POLITICS

Conspicuous by absence? No mention of moratorium in New Brunswick throne speech

12/03/2014 10:20 EST | Updated 02/02/2015 05:59 EST
FREDERICTON - The first throne speech by New Brunswick's new Liberal government may be more notable for what it does not contain: any reference to a promised moratorium on shale gas fracking.

In opening the fall legislative session Wednesday, the Liberals in their throne speech essentially offered a condensed version of their campaign platform, with an emphasis on job creation and getting the province's finances in order.

Missing from the 13-page speech was any reference to shale gas, hydraulic fracturing or a moratorium that would prohibit fracking.

"It was remarkable by its absence," Green party Leader David Coon said.

Premier Brian Gallant said earlier this week that his government would introduce legislation to bring in a moratorium that he would like to see passed before Christmas. But details of what that would look like have been scant since he first announced nearly two years ago his intention to implement such a measure.

Gallant didn't say why there was no mention of a moratorium on shale gas development, except to say that the speech is a general overview of the government's plans.

"We talk about developing the economy in a responsible way, ensuring that we protect the environment, our health and our water across the province, and that's why that guiding principle that's in the throne speech will guide us to have a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing," he said after the speech was delivered by Lt.-Gov. Jocelyne Roy-Vienneau.

Questions have swirled in recent weeks over what precisely the government is planning in its promised moratorium.

In October, Energy Minister Donald Arseneault mused openly that the government was considering a number of options, including a "regional" moratorium. That came as energy company Corridor Resources said that it needs to frack more wells in order to supply the province's potash industry, a vital sector of New Brunswick's economy.

Lois Corbett, the executive director of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, said she is not concerned that there was no mention of the moratorium in the speech.

"It doesn't worry me a bit," Corbett said. "I'm confident that will be introduced in the next few days."

Bruce Fitch, interim leader of the Opposition Progressive Conservatives, said he is anxious to start questioning the government on the need for a moratorium.

"They stress they are all for jobs and the economy, yet they are saying no to potentially the biggest opportunity that New Brunswick has had in a generation," Fitch said.

The speech also promises to re-evaluate the prescription drug and forestry plans introduced by the previous Tory government. That government signed contracts with forestry companies to give them a greater cut of softwood from Crown land.

Gallant said he wants to review the deal but adds it may be difficult to make changes.

"There is no doubt there are contracts that have been signed, so we're going to find out what the parameters are and see what kind of initiatives we can have to try to give a fairer shake to a lot of the businesses across the province and ensure sustainability in the long-term," Gallant said.

The government is also promising to reinstate a home energy retrofit program and provide tax breaks to seniors for renovations to help them stay in their homes longer.