The Crown land forestry agreement between the New Brunswick Department of Natural Resources and J.D. Irving Ltd., released Thursday, is "remarkable in its audacity," says Green Party Leader David Coon.
Natural Resources Minister Paul Robichaud released the 25-year agreement with J.D. Irving in the Legislative Assembly. Coon had requested the document under the province’s Right to Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
Coon said the deal ensures the sustainability of J.D. Irving, and does nothing for the sustainability of New Brunswick's forests and the provincial economy.
'How can David Alward and Paul Robichaud have lost their grip on political reality?' - David Coon
On Friday, Coon said the agreement comes as close to privatizing the land under license to J.D. Irving, without the government handing it over. The province is surrendering its authority over the land by eliminating its role as trustee and regulator, he said.
"This enshrines in the contract a system of deregulation — or self-regulation — for J.D. Irving. It even specifically says they're going to throw DNR's forest management manual out the window. This is something that's been developed over decades," said Coon.
The agreement also eliminates the role of the public in how Crown lands are managed, and will lock down the forests on those lands so other companies won't be able to set up in local forest-based communities, he said.
The environment will also be affected, said Coon.
"We are going to see the loss of the Acadian forest, we are going to see further degradation of ecological integrity and functioning of our forest ecosystems. We're going to see the extinction of populations of wildlife, and will continue to see further degradation of rivers and streams."
Coon says the agreement is contrary to what New Brunswickers have called for through public meetings, surveys and dialogues with the province.
"Which begs the question, how can David Alward and Paul Robichaud have lost their grip on political reality?" said Coon.
Several paragraphs in the document released Thursday were redacted by the province.
Coon said he will be taking legal action to have the blacked-out sections published, so New Brunswickers will be able to read the entire contract.
He said he was told the province redacted those parts because of the potential for government or its agencies to lose money, or because they affected a third party.
On Thursday, Coon said he feels it's incredible the Alward government wants to ratify the agreement before the provincial election this fall.
"All of the parties, I have no doubt, will demand that the province not sign any forest management agreement with J.D. Irving prior to this election,” Coon said.
"This is going to be an election question."
The Green party leader said if the deal is signed prior to the September election, it will be almost impossible for a future government to get out of the deal.
Coon said it is unfair "to tie the hands of future governments in any which way, who might want to do something different on Crown lands, whether it's environmentally or economically."
'There's some serious, serious transparency and accountability issues here.' - Tom Beckley
Coon said the Crown wood agreement must have been drawn up by the same people who advised the former Liberal government on the ill-fated deal to sell off NB Power. He said it's just as bad.
University of New Brunswick forestry professor Tom Beckley also says the deal should not be ratified before the fall election.
"It's rather frightening, actually." said Beckley.
"I think the attempt is to really tie the hands of future governments and I'm not sure of the legality of that, or whether that will be accomplished with this. But I think it's clearly the intent of the document to try to race this through prior to an election, and really there's been very little public dialogue or scrutiny about the contents of this."
'Behind closed doors'
He says his biggest concern is that the deal was done covertly.
"There's some serious, serious transparency and accountability issues here," Beckley said.
"In Maine, it took seven years to change the legislation, so there was all kinds of public scrutiny before they went from a more command-and-control prescriptive system, to this outcome-based management. And ours is being flipped in a matter of months behind closed doors."
The New Brunswick government announced its new forestry plan in March.
The overall plan calls for the amount of softwood the forestry sector can take from Crown land to increase by 20 per cent.
Premier David Alward said in March the new plan would add 500 new forestry jobs and 1,200 construction jobs to the economy.
J.D. Irving is the province’s largest forest company and it committed to $513 million in capital investments in its mills, most of which will be pumped into Irving Pulp & Paper in Saint John.
The J.D. Irving agreement released on Thursday states the company’s annual allocation of timber is currently 2,040,000 cubic metres, which includes 1,500,000 cubic metres of spruce, fir and jack pine, 117,000 cubic metres of white pine sawlogs and 428,000 cubic metres of hardwood.
The new agreement will see Irving's annual allocation of spruce, fir, jack pine and white pine increase to 2,027,000 cubic metres, with a minimum of 1,898,000 cubic metres of spruce, up from the current level of 1,500,000.
In the agreement, Irving says it agrees it will not displace its current purchase of wood from private wood supplies with the additional allocation of Crown wood.
Robichaud says it will help New Brunswick's forestry sector recover from a devastating recession.
"It's a good contract because it will help to maintain the 22,000 jobs we have in the forestry industry. It will create an additional 500 new full-time jobs," he said.
"You will see an investment by the private sector of more than $600 million of their own private money. And also, it will bring stability to a very important economic sector of New Brunswick."