The next provincial government must have the political will to steer clear of large industrial projects and identify small-scale initiatives that bring jobs without harming the environment in rural New Brunswick, according to an expert in rural issues.
Susan Machum, the Canada research chair in rural social justice at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, said every government has to think of the legacy that its policies will leave on the province.
Machum said Louis J. Robichaud is remembered for building infrastructure, such as schools and hospitals. Richard Hatfield’s government is known for commissioning a study that helped strengthen family farms and farm incomes.
So, Machum said the next provincial government has to think about how it will be remembered when it comes time to decide on whether to move forward with contentious projects, such as shale gas exploration or increasing the amount of trees cut on Crown land.
“What we do know though is that energy booms, and for that matter natural resource booms of any kind, do not last forever,” Machum said in a special op-ed for CBC News.
The potential for a shale gas industry has stirred significant opposition, particularly in rural New Brunswick. (CBC)
“When the resources run dry — and they always do — it is the locals who are left to live with the aftermath.”
She said whoever is sitting in the premier’s office after Sept. 22 has to avoid what she calls “desperate measures” to boost the flagging economy.
The St. Thomas University professor said she understands the province is burdened by a large debt but that should not force the next premier into making decisions that may help in the short term but could have long-term, negative consequences.
“We should be promoting small-scale projects that deliver both jobs and a more palatable econoscape than megaprojects,” she said.
“We need to recognize we live on a finite planet. We cannot continue to consume energy and products at the rate we are, indefinitely. We cannot expect everything we need to miraculously appear on our store shelves from overseas.”
Machum’s argument picks up on a theme that has run throughout the election campaign.
David Alward’s Progressive Conservatives have run a campaign that has been focused squarely on developing a shale gas industry and pushing forward with its new Crown land forestry plan.
The Liberals under Brian Gallant have campaigned on a moratorium on the shale gas industry but have also advocated for other types of energy projects. Gallant has also championed a $900-million infrastructure program over six years to stimulate the economy.
The NDP’s Dominic Cardy has promised to end corporate grants and try new tax credits to create jobs.
Green Party David Coon has explicitly said his party would outlaw hydraulic fracturing and it would halt the forestry agreements signed by the Alward government.