NDP Leader Dominic Cardy, who has promoted himself as a more moderate New Democrat, is being urged by critics to take a stronger stand against the Alward government’s forestry plan.
Twice in the last week, Cardy has been drawn into debates on Twitter with people who say he should pursue a more conventional NDP position on the forestry strategy.
But Cardy said it’s too early to take a position because the Progressive Conservative government has yet to release scientific data that are the basis for the new Crown lands policy.
“We don't see the facts and the science yet from the government that led them to make this decision,” Cardy said.
"So I'm certainly concerned about it, but I want to see the facts and the figures rather than follow the same old political line of yelling about something without having any facts and figures in front of me."
Don Bowser, a New Brunswicker now based in Halifax, labelled that position “Dominic’s Dodge” in a Twitter exchange with the NDP leader on Tuesday.
Bowser describes himself as politically progressive, but not a NDP supporter.
Rob LeBlanc, a graduate student at the University of New Brunswick, didn’t refer specifically to forestry but questioned Cardy’s general pursuit of a more middle-of-the-road approach.
He said the NDP’s disappointing results in the Ontario election showed that traditional supporters "don’t like their party hijacked by pocketbook populism."
(LeBlanc later wrote that he was "very encouraged" by his exchange with Cardy.)
The Alward government announced its new forestry policy earlier this year, reducing conservation areas and allowing more harvesting on Crown lands.
That was followed by a 25-year memorandum of understanding with J.D. Irving Ltd. that is to be finalized in a wood-supply contract by the end of this month.
"It comes into effect on July 1," Bowser says, "so wouldn’t it be critical to come out and make a public statement before that happens?
"Just saying for more details — I really don’t see what more details [are needed] other than what currently are out. The deal is fairly explicit."
Cardy blames province for lack of details
Cardy faults the provincial government for developing a policy then signing the Irving contract based on that policy while some of the policy elements remain secret.
"They shouldn’t have done any of this until the plan was available," Cardy said.
"It’s really insulting to the people of the province that a commercial contract has been shared more broadly than the details of the plan involving the use of our Crown lands."
But Cardy also said he won’t take a predictable, knee-jerk position against the Irving companies just because that was the NDP stance in the past.
"We need the jobs, absolutely, and I’ve got no problem with the Irvings creating jobs," he said.
His objection is to government policy being developed without enough transparency.
Irving donation to the NDP
Cardy is a self-professed admirer of former British prime minister Tony Blair, who espoused a so-called Third Way instead of conventional left-wing policies. Cardy has a poster of Blair in his office at NDP headquarters.
Cardy also said recent donations by a member of the Irving family had nothing to do with his position.
'Anyone who thinks a political party's opinions can be bought for $6,000 a year is hopefully too cynical to participate in day-to-day politics.' - NDP Leader Dominic Cardy
Public records show Jamie Irving donated $6,000 to the NDP in each of 2011 and 2012, the maximum legal contribution and the largest donation the party received in each of those years.
While Jamie Irving has no direct role in running J.D. Irving Ltd., his father Jim runs its forestry operations.
Jamie Irving did not respond to an e-mail request for a comment on his donations to the NDP.
Cardy said Irving has an interest in literacy issues, something Cardy said he shares, and the donations are a reflection of that.
"Anyone who thinks a political party's opinions can be bought for $6,000 a year is hopefully too cynical to participate in day-to-day politics," he said.
The Liberals have yet to take a position on the forestry plan and the Irving deal, though they have strongly questioned it.
Liberal Leader Brian Gallant said in the legislature in May that the party’s support for the initiative was contingent on the government releasing scientific data, including on where the new harvesting will take place.