Irving clout with government challenged in wake of forest deal
Green Party Leader David Coon says new deal allows Crown land to be `plundered and pillaged'
The Alward government's change in forest policy just two years after introducing a forest plan that wasn't to the liking of the Irving forestry interests is raising political questions about the provincial government's independence from the powerful industrial family.
The challenges came in the CBC News political panel this week dealing with the forest policy introduced Wednesday.
The Irvings, they've finally found a government they can run.- Liberal MLA Donald Arseneault
"The Irvings, they've finally found a government they can run," said Liberal Donald Arseneault.
Under the new forest policy, an additional 660,600 cubic metres of softwood from Crown land will be made available, representing an increase of 21 per cent.
"This is a plan for plunder," said Green party Leader David Coon, who noted two years ago the Conservatives' plan for forestry involved a 5 per cent decrease in the amount of wood to be taken from Crown land.
"And now these guys have just given the Irvings what they want — a 21 per cent increase in clear cutting on Crown lands," said Coon.
"That's insane. That's just pillage."
Coon said the Conservatives' 2012 plan for forestry struck a better balance between industry's needs and protecting the environment.
"I don't know why no one is asking this government what happened to that plan? How come just two years later and it's dead and buried — Plan A and Plan B," said Coon.
"It just goes to show you how much our government, and governments have become captured by this dominant player in our economy," he said.
"It's time that a government, that a party, has the courage to stand up to them and say `When your interests are not in line with the interest of New Brunswickers, we are going to make other decisions.'
"Government is the power in this province."
I find the obsession with one company in this province, across a whole range of different files, completely baffling.- NDP Leader Dominic Cardy
New Democratic Party Leader Dominic Cardy said "I find the obsession with one company in this province, across a whole range of different files, completely baffling.
Energy Minister Craig Leonard says the forest industry was not given all it wanted in the new policy.
"What the industry wanted was 1.8 million cubic metres. They ended up getting 660,000 out of this plan," he said.
"They did not get everything they wanted by any stretch of the imagination."
Leonard said the primary interest of New Brunswickers is preserving and protecting jobs in the forest sector.
"We can talk about ecological concerns and environmental concerns. Those have to be balanced with a strong economy," said Leonard.
"In this particular sector, it's a sector that is under severe pressures from outside and our mills simply have to become more efficient."
Leonard said in order to invest in capital upgrades to achieve that efficiency, the forest companies need a long-term commitment on the Crown wood supply.
Where do you draw the line on creating jobs? How much plunder and pillage?- Green Party Leader David Coon
"Where do you draw the line on creating jobs? said Coon. "How much plunder and pillage? How much wreck and ruin in this province? How many sacrifice zones do you want to create to create jobs?
"The private woodlot owners have lots of wood to sell if companies are looking for wood."
The new forest policy has been met with opposition from private woodlot owners and from people concerned about the protection of wildlife habitat and the forest ecology. The new policy decreases the area of forest that is off-limits to industrial forest operations to 23 per cent, down from the previous 28 per cent.
"I would like to hear from any of those individuals what the alternative is," said Leonard. "Give us a solution that allows for a vibrant forest industry to take place in this province. They haven't done that. All they want is the status quo."
Coon said the alternative is the Conservatives plan from two years ago that was scrapped in favour of the new policy.
"The alternative that everyone could live with was the first plan that his government released two years ago when Bruce Northrup was minister before he got tossed under the bus," said Coon. "The only people who didn't like that plan were the Irvings.
"They wield a tremendous amount of power in this province and the responsibility of government is not to adopt their agenda, fold their cards and welcome them on in."
Coon said the provincial government's responsibility is to advance the common good.
"When it doesn't line up with the Irving's agenda, too bad," said Coon. "Shut the door. `Sorry, Mr. Irving, we're not going down that road.'"