Doubling-down on government waste

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For a government that appears to believe that duplication is the mother of perdition, New Brunswick’s Grit regime has a funny way of sticking to the guns of its political principles.

As Premier Brian Gallant’s cabineteers defund and dismember the province’s energy institute – a creature of the former Progressive Conservative government, established to provide scientific research on the effects of hydraulic fracturing on soil, water and air – they convene a panel of non-experts in these matters to do precisely the same thing.

Granted, the New Brunswick Energy Institute began under crossed stars (its original head was forced to resign after it was revealed his curriculum vitae fudged his credentials), but the group has, by all accounts, conducted its work over the past two years with circumspection and objectivity.

But now a triumvirate composed of a former university president, a former board chairwoman of the province’s community college system, and a former provincial Chief Justice, are being asked to determine whether hydraulic fracturing is safe, socially acceptable and economically viable.

It bears mentioning that none of these fine, upstanding citizens – John McLaughlin, Cheryl Robertson, Guy Richard – are geologists, hydrologists, or mining engineers (unlike those who lately worked for the disbanded institute). Yet, they are tasked with determining whether “clear and credible information about the impacts of (fracking)” are even possible. Stranger still, their mandate insists that they discover how and under which circumstances these effects are perceptible in “a New Brunswick context”.

Politics, of course, is never about telling the truth; it’s about spinning the plates on which you serve your own version of veracity. The proof of life in this dictum is in the current government’s utter disinterest in the work Institute members have already performed. Apparently, and for no sensible reason, we begin again.

According to the provincial government’s terms of reference for its new panel, released to the Saint John Telegraph Journal earlier this week, “the specific role of the Commission will be to study each (of the province’s conditions) in a New Brunswick context and report its evidence based findings directly to cabinet. Government has set a period of up to twelve months  for the Commission to complete its report.”

Meanwhile (and in some trick of political mastery), “the Commission will be independent of government, transparent in all its activities, open minded. . .and accountable for all government assigned resources.” What it won’t be, likely, is informed by the research and findings that actual scientists have already produced.

Findings like this, published this week: “The first research project funded by the New Brunswick Energy Institute and carried out by the Canadian Rivers Institute has been finalized and released for public consumption. . . .‘The document serves as a scientific review to provide background information on environmental flow assessment approaches and on the current status of environmental flow guidelines used in jurisdictions across Canada and internationally,’ according to Allen Curry the scientific lead on the project.

“The project was funded by the New Brunswick Energy Institute because there are currently no federal guidelines regarding determination of holistic environmental flows in Canada, i.e., guidelines to safeguard the wellbeing of aquatic life and maintain ecosystem integrity. ‘While New Brunswick has not experienced serious pressure related to surface water abstraction to date, that will change as the Province develops more of its natural resources, therefore we see a need to define policy guidelines and best practices for New Brunswick’s environmental flow needs,’ Dave Besner, Chair of the New Brunswick Energy Institute said in releasing the study.”

Forgive my obtuseness, but is this not exactly the sort of perspicuity this government needs, and has already inherited?

Must we always follow good dollars with bad ones in this province?

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