A host of environmental issues took centre stage this week as the provincial election candidates for Memramcook-Tantramar took part in an all-candidates discussion in Sackville Tuesday evening.
The NDP’s Helene Boudreau, Green Party candidate Megan Mitton and the Progressive Conservatives’ Etienne Gaudet all shared their thoughts on a myriad of hot-button topics during the event, which was hosted by EOS Eco-Energy, a local organization that encourages communities in the region to reduce and adapt to climate change and to become more sustainable. Liberal incumbent Bernard LeBlanc was noticeably absent from the debate.
From their position on hydrofracking to their party’s stance on a carbon tax, the candidates had an opportunity to express their views and share their vision on issues ranging from sustainable development to forestry to water protection and climate change adaptation.
All agreed that more action is needed to tackle these challenges but the candidates often differed in their opinions of how to get there.
Yes or no to carbon tax?
Carbon pricing, for example, was one area of discussion that was met with both favourable and opposing views.
Boudreau said the NDP has plans to introduce a carbon reduction fund if elected, stopping short of calling it a carbon tax. She said it’s a necessary step if New Brunswick is going to start tackling the challenges of climate change and ensuring a more sustainable future.
“It needs to be done,” said Boudreau. “It’s 2018. It’s no longer a discussion but an action.”
The fund, explained Boudreau, would be reinvested back into New Brunswick – providing low-income earners with a rebate to help them recoup the money they’re paying out for the fee, while also putting investments into renewable energy and green infrastructure. This would help ensure a “greener economy and greener jobs” for the future, she said.
“We need to let families know we’re doing this for them . . . not just for today but for our grandchildren.”
Mitton said the Green Party would move ahead with a carbon tax, a move that has been touted by economists as the best way forward when it comes to reducing use of fossil fuels.
She said renewable energy and infrastructure improvements are needed as the province confronts the impacts of climate change and those won’t come cheap.
“We need to look at it as putting a price on pollution.”
She said she is concerned that if the provincial government doesn’t come up with its own plan for carbon pricing, then the federal government will impose a plan on New Brunswick.
“We need to find the best way to do this for New Brunswickers,” she said, noting public consultation and debate is needed on this issue.
Gaudet said the PCs do not support a carbon tax at all, noting it has yet to be proven effective in reducing the use of fossil fuels.
He also pointed out that the money New Brunswickers (approximately $1,200 per family per year) would spend to fund a carbon tax would be better left in their pockets instead of the government’s. Gaudet said the provincial government should look at getting its spending under control rather than trying to generate more revenue in this way.
Little support for hydrofracking
The candidates also differed on their stance on fracking in New Brunswick.
While Mitton and Boudreau both strongly disagreed with allowing companies to drill hydraulic fracturing wells in their search of shale gas in the province, Gaudet said his party would consider it in areas where there was a “desire” for it.
“But I am not seeing that consensus, or that desire, in Memramcook-Tantramar,” said Gaudet.
In his door-to-door campaigning, Gaudet said it was made clear by the majority of constituents that there is not much public support for revisiting the issue. And, if elected, he said he would represent the wishes of the people of the riding.
Mitton, a member of the Tantramar Alliance Against Hydrofracking, said any move toward reversing the current moratorium on fracking would be “a terrible idea for New Brunswickers.
There are too many public health concerns associated with the practice, she said, not to mention the potential impacts on wildlife, waterways and tourism.
She also noted that continuing to rely on the extraction of fossil fuels only slows the province’s transition towards a greener economy.
“We can’t afford to keep investing in fossil fuels,” she said.
Boudreau said the NDP has come out in favour of a legislated ban rather than the current moratorium, which she said simply isn’t tough enough to protect the province.
“I’d like to make sure it’s not even possible,” she said. “It’s important we have legislation now to protect New Brunswick.”
The candidates also had the opportunity to speak about the potential opportunities that exist in the area when it comes to the renewable energy sector and the eco-tourism/agri-tourism market.
Mitton said a Green Party would continue to put its support behind small and local businesses, and continue to encourage the entrepreneurial spirit of New Brunswickers.
“There are lots of ideas out there,” she said.
Mitton said economic and environmental sustainability is vital to New Brunswick’s future and there are plenty of ways to ensure that happens – including retraining workers for ‘new energy’ jobs, encouraging governments to buy local foods for their schools and hospitals, and promoting more agriculture opportunities, just to name a few.
She also pointed out that government needs to help individuals and businesses with home efficiency upgrades and energy retrofits. Not only would such a program create local jobs but it would also ensure heating bills are more affordable, would lessen dependence on fossil fuels, and provide a boost to the economy.
Boudreau agreed there are plenty of ideas in the riding to tap into and initiatives that could be considered.
“I want to push more of those ideas that are coming from you,” she said.
Boudreau stressed, however, that in order to bring these ideas to fruition, there needs to be a healthy and protected environment in which to do so. She said it’s important to continue to be vigilant in the protection of our waterways and our forested and agricultural lands to ensure Memramcook-Tantramar can further its eco-tourism market.
She said the riding has huge potential to bring together all of its assets and promote them as an eco-tourism package and, if elected, she would like to see more provincial support towards developing that vision.
“We have an opportunity here to really create something special.”
Gaudet, who runs a small organic fruit and vegetable farming operation in Memramcook, said the provincial government needs to create an economy that can support local entrepreneurs who want to expand and become more sustainable.
He said there are so many ideas and visions for the region and “I am supportive of those who have the courage to stand up and start something.”
Gaudet said he’d like to explore the untapped opportunity in this area in the eco- and agri-tourism sectors and is willing to listen to anyone who wants to bring their initiatives forward. He said he would also champion any business or individual who wants to “green our economy and find ways to step away from fossil fuels.”
Similar to her stance on hydrofracking, Boudreau was emphatic on the issue of spraying the herbicide glyphosphate.
“Ban glyphosate spraying on Crown land and all other forested areas in New Brunswick,” she said.
Mitton agreed, saying a Green Party would stop the use of glyphosphate and would also prevent further clear cutting in an effort to help sustain and restore New Brunswick forests. She said wood owners are not getting enough royalties for their lands, noting “we’re giving our forests away.”
Gaudet admits he doesn’t use glyphosate on his farm but said the product has been okayed for use by the federal health department in certain conditions. He said it’s a complex issue that doesn’t have a simple answer – and the PC party would review its use if elected.
“I can assure you I will be an advocate for sound decision-making when it comes to Roundup.”
Adapting to climate change will be costly
There are many challenges associated in dealing with the impacts of climate change – dyke upgrades, infrastructure improvements, bridge and road repairs, flood mitigation measures – and all the candidates agreed the fixes won’t come cheap.
Mitton said New Brunswick can’t afford, however, to keep putting these much-needed measures on hold.
“Adapting to climate change is already costly,” said Mitton. “And the longer we wait to address it, the more expensive it’s going to be. It’s not going to get any easier.”
She said municipal governments need to lobby for more provincial and federal funding to tackle these issues.
Boudreau agreed that the cost of adaptation should not just fall on the municipalities and said she would be a strong lobbying voice at the table to negotiate for the needed funding.
Gaudet pointed out that, while these issues certainly need to be addressed, the provincial government needs to find ways to get its financial house in order before being able to tackle some of the more costly upgrades.
"We need to build an economy that supports these infrastructure challenges," he said.