New Brunswick

J.D. Irving Ltd. trust Liberals won't change forestry plan

New Brunswick’s largest forestry employer says it’s confident the new Liberal government won’t make changes to a controversial forestry plan put in place by departing Progressive Conservative Premier David Alward.

PC plan reduces the amount of forest set aside for conservation

JDI says it accounts for 8,000 of the 20,000 forestry jobs in the province and spends more than $400 million a year buying from 1,700 suppliers. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

New Brunswick’s largest forestry employer says it’s confident the new Liberal government won’t make changes to a controversial forestry plan put in place by departing Progressive Conservative Premier David Alward.

J.D. Irving Ltd. says once the Liberals take office on Tuesday, they’ll have access to some of the scientific data that they complained were kept secret by the Tories.

And that in turn will persuade premier-to-be Brian Gallant that the increase in wood allocation is scientifically and environmentally sound, according to JDI director of land development Anthony Hourihan.

“I think once they have the opportunity to review those documents, we can have a conversation, but I think that will give them what they need,” Hourihan told CBC News on Saturday.

I think nothing will change.- Anthony Hourihan, JDI's director of land development 

He also said the Alward PC government’s forestry plan is almost identical to one announced by the previous Liberal government of Shawn Graham in 2009.

“Historically if you look back when the Liberals had the last government, the draft forestry policy they put forward reflects exactly what was passed here in March,” he said.

“So we think there'll be people looking at it, trying to understand the big questions — where's the wood coming from? But we're very faithful that the investments that have been made and the commitments will remain in place.”

Hourihan was one of the industry representatives who briefed mayors and councillors at the annual meeting of the Union of Municipalities of New Brunswick in St. Andrews.

He told the municipal leaders that JDI accounts for 8,000 of the 20,000 forestry jobs in the province and spends more than $400 million a year buying from 1,700 suppliers.

Irving has promised more than $450 million in upgrades to its mills around New Brunswick thanks to the forestry plan, unveiled by the Tories in March. It allows a 20-per-cent increase in wood harvesting on public land and reduces the amount of forest set aside for conservation, two elements that have angered environmentalists.

No commitment from Brian Gallant yet

At the time, Liberal MLA Donald Arseneault said the PC plan showed that Irving “finally found a government they can run.”

Irving later signed a 25-year agreement with the province based on the plan.

Leading up to and during the election campaign, Gallant would not commit to supporting the plan, though he acknowledged it might be impossible for the province to pull out of a signed agreement.

“We haven't seen the list of allocations, we haven't seen which areas will be protected and conserved, we haven't seen what scientific data they've based their decisions on," he said earlier this year.

PC plan allows a 20-per-cent increase in wood harvesting on public land and reduces the amount of forest set aside for conservation, two elements that have angered environmentalists. (Jeff Bassett/The Canadian Press)

"We haven't even seen who's writing the forest management plans, if it's the government or the private sector.”

Two days after winning the election, Gallant repeated his desire to see the data and remained non-committal on the plan.

“We’ve committed to looking at what our options are,” he said Sept. 25. “We’re working in a bit of a vacuum, as you can understand, when there are missing components and parts.”

Doaktown Mayor Bev Gaston says he’s hopeful Gallant won’t change course. The Irving mill in his village employs more than 200 people and accounts for one-third of the property tax base.

JDI has announced it will start a $15 million expansion in Doaktown starting next spring, based in part on its increased wood allocation.

“I’m hoping it doesn’t change,” he said. “It is severely important to our community and small communities in New Brunswick. Everybody wants to look at the plan and make sure it's right for them but I'm hoping and I'm quite certain that things won't change. We need that investment."

If Gallant opts to stick with the PC forestry plan, he’ll likely get criticism from Green Party leader David Coon, who won the party’s first-ever provincial seat in the election.

Last week Gallant announced the Liberals will support giving Coon an official role in the legislature, such as questions in Question Period and a seat on committees, even though that normally requires a party to win five seats.

Coon is one of the forestry plan’s fiercest critics, but said there was “absolutely not” any quid pro quo that would see him go easy on the Liberals in return for official party status.

JDI’s Hourihan said he doesn’t think Coon’s presence in the legislature will signal a shift in the debate over forestry and the environment.

“Mr. Coon’s been a big proponent of the province for years and has a been a voice in the background,” he said. “Obviously he’ll be in the foreground a bit more now but I think nothing will change.”

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