When there is an injustice, at first it is usually just those who are directly impacted who complain. And those responsible for it can often just ignore those complaints. But then when word spreads of just how bad it is, others join in. Even if they are only impacted indirectly, they see unfairness for what it is, and step up to say whatever it is isn’t right, and should not be allowed to continue. And when those voices get loud enough, that’s when change happens.
That seems to be the point we have gotten to now in regards to how Crown land in New Brunswick has been mismanaged by successive governments. Here’s a resource that is abundant in our province, that should be a major contributor to our provincial economy, but rather it may actually be costing us money.
The Auditor General has raised this point, and a review by the CIBC World Markets suggests that because of government mismanaging our Crown lands we are losing out on a whopping $100 Million every year.
The problem stems from changes various governments made to the Crown Lands and Forests Act after it was adopted in 1980. Changes, mainly by the McKenna Liberals and Alward Conservatives combined that gave forestry companies more and more access to Crown land at less than market value, essentially shortchanging all New Brunswick taxpayers and putting New Brunswick woodlot owners at a competitive disadvantage when they wanted to sell their wood at fair market value.
From people sharing their opinions on this site to comments we hear more and more from average New Brunswickers, to no less than four (4) former Ministers of Natural Resources, there is a growing chorus who agree some serious changes are needed.
An informed opinion on the problem and the solution
One of those is Former Natural Resources Minister Jeannot Volpe. In an interview that was the basis of a segment of Charles Theriault’s excellent video series Is Our Forest Really Ours Volpe outlined what he sees as the problem and what we need to do. And he makes some points and questions that are well worth considering. Among them:
- Crown land belongs to all New Brunswickers, and shouldn’t just benefit a few forestry companies.
- Communities who depend on forestry should have more say in how Crown lands are managed
- Crown forests should be managed for diversity, and the wood for value not just volume. Single species plantations should not be allowed, because forests are more than just trees.
- The people who manage our Crown land should not be the same people who make money off processing the wood.
Volpe says we need to ask ourselves some basic questions, and the most basic of all is this: Are Crown Lands in New Brunswick being managed in the best interests of all New Brunswickers, or the best interests of just a few New Brunswickers? He has others:
- Is the Crown Lands and Forests Act that was developed and brought in more than 30 years ago still the best option?
- Are rural communities receiving the benefits they should from Crown lands in their areas?
- How many more forest-related jobs need to be lost in communities that rely on the forestry sector before we look at other options?
- What is stopping government from having an open and transparent discussion on how our Crown lands are being managed, and looking at other options, if any, that could bring greater benefit to all the people of the province?
- Is it normal for New Brunswick to subsidize forestry companies to take our Crown wood for a diminishing number of jobs, when other jurisdictions are seeing jobs and collecting revenue from their Crown land?
Some might wonder why Volpe is saying all of this now, rather than making changes when he was Minister. He says he tried, but failed. He says the forest industry lobby is just too strong. He says the way to counter this is for New Brunswickers to stand up and demand changes. He says we have to take back control of what belongs to us.
Volpe feels people are starting to understand what is going on here and they don’t like it.
We agree. Judging from responses to the various items we have produced here on our website, and from many of the people we speak with both who are in the forestry sector and those only involved in the sense they are taxpayers too, there is a general and growing understanding that one of the biggest reasons why we are an economic basket case is because we don’t have control over the strongest part of our economy, our Crown forests.
As we inch closer to a provincial election, we encourage all of you to ask those who will be searching out your vote, exactly what they plan to do about our Crown land situation. Our hope is that if enough people let it be known that the status quo isn’t acceptable, then perhaps the various parties will start seriously addressing this and make it part of their election platform.
So speak up. We all, you included, deserve better.
Thank you for listening,
President, New Brunswick Federation of Woodlot Owners