The southeastern riding of Kent South may serve as a microcosm to better understand how the divisive debate over jobs and shale gas development is gripping the province.
Kent County was the centre of some of the violent anti-shale gas protests and blockades last year as SWN Resources Canada was attempting to carry out its testing phase to see if there was a viable industry in the area.
Unlike other areas of the province, where it is unlikely that a shale gas well would ever be spotted, voters in this region understand that if the industry is allowed to move forward, it is a possibility that shale gas wells could become a reality in Kent.
Despite the opposition, the region is hurting for jobs and voters are wondering whether the controversial mining practice may be worth it as a way to boost employment.
Progressive Conservative Claude Williams was first elected in 2001, shortly after the resignation of former Liberal premier Camille Thériault.
Progressive Conservative candidate Claude Williams said he often initiates the topic of shale gas development when going door-to-door in Kent South. He said he feels many people are now supporting the industry. (Daniel McHardie/CBC)
His party has banked its entire campaign around cashing in on natural resource initiatives, such as the shale gas industry and its new Crown forest policy.
“On shale gas, I am doing door-to-door and every person I get the opportunity to meet, I bring up the subject, I don’t wait in case they are shy about asking me,” he said.
“People start to understand that shale gas is not as bad as what they have been seeing for the last four years. Most of the people, there was only one side to the story, people were seeing and hearing about what happened 30 or 40 years ago. As a government, we didn’t do our job right in providing the information to the public.”
Kent South’s boundaries look very different than the riding that Williams won in 2001, 2006 and 2010. But it does include some communities that have an interesting past when it comes to environmental issues.
Sainte-Marie-de-Kent was the site of a very contentious hog farm that was allowed to open in the late 1990s. Residents grew concerned about the smell and potential harmful effects to the local water supply, despite routine government tests.
The hog farm in the small community was eventually closed in 2006 after six years of government-funded tests, studies and help to deal with the smell.
Liberal candidate Benoit Bourque said there is not enough information about shale gas development to allow the industry to start operating in Kent County. (Daniel McHardie/CBC)
It wasn’t long after the hog farm closed that many people in the rural area focused their opposition on uranium mining. Anti-uranium mining signs were once a common sight on telephone poles, in front windows of local homes and on bumper stickers.
Now, anti-shale gas signs are almost as common along routes, such as the 515 and the 535, as campaign signs.
Liberal Benoit Bourque said people have a very good reason to be uncertain about the development of the shale gas industry.
He said that’s why he believes a moratorium is needed until some of the questions about the industry can be answered.
“What I say is that if people find the position [on a moratorium] is not clear, it is because the information is not clear. The information is not clear in the sense — is it safe or is it not safe,” he said.
“You listen to one side and they say it is going to be fine, and the other side says it is going to be a catastrophe. So who do you believe?”
NDP candidate Paul Musgrave entered the race so he could discuss his opposition the shale gas industry.
Paul Musgrave, the NDP’s candidate in Kent South, is an opponent to shale gas development. He said his own party needs to be more clear on its position. (Daniel McHardie/CBC)
However, Musgrave said he feels his own party’s position on shale gas does not go far enough.
“I would like the NDP to go further and say exactly how we are going to ensure the independence of the health agency that would make the decisions so that future governments can’t meddle,” Musgrave said.
“I would also like them to say exactly how they would compensate individuals who end up living near fracking sites.”
Along with Williams, Bourque and Musgrave, Tina Beers is running for the Green Party and Joël MacIntosh is the candidate for the People’s Alliance of New Brunswick.