New Brunswick premier wants fracking moratorium passed by Christmas

FREDERICTON – The premier of New Brunswick says his government will introduce legislation for a moratorium on fracking for shale gas during the fall legislative session that begins Wednesday and he wants it passed by Christmas.

The Liberals, who won a majority government in the September election, campaigned on a promise to bring in a moratorium, saying more information is needed before allowing shale gas fracking to continue.

Premier Brian Gallant said his government will refuse to approve permits for hydraulic fracturing if the legislation is not passed by the end of the year.

“I’m very optimistic we’ll be able to pass these things before the holidays and if not, we’ll certainly come back as early as possible in the new year to ensure that everything does get passed,” Gallant said in an interview.

Bruce Fitch, the Opposition Progressive Conservative leader, said he is reserving judgment until he sees the legislation but will oppose it if he believes it will harm the energy sector and other industries.

“If they’re going to put a moratorium in, we need to know what effect that’s going to have on business, on the environment, and on the health and welfare of the people of the province of New Brunswick. That’s a great debate and I’m anxious to get into it,” Fitch said.

“If we see the moratorium is shutting business down, we would prevent that from happening because we think jobs and the economy here in the province of New Brunswick are the No. 1 priority.”

Nova Scotia, Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador have passed moratoriums on fracking, though they vary in scope.

David Coon, leader of New Brunswick’s Green party, welcomes news that the moratorium will be introduced early in Gallant’s mandate and said members will have an opportunity to see how the legislation stacks up to moratoriums in other provinces.

David Murrell, an economics professor at the University of New Brunswick, said the government risks scaring off exploration companies by imposing a moratorium.

“Government should not pick and choose their industries, and we’re now in a pick-and-choose mode,” Murrell said. “You have to welcome what industries can exist here.”

The fall legislative session — the first for Gallant as premier — starts Wednesday with a throne speech.

Gallant did not specify what the throne speech will address, though he said it will address commitments the Liberals have made on job creation.

The government will also present a capital budget in this session, giving the public their first look at how the government plans to spend a promised $900 million over six years on infrastructure projects.

Murrell said he’s skeptical that spending on the construction of roads and other infrastructure will have long-term economic benefits, as the Liberals have suggested. He said it may only increase employment in the construction sector while the projects are underway.

“I don’t think the provincial government should be in the game of trying to stimulate the economy in the short run,” Murrell said.

Fitch said he’s also concerned that the government could be increasing the debt in its plan to pave their way to prosperity.

“If the government is going to go out and spend, spend, spend in order to try to boost the economy, some of those short-term jobs are not the long-term sustainability that could be available if we looked at our natural resource development,” he said.

The Tories have also suggested they may seek a vote in this session on abortion access to find out where Liberal members stand on the issue, but Gallant says the changes in regulation have been made by cabinet and don’t require a vote.

Last week, Gallant announced that as of Jan. 1, women seeking abortions will no longer have to get referrals from two doctors saying the procedure is medically necessary. Other doctors will also be able to perform abortions though they will still have to be done in hospitals as opposed to clinics.