Premier David Alward says a controversial forestry agreement with J.D. Irving Ltd. should be finalized before the election campaign begins next week.

Alward, Irving, Robichaud

Premier David Alward, pictured with Jim Irving and Natural Resources Minister Paul Robichaud at a news conference in Chipman earlier this year, says the forestry deal will be signed "within the next very few days." (CBC)

The government signed an initial deal with the company earlier in the year and a final agreement was expected to be in place by July 1.

Alward says that still hasn't happened, but he anticipates it will be done soon.

“It's either signed or very near signing. It will be happening within the next very few days," he said.

"The work has been going on. We need to make sure we get the agreement right, so that work has been ongoing. But people can have the confidence that it will be ready within the very next few days.”

The election campaign officially begins on Aug. 21.

The deal, which gives J.D. Irving Ltd. and other Crown licence holders access to more softwood trees on public land, will be legally binding on future governments.

It increases the amount of softwood available to industry by 20 per cent.

The policy, announced in March, also reduces the amount of forest that is off limits to industry to 23 per cent of the public forest, which is down from the previous standard of 28 per cent.

The new deal is expected to result in the harvesting of an additional 660,000 cubic metres.

Liberal Leader Brian Gallant has refused to say whether he supports the deal because not all of the scientific data has been released.

A memorandum of agreement signed on Feb. 7 between J.D. Irving Ltd. and the Department of Natural Resources had a clause allowing Irving to pull out if a final deal was not established by July 1.

The forestry deal has proven to be contentious.

A group of 184 professors and other academics in a wide variety of faculties, ranging from arts to mathematics, signed a letter that called for Natural Resources Minister Paul Robichaud to stop the process and revisit the strategy.

Two former natural resources ministers, Jeannot Volpé and Morris Green, signed an open letter to the provincial government, expressing concern that small woodlot owners are not getting a fair deal.

Retired New Brunswick biologist Rod Cumberland spoke out, calling the forest management plan a recipe for environmental problems.

And a survey, commissioned by researchers at the University of New Brunswick, of 525 New Brunswickers found 61 per cent either strongly opposed or opposed the new Crown forest strategy, compared to 20 per cent who strongly supported or supported the initiative.

An Irving-sponsored poll by Corporate Research Associates, however, indicates New Brunswickers lean toward supporting the deal.

The sample of 400 adults, over the age of 18, were asked to indicate their opinion of the new policy on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 indicating they were completely opposed and 10 representing compete support.

The overall result was 5.7, according to the survey. The results are considered accurate within +/- 4.9 per cent, 95 per cent of the time.