Lies our province tells them

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When I go abroad, I never fail to remind my felicitous hosts that New Brunswick enjoys the finest temperatures in the western world: Here, it never drops below zero, and, here, it never rises above room temperature.

Gosh, friends, it hardly ever snows.

I also tell my international confreres that the province where I currently hang my many toques bustles with sustainable, environmentally benign industries; its rural communities are economic dynamos that support entrepreneurial vigor and verve; its cities are jewels of downtown, cultural development; its public accounts are balanced; and, oh gee-whiz let’s just be honest, its future is as bright as the North Star on a late November night.

When I yak this way the English think I’m mildly amusing; the Scots couldn’t care less. In fact, only the Irish know that I am lying through my rose-colored shot glasses (after all, in their post Celtic-tiger phase, they should know blarney when they hear it). Fortunately, for representatives of this provincial government, the Americans are just a wee bit more gullible.

For, when New Brunswick’s cohort of trade officers and assorted politicos tells a Texas crowd of energy poo-bahs just how wonderful shale-gas development opportunities in New Brunswick might someday become, they may as well be speaking to a roomful of kindergartners. (Oddly enough, that’s exactly how New Brunswick’s cabinet members prefer to address the citizens who elected them on just about every subject anyway).

As John Chilibeck of the Saint John Telegraph-Journal reported earlier this week, “a moratorium on fracking hasn’t stopped the New Brunswick government from advertising the potential for a shale gas industry in the province. At an energy conference in Houston, an officer with Opportunities New Brunswick recently set up a booth showing a poster of shale gas formations in North America, including the possibility of deposits in New Brunswick.”

Did someone not get the memo?

It reads something like this, courtesy of the provincial government’s own website on the matter: “The moratorium (on fracking) will not be lifted unless there is social license in place; clear and credible information about the impacts of hydraulic fracturing on our health, environment and water, allowing us to develop country-leading regulatory regime with sufficient enforcement capabilities; a plan that mitigates the impacts on our public infrastructure and that addresses issues such as waste water disposal; a process in place to respect our obligations under the duty to consult with First Nations; a mechanism in place to ensure that benefits are maximized for New Brunswickers, including the development of a proper royalty structure.”

That’s a fairly tall order and, if I’m not very much mistaken, you can’t put it on a poster even if your eat-and-have-cake heart desires to.

Lamentably, Energy and Mines Minister Donald Arseneault appears to struggle with the conundrum. Responding to the news, he noted, somewhat confusingly, “Putting a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing doesn’t mean you can’t have conventional drilling as well. And a moratorium does not mean you have to stop promoting the province as a place to invest. We can’t hide from the fact we have a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing.”

Fine, but then why advertise to an international audience the province’s vast shale-gas reserves – resources that can only be obtained through fracking – when we have not yet crafted a commercially viable plan for lifting the injunction on the very technology that makes the business rational?

When this government goes abroad, it should remember that truth is a far better drawing card for investment than the banal and wretched alternative.

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