Maisie Rae McNaughton, spokesperson for the Kent Clean Air Action Committee in New Brunswick, is running for the Liberal nomination in Kent North.PAYGE WOODARD/BRUNSWICK NEWS

The spokeswoman for the “Stop the Stink” movement in eastern New Brunswick wants to run in the provincial election for the same party that, when in power, helped establish the smelly shellfish plant that she worked to shut down.

Maisie Rae McNaughton, a teacher, lobsterwoman and member of the Kent Clean Air Action Committee, is seeking the Liberal nomination in Kent North.

Her announcement last month came just days before Coastal Shell Products said it was closing its factory in the community of Richibucto, an hour’s drive north of Moncton near the coast.

She says she has no problem making peace with the Liberals, who under former Premier Brian Gallant in 2016 helped launch the factory by providing Coastal Shell’s predecessor Omera Shells $2.9 million in payroll rebates and term loans.

“Gallant is long gone, and Higgs has been in power for six years now,” McNaughton said. “I’m looking for solutions and who’s going to bring them.”

The company had promised 74 jobs, as stated in a 2016 Opportunities New Brunswick media release. But the plant, she said, until recently only had five or six permanent staff and about 20 seasonal workers and truckers who hauled in the stinky waste from lobster, crab and shrimp processing plants from other coastal communities.

The factory was also supposed to have state-of-the-art technology to eliminate odours.

“What was proposed in 2014 was very different than what we ended up with in 2024.”

McNaughton has been pushing the Progressive Conservative government to shut down the factory for two years.

Even before that, the unpleasant smell generated hundreds of complaints from residents.

Last month, a nearby school sent a warning to parents it might have to close temporarily if the odours become a health hazard to students and staff.

Then, less than a week later, Coastal Shell announced it had shuttered operations as of June 16 and would lay off its employees.

It blamed the provincial government for putting too many onerous conditions in place, making it impossible to make a profit and stymying its efforts to put in better technology that would eliminate the stench.

As a representative of the Kent Clean Air Action Committee, McNaughton plans to meet privately with Glen Savoie, the environment minister, in Fredericton, perhaps as early as next week. She wants to ensure the plant never opens again.

That meeting could prove awkward. Savoie has defended the jobs at the plant and the larger processing industry that sends its waste there, as 4,000 people work in the industry. He also believes the product it makes – organic fertilizer – is valuable and environmentally friendly, diverting waste from landfills and helping to produce more food.

“I’m a fan of history, and I like to know how we got here,” Savoie told reporters at the legislature last month. “And how we got here is Susan Holt and the Liberals put that in the community. It’s squarely on her.”

Before becoming Liberal leader and head of the Official Opposition, Holt was a top advisor to Gallant. Last month, Holt issued a news release calling upon the Higgs government to shut the plant down, just a few days before Coastal Shell announced it was closing.

Kent North’s MLA is Kevin Arseneau, who will once again be running for the Greens in the provincial election, which must be held no later than Oct. 21. He won 48 per cent of the vote in the 2020 election, while the Liberals took 35 per cent and the Tories 16 per cent.

The Greens are the smallest opposition party in the house, with only three seats.

But Arseneau has been just as vocal as McNaughton about getting rid of the plant.

“The Liberals, with Opportunities New Brunswick, gave the big grant,” the politician said in an interview last month. “The company has been saying since I was elected in 2018 they were going to fix the odour problem, and they have not. And so I definitely think they are not situated in the right place and it’s time for them to move out.”

Arseneau favours moving the plant farther away from homes. As a farmer, he understands the need to recycle and reuse organic waste, such as the shells that came from 10 different lobster, shrimp and crab processing plants up and down the coast. But he points out that agricultural operations are generally in more rural areas, and when manure is spread, it’s usually for two weeks a year, not every day.

“They have an interesting product and a reason to exist,” he said. “But not beside a school, a rec centre and an arena and a bunch of houses. Even if they do fix the smell at the plant, with all the trucks coming in and out that put a smell into the community, that has to be taken into consideration.”

Before running in the election, McNaughton has to win the Liberal nomination. She’s facing off July 4 against former Liberal MP Pat Finnigan, who held Miramichi-Grand Lake for two terms before quitting in 2021. Along with his wife, Finnigan started the popular Mr. Tomato bakery and produce market in Rogersville about 40 years ago. They sold their interest in March, freeing up his time to re-enter politics.

Finnigan said in an interview he has the experience and bilingual background to win the riding, which is majority francophone. The Progressive Conservatives have nominated Carl Cosby of the Rexton Community Improvement Committee in Kent North, who has an uphill climb in a riding that traditionally does not vote Tory.

“I’ve been around a long time, people know me, I’ve had a business for a long time, and I was a federal MP for two terms,” Finnegan, 69, said. “I’m not running against Maisie Rae. She’s running and I’m running. We’re both offering our service to the county. The main issue here is we’ve been sitting on the opposition benches for six years, we’ve suffered because of that, and we need to get back onside. So, the question is for the voters, who can best represent them and win the riding?”

McNaughton, who fishes lobster up to 12 hours or more a day with her mother Debbie Thompson from August to October and then teaches the rest of the year in the local school system, says she’s more than a one-issue candidate. She recited a long list of issues she’d fight for: more affordable homes, stable hospital hours, better mental health and substance abuse services, improved roads, to name a few.

Her competitor, Finnigan, named the very same issues.

But unusually, she cited a Tory for her inspiration: former provincial cabinet minister Mike Holland, who has publicly championed the idea that people with a passion for issues should run for politics.

“Coastal Shell Products has been my issue and where I have shown my dedication and how hard I will work, the relentlessness that I bring to the job,” she said. “I won’t stop.”

By John Chilibeck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jul 02, 2024 at 08:44

This item reprinted with permission from   The Daily Gleaner   Fredericton, New Brunswick

Comments are Welcome - Leave a reply below - Posts are moderated