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Exclusive: When the billionaire writes, you listen

Archived James Irving-penned letter slams New Brunswick former DNR minister on Crown land comment

by Miles Howe

A February 27, 2013, letter from James D. Irving to Premier Alward. Irving was so incensed that former DNR Minister Northrup might have said that Conservation Areas might remain at 28%, that he wrote Northrup's boss. 1/2
A February 27, 2013, letter from James D. Irving to Premier Alward. Irving was so incensed that former DNR Minister Northrup might have said that Conservation Areas might remain at 28%, that he wrote Northrup's boss. 1/2
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Northrup's response to J.D. Irving - Your employee must have misunderstood. 1/2
Northrup's response to J.D. Irving - Your employee must have misunderstood. 1/2
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Fredericton, New Brunswick -- Through a sweep of the New Brunswick provincial archives, the Halifax Media Co-op and the New Brunswick Media Co-op have obtained a variety of written correspondences between large-scale forestry operators in the province and former premier Alward's office. These correspondences suggest an intense level of corporate pressure – outside of lobbying – being placed upon the provincial government in the lead-up to the release of the province's Crown Lands Forestry Strategy, in early March, 2014.

One document in particular, a letter to former premier Alward written and signed by none other than James D. Irving, Co-Chief Executive Officer of J.D. Irving Ltd, exemplifies the behind-the-scenes efforts to ensure that Crown Lands in New Brunswick were further opened up to industrial incursions – long-term environmental impacts be damned.

The letter, which follows, is dated February 27, 2013, and can be found in file folder 13-4024-12 at the New Brunswick provincial archives. Penned by James D. Irving and addressed to Premier Alward, the letter is written as a complaint against statements made by then Minister of Natural Resources Bruce Northrup, as overheard by a J.D. Irving employee, at a February 14, 2013, meeting of the New Brunswick Environmental Network.

At the meeting, apparently, the J.D. Irving employee overheard Northrup say that his government was committed to maintaining provincial Conservation Areas at 28%. Clearly, this rubbed James Irving very much the wrong way – so much so that he took it upon himself to circumvent a direct conversation with Northrup himself about the matter, and instead wrote Northrup's boss, former premier Alward, chastising Northrup's words.

And, as we know from the eventual release of the province's Crown Lands Forestry Strategy, James Irving got what he wanted; Conservation areas in New Brunswick were reduced to 23%, increasing industrial accessibility to pulp fibre amidst outcry from the environmental and scientific communities alike.

The James D. Irving letter to Premier Alward reads as follows:

Dear Premier Alward,

I am writing regarding DNR Minister Northrup's recent statements to the NB Environmental Network on February 14, 2013 as relayed to me by one of our employees who attended the meeting. At this meeting the Minister confirmed the Province's intention to maintain Conservation Areas at 28%. This seriously compromises the work we have been undertaking since June 2012 – at the request of the Province – to define and realize capital investment opportunities that would put hundreds of New Brunswickers to work, which would in turn generate tens of millions of dollars in new wages and related tax revenues to the Province. Our focus continues to be on finding the balance between much-needed job creation and responsible, third-party-audited environmental performance.

This most recent situation is another unfortunate example of the Minister pronouncing decisions without regard for the facts and the negative consequences and impact that his decision will have on the forest sector, our employees, and the communities where we live and work. As you are aware, similar decisions have been made in the recent past, such as the introduction of the Acadian Forest standards in March, 2012, which required your intervention to avoid catastrophic consequences. There was also the Minister's direction prohibiting pulpwood deliveries from Crown Land in the spring of 2012. These decisions, made in haste and without a full understanding of the consequences, risk job and investment opportunities in New Brunswick.

Given the perilous state of the Provincial economy – rising Provincial debt, job losses and reduced revenues – I do not understand the strategy behind these disruptive statements that put jobs and investment in jeopardy. New Brunswick is an export-driven economy, and we must be competitive in the global marketplace. These recent decisions are most detrimental to securing the province's competitive position. This situation is completely inconsistent with the good working relationships we have with your other Ministers and their Departments.

