The last thing New Brunswick needs is yet another reason to bloviate about the provincial government’s diabolical plans to shove shale gas down the throats of its citizens. But for a polity that seems bound and determined to leave most of our natural resources in the ground, we do seem extraordinarily skilled at mass-producing hot air.
In an interview with CBC Radio out of Saint John last Thursday, Fred Metallic – a member of Listuguj First Nations in Quebec and a PhD in environmental science – explained why he suddenly quit the scientific advisory council of the New Brunswick Energy Institute, whose purpose is, according to its website, “to examine the science surrounding energy possibilities in our province.”
Declared Mr. Metallic: “When I was approached by the Institute. . .we were going to take a citizen-based approach to the development of energy. As a First Nations researcher, I generally work with people and (so) this was compatible with the way I like to approach (things). . .We did discuss aboriginal issues. However, these issues were not a priority, unfortunately. The priorities were more around the technology around shale gas development.”
What’s more, Mr. Metallic lamented, “At this point, the institute is more concerned about the government’s plans to develop shale gas and other forms of energy. It is more concerned about industry and whether industry and science can work together to ensure that these resources are developed safely. As First Nations researcher, I didn’t see First Nations issues to be central and that was a concern for me.
In the end, he said, “I have more faith in people to want to move things forward than I do with government, sometimes.”
Of course, that’s it in a nutshell. Isn’t it? Here is the cri de coeur of the modern age. And you don’t have to be a member of a First Nation to utter it.
Having little faith in governments is simply de rigueur these days, and not just for cultural warriors and libertarian trendsetters. Everyone – liberals, conservatives, radicals, reactionaries, progressives, the one per cent and the remaining 99 per cent – wants to thump his chest with one hand and with the other grab the nearest elected official by the scruff of his scrawny neck and declare: “You, sir, are a cad!”
But before we get caught up in this, the standard plot line, and cut and paste it to this, the latest chapter in the shale gas melodrama, it behooves us to recognize what, exactly, the New Brunswick Energy Institute actually does – which is, quite frankly, a whole lot of nothing.
“We feel that the institute is a scientific body,” Energy and Mines Minister Craig Leonard told the CBC last week as he gamely defended his government’s decision create it on the advice of departed and forcibly humbled academic Louis LaPierre. “The place for discussing treaty rights with First Nations is within government, itself. We want to keep those two separate.”
This is, of course, utter nonsense. The technology that enables shale gas drilling and the fracked ground that treaties may (or may not) protect as a collective resource (including the water therein) comprise a single issue.
But, the point is, the provincial government doesn’t appear to be enjoying much success on either of the issue’s constituent parts: nurturing scientific inquiry or ameliorating people’s concerns
In the case of the former, the number of “ongoing” research projects at the Institute number in the single digits, as in, zero. Ditto for the number of “requests for proposals”.
According to a Telegraph-Journal report last week, “Energy institute executive director Annie Daigle attempted to clarify the body’s mandate on Thursday, stating that its direction had been ‘muddied’ of late.”
She added: “Things sort of came to a standstill for a month and a half to two months. We haven’t developed any research, we haven’t signed any contracts or anything like that, and we haven’t put out the request for proposals for that work.
It is being reviewed by the scientific advisory council. We had some setbacks over the last couple of months, so we are just trying to get back on track.”
All of which suggests that if the provincial government is trying to shove shale gas down the throats of New Brunswickers, it isn’t yet relying on the Energy Institute for practical support.