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Oil worries sweep Gulf of St. Lawrence Add to ...

1. Protecting the Gulf. While much attention has been given to the deep oil well being drilled by Chevron hundreds of kilometres off the coast of Newfoundland, the Save Our Seas and Shores Coalition has been trying to stop similar exploration in shallower water much closer to the mainland.

Corridor Resources Inc. has been given the license to explore oil and gas resources in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in what is known as the Old Harry prospect, located midway between the Magdalen Islands and Cape Anguille in western Newfoundland.

And the folks who depend on fishing and tourism in the Gulf are not happy - especially as they watch the United States cope with the aftermath of the biggest oil spill in its history.

When federal Liberal MPs arrive in Badeck, N.S., next week for their annual summer caucus meeting they can expect to get an earful from the coalition and people like Mary Gorman, who is one of its founding members.

Alarm bells sounded by Ms. Gorman have prompted a number of voices to join the call for a moratorium on drilling in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

On Thursday, for instance, the Quebec chapter of the Sierra Club of Canada wrote to the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board, the regulatory agency that both promotes exploration and is responsible for its safety, to express its opposition to the enterprise.

"Quebec's natural resources, in the broadest sense, are at the same risk as those of Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and PEI. Consequently, we hereby demand, in the strongest terms possible, an immediate moratorium to all hydrocarbons exploration and drilling in the Gulf of St. Lawrence," the environmental group wrote.

Evaluations of the costs and benefits of such drilling "have completely ignored the priceless and irreplaceable benefits which sustainable natural systems, such as the Gulf of St. Lawrence, have contributed to our collective economic, social, and spiritual well-being."

That was just the latest salvo of those who want to keep the oil companies out of the Gulf. On Aug. 20, the chief administrator for the municipality of Pictou County in Nova Scotia wrote to federal Environment Minister Jim Prentice asking that the public input be considered.

"Amendments to the Canadian Environmental Assessment exempt routine public infrastructure projects for environmental assessments. The result is that exploratory wells no longer need comprehensive assessments," the administrator wrote. "Recent events in the Gulf of Mexico prove how unwise that decision has become."

And on Aug. 6, the PEI Fishermen's Association wrote to Fisheries Minister Gail Shea saying it moved "to advise the Federal Government of Canada to cease any and all drilling and exploration activities in the Laurentian Channel as well as the rest of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The Board is requesting a complete moratorium on any such future activity."

The fishermen's association, of course, has no direct power to demand such a moratorium.

But, Ms. Gorman said, "Gail Shea lives in PEI. It's a small, politically powerful island with the primary industries being fishing and tourism. What PEI wants, PEI gets. If Gail Shea doesn't support the fishermen, I bet she'll lose her seat in the next election."

2. Census free-for-all. Prime Minister Stephen Harper's arctic tour comes to an end Friday with a stop in Whitehorse before he heads back to Ottawa.

The Liberal Express of Michael Ignatieff, meanwhile, rolls through southern Quebec before heading to the Toronto area on Saturday and then out to Nova Scotia for the Liberal caucus meeting, which starts Sunday.

But Ottawa will not be dark on Friday.

The Commons industry committee will hear from advocates of the mandatory long-form census Mel Cappe who is current president of the Institute for Research on Public Policy and individual Canadians brought in by the Conservatives to oppose it.

It's an all-day even so there will plenty of hours to watch sparks fly.

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