A fight over the future of wood sales from private lots was argued before the New Brunswick Forest Products Commission on Thursday.
At stake was the marketing board system that's governed wood sales from private woodlot owners for most of the past four decades.
The case pits J.D. Irving Ltd., AV Group, and several contractors and smaller players against the SNB Forest Products Marketing Board in Sussex.
The marketing board has not been able to negotiate a contract to sell wood to JDI since 2012.
Instead, Irving bought all of its wood in that region directly from individual woodlot owners and a group of wood harvesting contractors.
The cheques still passed through the marketing board, allowing it to collect a three per cent levy.
But early last year, believing it has the authority under New Brunswick's Natural Products Act, the market board countered with an order declaring it has control over all wood purchased and sold from private woodlots in its territory, which extends from Moncton to just west of Saint John.
The issue, in one form or another, has been before the Forest Products Commission and the courts since.
Accused of 'forcing' contract
On Thursday, J.D. Irving lawyer Paul Steep told the commission that the marketing board's order is "not a lawful exercise of regulatory powers."
Its real purpose, he said, was to "force a contract with JDI."
- Industry dispute with wood marketing boards needs government action, says ex-minister
- J.D. Irving challenge to southern N.B. woodlot groups heads to trial
Steep argued the board is in a conflict because it negotiates deals with both its own members and with the woodlot community at large.
AV Group lawyer Doug Evans went even further, alleging "chaos" would result if the order was to be put into effect.
He suggested the result would be a "dictatorial system."
"The present system works well," said Evans. "Why break a system that's working?"
David Duncan Young, the lawyer for the SNB Forest Products Marketing Board, countered that while the companies are "thumbing their noses" at the order, they have entered no evidence that the marketing board lacks the authority to issue it.
"They want a free market economy," Young said. "They want to control their own destiny."
That, said Young, is something they will have to take up with the legislature.
From the back of the room, Andrew Clark, a woodlot owner and director of the Carleton York-Sunbury-Charlotte Forest Products Marketing Board, watched Thursday's proceedings.
'All of what's going on in that room, and all the money that's being spent on lawyers and all this time wasted is because the government will not do what they should do.' - Andrew Clark, woodlot owner
Clark said it's time for the provincial government to remind the companies that they were granted guaranteed access to wood from Crown land in exchange for also buying from the marketing boards.
"I am absolutely frustrated and disgusted with my governments," said Clark. "None of them have had the guts to stand up and end this foolishness,
"All of what's going on in that room, and all the money that's being spent on lawyers and all this time wasted is because the government will not do what they should do."
Commission chair Brian Mosher said a decision will be issued at a future date.
JDI vice president Jason Limongelli said he would not comment on the appeal until after the commission issues its decision.