After a week of uncertainty, New Brunswick residents have learned they will get to see the chief medical officer’s full report into shale gas development and human health.
However, after a week of flip-flopping over whether to release the report, concerns are being raised about what exactly is in the report and what role the government should, or shouldn’t have, in deciding what their top doctor can say.
It’s a question Dr. Eilish Cleary, the province's chief medical officer of health, is asking herself too.
Cleary found herself in the middle of New Brunswick’s contentious fracking debate this week and today she said that’s exactly where she wants to be.
“I believe it’s essential for public health to be involved at every step of shale gas development,” she says.
The provincial government cast doubt this week on whether Cleary’s shale gas report would be made public, at first claiming it contained confidential information for cabinet, and then suggesting that only parts would be made public.
In confirming the report’s full release yesterday, Environment Minister Bruce Fitch questioned whether the report’s data was up-to-date.
“This is new technology and it is evolving, so the situation may change and recommendations may need to be updated,” says Cleary. “But it’s as current as we can provide at this point in time.”
Stephanie Merrill, a member of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, says the events of the past week have her concerned about what may be in the report.
“It’s been a very interesting week. It’s hard not to read into why this is happening,” says Merrill. “I think in the beginning people think it has information in it that the Department of Environment or premier’s office want covered publicly.”
The merry-go-round of whether or not the report would be released is also raising questions about why Cleary has to listen to the provincial government.
“There’s no situation, I believe, that the person should restrain the distribution of information if her role is to protect the public and talk to the public,” says Dr. Robert Desjardins, president of the New Brunswick Medical Society.
However, Cleary says the role is clear to her and to the government too.
“I think it’s clear that when the health of the population is at stake with a health hazard, that I have the authority to take actions that are needed,” she says.
Cleary revealed today that the report will include 30 recommendations detailing what is known, and what is not known, about shale gas development and human health.
The report will be made public Oct. 15.
With files from CTV Atlantic's Nick Moore