Natural Resources Minister Denis Landry fielded questions in the legislature on Wednesday after Premier Brian Gallant said the Liberal government would be making changes to the forestry plan but did not provide specifics.
The government has been reviewing the plan, enacted last year by the previous Tory government, since it came to office, and Landry said the list of people who want to meet with him about it just keeps getting longer and longer.
“We have been meeting group after group, and the more we meet with, the more want to meet with us,”Landry told the House during question period.
“Things could change – perhaps not major, but minor changes. At this time, we haven’t finished the consultations.”
Glen Savoie,the Opposition natural resources critic,said the government’s slow approach to the review is making industry nervous and putting at risk hundreds of millions of dollars in investments.
“They (the Liberals) are going to have to decide if changes need to be made,” Savoie told reporters outside the legislature.
“They are taking way too much time and not giving certainty to these companies. We’re six months into their mandate, and the companies are no further ahead as to what exactly the direction of this government will be. That means $500 million in investment is at risk because this government refuses to say what direction it’ll take and what exactly it’s going to change.”
Jason Limongelli, vice-president of woodlands at J.D. Irving, Limited, said in a statement on Wednesday that the company is moving ahead with its forestry investments based on the agreement signed last year to allow more harvesting on Crown land.
“The investment we are making in New Brunswick is putting hundreds of people to work today from communities across the province and it will sustain thousands of jobs into the future,” Limongelli said.
“We know the number one issue for New Brunswickers is jobs and the economy.We hope that jobs and pay cheques for New Brunswickers will take priority over politics.”
JDI is a privately owned company headquartered in Saint John. Its activities include forestry, paper products, agriculture,food processing,transportation and shipbuilding. Brunswick News is a separate company owned by J.K.Irving. In return for guaranteed access to more Crown timber,forestry companies agreed to make significant investments in their operations. JDI announced an investment of $513 million in its forestry operations,including $450 million for a two-phased modernization of its west Saint John pulp mill.
Limongelli said that in the past year, JDI has completed construction of the $3.5-million lab in Sussex; has spent over $200 million (to date) on Phase 2 of the pulp mill modernization in Saint John; is in the final stages of the now $30-million upgrade and expansion of the Grand Lake Timber sawmill in Chip-man; has invested over $2 million in the sawmills in Saint Leonard and Kedgwick and is in the process of hiring operators for at least 30 new pieces of forestry equipment, most of which will be small independent businesses in rural New Brunswick.
“No other industry impacts as many communities as forestry in New Brunswick”he said.
“We believe responsible elected representatives will take the time to consider the impact of forestry and these investments on the future of communities, businesses and the livelihoods of families in New Brunswick”
Limongelli also referred to a survey conducted last May by the polling firm Corporate Research Associates in which a strong majority of respondents,84 per cent, agreed that the New Brunswick forest industry can support jobs while still maintaining a healthy forest.
Landry told the legislature on Wednesday the government is willing to“listen to the demands of the third party”
– the Green party and leader David Coon.“We want to know what are the solutions he proposes and we will surely say soon when we debate the bill in the House.”
Limongelli said the future of the sector should not be influenced by people like Coon, who has introduced a bill in the legislature to annul the forestry agreements.
The Green party has one seat in the 49-seat legislature, held by Coon. The Liberals have 26 seats, and the Tories hold 22.
During the campaign leading to the September election, the Liberals said that once in office they would release as much information as possible about the forestry plan – including maps of conservation zones and scientific data – and then review options available given the 25-year contracts signed with large companies. The government released the maps last week showing that, when added up,over 30 per cent of the Crown land area has been set aside to protect waterways and habitat.
The Crown forest strategy boosts the amount of wood that can be taken from the public forest by private industry by about 20 per cent, or an additional 660,000 cubic metres per year.
CHRIS MORRIS LEGISLATURE BUREAU