Sunday, October 21, 2012

Oct. 21: Whence and Wherefore the Liberals?

In The Moncton Times and Transcript, Bill Belliveau's weekly column is the closest thing we have to an official statement of the opinion of the Liberal Party of New Brunswick. His Oct. 20 column on shale gas, then, is one to pay attention to. In this case, it is especially so because the Liberals have been a trifle shy about what they would do if in power. The Belliveau column is more explicit.

Let's start, though, with clarifying a word that most speakers and writers   (including Belliveau) have used a trifle carelessly. Moratorium, thought it sounds as though it has something to do with death and finality, is not about that at all. It is a  legal term, usually used to indicate a legal postponement of a debt payment. The debt is not cancelled. It doesn't die. The payment is simply delayed.

In the case of shale gas, then, a moratorium does NOT mean that shale gas exploration is forbidden forever. It means it is forbidden until we know more about its effects.

Belliveau's column, then, in opposing a moratorium (and presuming he knows what the word means), tells us, "What the hell. Sure there's risks to life and health; but let's do it, anyway." That is exactly the meaning of his last paragraph. Yeah, yeah, yeah, it could poison people. It could poison our groundwater and destroy our land. But, he says, "Hiding our heads in the sands of moratorium will not get us out of this hole."  (I shall skip lightly over the probability that taking the risks he recommends could forever bury us in this hole.)

This is the paragraph that gave me the sense he does not understand the meaning of moratorium. It does not mean burying our heads in the sands. Quite the contrary. If means delaying, simply delaying, shale gas exploration until we KNOW what the risks are. There is research still to be done - not to mention research results we have still not been told about.

Those opposed to shale gas exploration right now are not hiding their heads in the sand. On the contrary, they are using their heads to get information before making a decision. The person who advocates hiding our heads in the sand is Bill Belliveau. Just read his last paragraph.

"We owe to to ourselves to continue investigating the potential of shale gas development and, yes, the risks associated with its development. (my underlining).

So - sure - maybe some people will get sick or die. Maybe we'll get a high rate of stillborn babies, or birth defects that will affect the victims for the rest of their lives. Maybe we'll destroy the soil and the water. But, what the hell, ya gotta take risks. Right? I mean, so you get widespread illness, destruction and even death. But, hey, there could be some good jobs in this (though we don't even know much about that) - as long as it lasts. Hey. Not a second to waste. Hurry. Hurry.

This is mindless drivel.

Some health risks that we already know about  (though not from reading the Irving Press) are damned serious. And there's a lot more we haven't even looked at yet. There are huge risks in the fracking process. There are risks in the use of the gas, itself. We need to know more before we go ahead.

Nor, given its record, is there the slightest hope that the oil and gas industry will ever give the smallest damn about what happens to us, to our children and grandchildren,  or our lands and waters, or that they will ever tell us the whole truth.

Read Belliveau's column. That is almost certainly what is to be the Liberal policy - and it's exactly what the Conservative policy is now.

The industry has already objected to even the  regulations we have posted now. And, despite the dimwit opinion of our Minister of the Environment, that does not prove he's on the right track. He almost certainly knew before he ever drew up regulations that the industry would oppose them. He and industry leaders almost certainly had discussed the strategy. He proposes regulations that are  inadequate and/or lacking adequate research. They pretend to be angry, though they have been assured that most of the regulations won't be enforced.

And so we play our round of just pretend - just to give the Irving Press some fiction to write about and call it news. It's like a game of hockey. And we're the puck. The only difference is that under hockey rules, there are some things you're not allowed to do with the puck.

Belliveau is correct about one thing, though. The are broad similarities between the Cleary Report and the Lapierre Report. But the difference is one hell of a big one.Cleary says we had better learn more before we put our lives on the line. And Dr. Cleary, as chief medical officer, is quite qualified to make that recommendation.

Dr. Lapierre recommends going ahead. First, he had no mandate to make such a recommendation. Secondly, he has no qualification to make such a recommendation. However distinguished his career might be, he is a biologist. Such a recommendation is well beyond his expertise. And if he is a person of any intelligence or ethics at all, he knows, he should never have made such a recommendation.

And if our universities had any sense of ethics, they would be public in criticism of what he has done. But they won't. The university administrations will kiss up to gas the industry in hope of getting grants with which they can buy each other more awards and titles. The only profs who will speak at all will be the usual "rent-a-profs".

Meanwhile, Professor Lapierre will hit the lecture circuit, aiming in particular at those groups who think they are all just great folks and real movers and shakers - when they are really second and third rate. The Rotarians spring to mind. What the Rotarians think doesn't really matter. But the speeches will give The Times and Transcript an excuse to play up Lapierre - and to further ignore Dr. Cleary. That's the way the real world turns.

Conclusion? If you really don't give a damn what happens, you can safely vote either Liberal or Conservative. There is really no difference between them on shale gas - or any other issue.
If you do care, and you still vote Liberal or Conservative, then I guess you deserve what you get. Too bad, though, that everybody else is stuck with getting it, too.


What's really interesting about the fracking debate (propaganda campaign) is what nobody has mentioned. Why on earth are we even thinking of allowing private companies to develop what is ours? We lose all the profits - not just in the sense that a big business gets them, but in the sense that they almost all the money leaves the province. (And, of course, we lose on taxes when private business does it because it insists on sweetheart terms.) All we get for our resource is a minimal tax and a handful of jobs - for as long as it lasts.

If shale gas is going to be developed, why on earth don't we do it ourselves, and get full value for our money?

Oh, I know why. It's because corporation people are smart and efficient, and know things we don't.

Look. Quebec took over hydro power from private business and put it under public ownership over fifty years ago. Quebec Hydro is a lot bigger than NB shale gas. And guess what? It's been a huge success. In fact, it's common all over the world for governments to own and operate power projects. The drive to privatize them is fairly recent - rather like the attempts to privatize all education and even (no kidding) to privatize ownership of the rain that falls.

Public ownership works very well - and it distributes the wealth from what are, after all, our resources in a way that private ownership does not. There's nothing radical about it. Canada has over a century of experience of public ownership. And it's worked well.  Meanwhile, large, private ownership is more noted for ripping us off. That's why we have some a huge income gap in this country. And it's a major reason why the world is slipping even deeper into recession.
Among the student columns on Saturday's Whatever section, I would very strongly recommend the one by Sabrina Stace.
Interesting to read the list of church events for the week - teas, beef dinner, bazaars. Lots for the stomach. Lots for cheap shopping. Nothing for the mind.


  1. What I don't understand is: Why is this province acting like a welfare recipient 3 days before "cheque day"? (where everything, and anything, they own, is "for sale")

    There is absolutely no shortage of natural gas. Because there is no shortage, and in fact a surplus, of natural gas, the price is low, bargain basement low. It is not something that will dissipate, or go bad, right where it is sitting. Why can't "we" afford to wait, and sell it when it is actually worth something? This, keeping firmly in mind that this gas does not belong to the government, it belongs to the residents of New Brunswick, who should be the folks deciding the when, and the where, of the selling of it.

    Or is this simply going to be another resource we are prepared to give away? (like the forests and the fish)

  2. I cannot believe I wrote that appallingly spelled title for this blog.

  3. It could be worse, at least the Liberals are saying something.... the others are "missing in action".

  4. The others are missing in the Assmbly. that makes it easier for the news media to ignore them. If NB ever hopes to deal with its problems, it is going to have to learn to stop voting for the same party - no matter whether it calls itself liberal or conservative.