 32-year old Brian Gallant of the Liberal Party as Premier of the province. Gallant rode to power in part on one key promise: a moratorium on the controversial natural resource extraction method for shale gas known as fracking. Gallant wants more time to study the environmental and health impacts of the now-infamous method.

With the election, photo-ops and corny political slogans behind us, it may be time for New Brunswick to finally have a serious discussion about its future. It is time for New Brunswickers, and the government of the province, to get real about the hard choices that need to be made to create a sustainable future for New Brunswick, where young people from around Canada will want to come to seek opportunity. Warts and all, responsible resource development via fracking may be the best way to reach this promised land.

Fracking, for all of the controversy (and notwithstanding Gallant’s promise), has already been studied intensely. For 50 years, fracking has been performed in Canada. The studies have been done. Arguably, the biggest issue posed by fracking is its effect on water. In the United States, Duke University along with members of the U.S. Geological Survey examined 127 water wells in Arkansas (a heavy fracking area) for evidence of pollution emanating from chemicals produced by fracking. The conclusion was simple:  Arkansas homeowners had good water quality, regardless of proximity to fracking. The researchers also honed in on a more important point. Generalizations about fracking are non-sensical — instead, regulations and the proper construction of water wells can make the issue more complex.

And that’s the rub. Opponents of fracking seem to think it’s an all or nothing deal. Instead, New Brunswickers should be made aware of the fact that with proper regulation governing the industry, as well as the protection of key water sources, resources of all kinds can be developed. This is a far more balanced view of fracking than what was portrayed during the election.

So, if this is the case, what we need is political courage.  Currently, New Brunswick receives 32 per cent of its revenues from the federal government in equalization payments. New Brunswick has the highest deficit of any province in the federation. New Brunswick routinely ships its young people away to seek opportunities in regions where the supply of political courage is high, and resources are being developed— Saskatchewan or Alberta for example. By the way, both Saskatchewan and Alberta are “have” provinces — they pay the support payments to New Brunswick. This is not a pretty picture for a province that is looking to take on new entitlement programs and spending over the course of the next four years.

The old political adage is that politicians campaign in poetry and govern in prose. Gallant certainly did the latter — he promised some old chestnuts like taxing the rich and spending $1 billion the province doesn’t have. What we might need now is a great deal of prose. New Brunswick, right now, can barely sustain itself economically. It relies on the rest of Canada to pay its bills. This should be odious to all New Brunswickers, who should look to be leaders in this federation, a place only fitting for one of its founding members.

There is a safe way out of the mud, and it involves all of us encouraging Brian Gallant to begin thinking in prose. Responsible resource development, done in concert with environmental objectives, is not impossible — it has been done for years. It could lead to billions of dollars in private sector investment, and dynamic and cutting-edge jobs for a province that desperately needs them.

All we need is a leader who is willing to begin thinking outside the box about how to implement a reasonable resource development scheme in the province. All we need is a leader who will be bold enough to get beyond the partisanship of the issue and instead make a decision on the merits of the case.

Here’s looking to you, Brian.

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