It would be helpful to understand if the Minister's statement regarding maintaining the Conservation Zone at 28% is his final position, and how this will affect the wood supply that will be available to support our investment plans. Without the necessary wood supply, we will have to reduce the size and scope of our mill modernization and investment plans.

Sincerely, James D. Irving

Also obtained within our archival sweep is former Minister Northrup's response to James Irving, dated March 25, 2013. In the response, we see Northrup furiously backtrack on whatever allusion he might have made to the New Brunswick Environmental Network that Conservation Areas would be maintained at 28%. Northrup maintains that the Irving employee within the crowd must have misheard or “misunderstood” his words, because he never made such a promise. In fact, all he did was state that it was his “hope that it could be maintained.”

Northrup's letter reads as follows:

Dear Mr. Irving:

I am writing to you in response to your letter of February 27, 2013 to the Honourable David Alward regarding my statements at a meeting of the New Brunswick Environmental Network (NBEN) and other concerns affecting your company. Premier Alward has forwarded me your letter and requested that I respond to your concerns.

First let me address the message relayed to you by your staff in attendance at the NBEN meeting. I willingly accepted an invitation by NBEN to speak at their Biodiversity Workshop. I trust J.D. Irving staff in attendance also relayed that the highlight of my formal address to this group was to acknowledge and commend them for their hard work and dedication toward the provincial Biodiversity action plan. In fact my address made no link to Crown land conservation areas. What I expect your staff did relay was my response to a direct question from a member of the group where I was asked for a guarantee that the conservation on Crown land would not be reduced. I am not sure if your employee did not hear my response or misunderstood it, however, I can assure you that the response did not state “it was the Province's intention to maintain Conservation Areas at 28%”. My response was in fact “it was my hope that it could be maintained.” As you are well aware, the Crown land conservation forest is a particularly sensitive and volatile topic with many groups, including the forest industry, and I can assure you my words were carefully considered. I should also highlight to you that part of Government's role in managing our Crown forests is to ensure our efforts best suit the values and interest of all New Brunswickers.

With respect to the efforts over the past year, I should point out that myself and the Minister of Economic Development chaired and supported efforts of a joint committee intended to ensure the ongoing competitiveness of our forest sector. Much of the initial effort of that committee was focused on understanding the competitive position of the various industries that make up our Provincial forest sector. We were able to bring the competitive analysis information to Government last December. Since then, our focus and efforts have turned to solutions and strategies to help improve the competitive situation of our industries with the intent of rewarding and incenting investments into the sector. We are focusing our efforts in three areas that include: reducing input and operational costs; ensuring a secure and predicable supply of wood fibre; and establishing an attractive investment climate. One example of our efforts is in the area of providing long term security to the forest sector by reestablishing the 25 year time frame associated with the current Forest Management Agreements. Government has now approved this element and you can expect to receive documentation in the near future to this effect.

My Department has been focused and has been working hard on issues directly associated with your company as well as those associated with other forest sector companies. I soon expect to be in a position to further discussions with individual companies regarding investment opportunities. I expect concerns regarding specific topics such as the Acadian Forest standards will be part of this discussion. I will be reconvening the senior competitiveness committee in order to discuss the results of the competitiveness analysis work and to provide a sense of Government's path forward. I can also assure you that I understand the proposed investment plans of existing forest companies within the Province, including those of J.D. Irving Ltd. and I am prepared to support those plans provided we can strike the right mix of cost structure, fibre security and business climate elements acceptable to all parties.

In closing, I would like to express my regret that you did not feel comfortable addressing your concerns and understandings regarding my statements directly with me. I want to assure you that my door remains open should you have any concerns or wish to discuss any matters related to the forest sector or your ongoing companies business needs.

Sincerely,

Bruce Northrup


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