The public relations campaign being waged by J.D. Irving Ltd. has one economist questioning whether the company’s new forestry deal may be in limbo.
The province’s largest forestry company has been printing full-page advertisements that are designed to "set the record straight" and "separate fact from fiction" about its agreement with the provincial government for access to more Crown timber.
J.D. Irving Ltd. has also been actively using social media and the internet to inform people about job opportunities, conservation efforts and to post corporate videos about the $513 million worth of investments in its mills around the province.
These are major investments the company says it only agreed to make in exchange for access to more wood from public forests.
The New Brunswick government’s 25-year contract with J.D. Irving Ltd. has generated a significant amount of criticism in recent months, including an open letter signed by 184 academics that questioned the science behind the policy.
Rob Moir, an economist at the University of New Brunswick in Saint John, was one of the academics who signed the open letter.
He said the questions being raised about the contract are important so the public has a better understanding of the deal.
“Really, was that an investment the company was making already? So of all the new money being invested, the question from an economist is, is this really new money?” said Moir, who ran for the federal NDP in the 2008 election.
Moir said the forestry company may be showing its fear that the deal could be scuttled before it's finalized in July.
CBC News has made multiple requests for an interview with Natural Resources Minister Paul Robichaud over the past several weeks. He has denied the repeated requests.
Liberal MLA Donald Arseneault said if the forestry plan is shaky, as Moir suggests, it's the provincial government's fault.
Arseneault, a former natural resources minister, said the forestry company is using the media campaign to show the benefits of the deal.
“I don't blame JDI. JDI is doing what he feels he needs to do in order to communicate with the public. Either we agree or disagree, that's not the issue here,” Arseneault said.
“The sad thing about the whole thing is where is the minister, Paul Robichaud? Where is David Alward?”
The new agreement will see J.D. 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.
Alward said in March the overall forestry plan would add 500 new forestry jobs and 1,200 construction jobs to the economy.
A UNB law professor said in April the deal with J.D. Irving Ltd. is already done. There is a provision where the next phase of the agreement must be finalized by July 1, but David Bell said if the deadline is missed, then the company could be owed financial damages from taxpayers.