A nonbinding “free vote” to support responsible gas development in the emerging Frederick Brook Shale in New Brunswick passed the Legislative Assembly along party lines Tuesday (Dec. 12), erasing fears that support for shale gas could be cracking among the governing Progressive Conservatives.

The measure — put forth by Premier David Alward on Dec. 1 (see Shale Daily, Dec. 6) — passed by a 38-11 vote, with all of the support from Conservatives and all of the dissenting votes coming from the opposition Liberal party. Four lawmakers, two members from each party, missed the vote.

One “yes” vote sure to provide comfort to shale gas supporters came from Kirk MacDonald, a Conservative representing the York North district. MacDonald introduced a petition containing nearly 16,000 signatures of people opposed to fracking on Nov. 29, and had declined to reveal how he would vote during several subsequent interviews with Canadian media.

But on Tuesday MacDonald conceded that he didn’t know if most of his constituents supported shale gas development.

“I take the views of my constituents very seriously,” MacDonald told the Times & Transcript. “They haven’t got all the answers they’re looking for yet. My commitment is to continue working with them to help them find those answers.”

Stephanie Merrill — spokeswoman for the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, which collected the 16,000 signatures — could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.

The Liberals also reportedly tried — and failed — to attach amendments calling for a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in the province and establishing a bipartisan committee to study and hold public hearings on fracking, two ideas championed by the opposition (see Shale Daily, Nov. 29).

“I hope some members on the other side will see the need for a moratorium and will see the need for a standing committee of the legislature to consult the public,” Victor Boudreau, interim leader of the Liberal party, said during Tuesday’s debate, according to the Times & Transcript.

The legislature is scheduled to vote on a second proposal over shale gas development on Thursday. That proposal was submitted last week by the Liberals but has subsequently been modified by the Conservatives, who removed all references to a moratorium and the standing committee. The revised proposal calls for a strict regulatory framework governing shale gas.

A political scientist recently warned that Alward and the Progressive Conservatives could be turned out of office over the shale gas issue (see Shale Daily, Sept. 2). Despite this, Alward and Natural Resources Minister Bruce Northrup have refused to enact a moratorium on fracking.