The goofiness of New Brunswick’s very own Fraggle Rock

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It’s been a long time coming, but fracking has officially become not only the bugbear, the hoary thorn, the bothersome burr in the butt of New Brunswick’s body politic, but also its low, comic relief.

For this, we can thank former Tory Premier David Alward, who, while he was in office,  couldn’t stop yakking about the alleged 70-trillion cubic-feet of gas resting quietly beneath the shoes of all those who still refused, against all common sense, to move to Alberta, where considerations about air, soil and water quality are. . .let’s just say, petrochemically sanctified.

But kudos should also go to our new premier, Brian Gallant, who just can’t seem to make up his mind about a drilling technology that’s been deployed safely in this province for nearly two decades.

Mr. Gallant squeaked out a minor majority of seats for his Grits in last September’s election at the expense of Mr. Alward, largely by promising to put an end to hydraulic fracturing the practice of blowing water and chemicals into tight plays of oil-and-gas-laden sedimentary rock. A moratorium is in order, he declared. (Except, of course, it wasn’t).

Now, he intends to deliver one in a manner of speaking.

In an interview with the Saint John Telegraph-Journal last week, he stated, “We had a commitment of having a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing. We will be presenting a mechanism on how we will accomplish that in the net few weeks. Now, whether it will be able to pass or not in the time frame that remains to be seen with how the opposition reacts to this.”

Oh, really, Mr. Gallant? The last time any of us checked, you actually held a majority of seats in the provincial assembly. Or, did you skip over the section in the Liberal party playbook, entitled, “Now that you are premier, here are a few guidelines to keep you from falling on your own sword; subsection 1.0, choking on your own words”?

To wit: Is the premier actually intimating that his moratorium on shale gas development in this province depends on how the provincial legislature’s minority opposition votes on the issue? Because if he is, I can save him the trouble of orchestrating an extensive, tedious debate. So, for that matter, can Bruce Fitch, Tory leader.

“We’re going to expose the gaps that we’ve seen in Premier Gallant’s initial foray into politics,” Mr. Fitch declared in the House last week. “Most premiers come in with 100 days of change. He’s had 100 days of chaos.”

The assessment is, of course, as harsh as it is inaccurate. The new premier has racked a couple of historic wins since assuming the mantle of office this past fall. One, surely, is his courageous decision to bring New Brunswick into the 21st Century on a woman’s right to choose how and when to continue, or terminate, her pregnancy.

Another innovative, though less dramatic, policy change is Mr. Gallant’s determination to open up his $900-billion infrastructure rebuild of the province to the private sector’s technology industries. That sort of thinking hasn’t been in evidence around these parts since former Premier Frank McKenna decided to transform 1990s New Brunswick into a Silicon Valley of the north.

All of which makes Premier Gallant’s position on shale gas development in this province perplexing, if not incomprehensible.

A man this evidently smart, engaged and studious a man who suggests that a proven technology needs halting even though that same technology can and is safely deployed to keep a potash mine, for example, in operation purely and simply boggles the mind.

Or, maybe, just maybe, that’s the big joke, the big kahuna of humour in all of this.

The Grits need an exit strategy from its ill-advised promise to the less than half of New Brunswickers who support a temporary ban on fracking. All the reigning Libs need do is appear consultative, inclusive, welcoming in a big-tent sort of way. Oh, dear Tories, won’t you please raise your hackles, sound your trumpets, and get us out of this mess we created.?

Indeed, Freddy Beach, won’t you please send in the clowns?

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