New Brunswick

Blaine Higgs open to changing PC-negotiated forestry deal

Progressive Conservative leader Blaine Higgs has opened the door to changing the 2014 forestry deal that his own party negotiated and signed.

Paying duties to the U.S. is 'unconscionable,' says Higgs

Progressive Conservative Leader Blaine Higgs says a 2014 deal that gave forestry companies greater access to Crown land should be looked at again if it has hurt woodlot owners or been a factor in high U.S. tariffs on lumber. (Tony Collier.)

Progressive Conservative Leader Blaine Higgs has opened the door to changing the 2014 forestry deal that his own party negotiated and signed.

Higgs says if the initiative has created problems for woodlot owners and has prompted the United States to punish New Brunswick, maybe it should be revisited.

Higgs was the finance minister in then-Premier David Alward's government when the forestry plan was put in place. It included signed contracts with the large forest companies that cut wood on public land.

Higgs was finance minister in the former PC government that signed the deal with industry. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

"In the case of the forestry deal, did we achieve the best value for the citizens of the province?" Higgs said.

"The woodlot owners would say no, and I would say we need to analyze this deal, and if we have not got the right deal for woodlot owners, we need to explore that and we need to find a way to get it."

Higgs was responding to comments by fellow PC MLA Bruce Northrup, who told CBC News recently that he was removed as minister of natural resources because he opposed shrinking conservation areas in public forests as much as J.D. Irving Ltd. wanted.

In that interview, Northrup said he is "disappointed to this day" that more logging on public land took market share away from private woodlot owners and may have contributed to the U.S. government conclusion that New Brunswick wood is unfairly subsidized.

Comments go further now

Higgs said last fall that the Liberal government should take another look at a 2015 report by Auditor-General Kim MacPherson cited by the U.S. But his comments about the PC forestry plan go farther than what he said then.

"We have got to protect our industries and ensure that we're fighting for them here," he said. "And I feel this has not ended up where it should have."

MLA Bruce Northrup says that when he was natural resources minister in the former government, he was concerned about the deal's effect on private woodlot owners. (CBC)

MacPherson's 2015 report said the province had not been tracking the proportion of private wood versus Crown wood sold to mills for more than a decade.

The U.S. forest industry used that report, along with other information, to argue New Brunswick was subsidizing sawmills, a complaint that led to the Trump administration applying tariffs and duties to wood imported from New Brunswick.

"The situation now where we're paying duties to the U.S. is unconscionable," Higgs said.

"We should not be in a position that that money, if it's due to be paid because of any situation around the forestry deal or the practices of the government over years, that money should not be going to the U.S. That money should be staying in the province."

Caution urged

Trade Minister Roger Melanson did not respond to a request for a comment Monday. But when Higgs first suggested in November that the province go back to MacPherson's 2015 report, Melanson urged caution.

He said all political parties needed to "stick together" on the U.S. trade case, implying that an open debate on forestry policy would play into American hands.

Two weeks later, the Liberal government said it would commission an expert review of the factors that led to the U.S. decision.


Jacques Poitras

Provincial Affairs reporter

Jacques Poitras has been CBC's provincial affairs reporter in New Brunswick since 2000. He grew up in Moncton and covered Parliament in Ottawa for the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. He has reported on every New Brunswick election since 1995 and won awards from the Radio Television Digital News Association, the National Newspaper Awards and Amnesty International. He is also the author of five non-fiction books about New Brunswick politics and history.


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