Parties agree there’s a problem with how Crown land is managed - Now what?

Every party in the upcoming election acknowledges that changes are needed to the way we do forestry in this province.

This from a survey of seven key questions we asked every party, all related to the Crown Lands and Forests Act, the place of private woodlot owners in forestry in this province, and the place of marketing boards. The complete transcript of our questions and each party’s responses can be found here. But meantime, here are some highlights, for those of you who just have time for a quick read.

On the Crown Lands and Forests Act, the responses range from a complete re-writing of it (Green Party and NDP) to “our current focus is on trade and the New Brunswick exclusion, and that will guide our decisions until further developments” (Liberals). The Progressive Conservatives and People’s Alliance join the NDP and Greens in promising to work with private woodlot owners in any changes that are considered.

Why Are We Asking These Questions?

Before it was changed by both Liberal and Conservative governments, the Crown Lands and Forests Act stated that wood from private woodlot owners would be the primary source of supply for mills in the province, with Crown wood only available if more wood was needed than the private woodlot owners could provide. This complemented measures brought in earlier that established marketing boards as the entity that would negotiate contracts with the mills on behalf of woodlot owners.

But then the Liberal government of Frank McKenna, after strong lobbying from the forestry industry, changed the act so that private wood would no longer have to be considered as the primary source, and forestry companies would no longer have to deal exclusively with marketing boards but could negotiate with woodlot owners directly. Almost immediately, the price they paid for wood was reduced. Then, in 2014, the then PC government of David Alward, awarded a 25-year management contract to JDI, giving them more access to Crown wood than they ever had before.

Combined, these measures pretty much ripped the value right out of the Crown Lands and Forests Act, and left private woodlot owners in a very precarious situation, with the forest companies holding all the aces in regards to how much wood they would buy from private woodlot owners, and how much they would pay for it.

In essence, private woodlot owners are in competition with Crown wood, which their government has made available to forestry companies, but which should be benefitting all New Brunswickers. In earlier posts, I discussed how much money we are out as taxpayers because of Crown land mismanagement by successive governments.

Which brings us back to the survey.

Should Our Government Be Competing With Woodlot Owners?

And particularly to the question: Does your party support woodlot owners being the primary source of supply or some other policy that ensures private woodlot owners aren’t hurt by other sources of wood including off Crown land?

The Liberals suggested they can’t do much because of the 25-year contract the former Conservative government signed. The Conservatives say they will analyze that contract and make a determination “based on an impartial analysis to ensure they get the right deal for woodlot owners”. The Green Party says it would cancel the 25 year contract, and would reinstate private woodlots as the primary source. The NDP agrees that crown wood should not be in competition with wood from private woodlots and that it would regulate the amount of wood that can be taken off Crown land. The People’s Alliance says private woodlots should be the primary wood source for mills.

So, lots of parties agreeing we have a problem here, and some with more suggestions for fixing it than others.

At least knowing where they stand, even though in some cases the responses are vague, is a start.

When candidates approach you for your support - and they will - ask them what the will do to push their party to leverage Crown land for the potential it represents, rather than just a cheap wood supply for the forestry companies. And tell them you want to see a real commitment in their platform.

Next Steps With New Brunswickers Behind Us

The next step is seeing what makes it into the various party’s election platforms as specific commitments. “Weasel” wording such as “We agree to look at” and the like does little to instil confidence.

What does give us confidence though, is the fact that many New Brunswickers recognize a bad situation when they see one, and they see one here with the way governments past and present mismanage our Crown forests. They see the unfairness of the way private woodlot owners are treated, they see the revenue the province is losing out on because of it, they see the large areas of forests that have been ecologically degraded by relentless clearcutting, and they see the potential of what could be.

That last point is especially important. The potential for what could and should be a major economic driver of this province is something every New Brunswicker should be focused on - and every candidate. Anybody who follows the news knows that we are in deep economic trouble with an all but unmanageable debt, but for some reason, our Crown land that could be a big part of the solution to righting our economic ship is instead, arguably, an economic liability.

When candidates approach you for your support - and they will - ask them what the will do to push their party to leverage Crown land for the potential it represents, rather than just a cheap wood supply for the forestry companies. And tell them you want to see a real commitment in their platform.

Meantime, if you want to see the totality of the responses to our party survey, you can find it here.