Canada: Politics, plantations and participation

1 Mar

Jaakko Pöyry’s role in promoting industrial plantations in New Brunswick.

By Chris Lang. Published in Taiga News, Issue 46, Spring 2004.

According to the Supreme Court of Canada, Crown lands are held in trust by provincial governments to provide public benefit to current and future generations. Yet in September 2001, the six companies that hold logging licences on New Brunswick’s Crown lands wrote to the Minister of Natural Resources to demand a doubling of the logging rate.

The following year, the New Brunswick Forest Products Association (NBFPA),which describes itself as “the voice of the forest industry”, hired Jaakko Pöyry Management Consulting (JPMC) to produce an “expert, independent assessment”. The New Brunswick Department of Natural Resources and Energy part-funded the report.

JPMC is part of a consulting firm founded in Finland in 1958. Today, the Jaakko Pöyry Group boasts that it “is the world’s leading forest industry consulting and engineering company”.

Pöyry’s advice is, no doubt, “expert”. The company employs 4800 experts in 38 countries. Less clear is whether Pöyry’s advice is “independent”. The company serves the pulp and paper industry, providing a range of services from consulting, to engineering, to project implementation, to operations management. It has worked on more than 300 pulp and paper mills around the world.

In November 2002, Pöyry completed its report, New Brunswick Crown Forests: Assessment of Stewardship and Management. Pöyry’s experts recommended precisely what New Brunswick’s logging companies wanted to hear: doubling the logging rate and doubling the area of plantations. If Pöyry’s recommendations were to be implemented, of New Brunswick’s more than 3 million ha of forests on Crown land, 40% would become industrial plantations.

Pöyry’s study involved minimal participation with the people of New Brunswick. The report makes no mention of indigenous people or their rights. The words “indigenous”, “aboriginal” and “First Nations” do not appear in Pöyry’s 59-page report. The Mi’kmaq, Maliseet and Passamaquoddy hold treaty rights to earn moderate livelihoods from the harvesting of Crown land resources and claim aboriginal title to these lands. The Canadian courts have said that government and industry must consult with First Nations if they intend to make changes to the use of Crown lands.

Pöyry’s report concludes with a recommendation that “the public be given more opportunity . . . to participate in revising current objectives for Crown lands in accordance with the proposed changes”.

David Coon, Policy Director of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, points out that his organisation has been asking the government for a public review of the future of Crown lands for twelve years. Many others, including First Nations, the New Brunswick Federation of Woodlot Owners, and the labour movement have also called for a public inquiry.

In November 2003, a legislative committee began travelling around New Brunswick for a series of public hearings. Demand to speak at the hearings was so great that the number of hearings had to be almost doubled. By the end of the hearings, the committee had heard more than 200 presentations and received 90 written submissions.

David Coon concluded his presentation with a request for a new participation process, in addition to the public hearings whose starting point was the demands of the logging industry, saying: “There is a pressing need for a formal process by which our provincial government can seek the views of the public on the goals and objectives for the management of Crown lands. These have been revised every five years since 1982 in the absence of any public process.”

The legislative committee will present its report of the public hearings in April this year. It remains to be seen whether it will accept the industry’s and Jaakko Pöyry’s recommendations to double the area of industrial plantations, or whether it will allow genuine public participation in deciding the future of New Brunswick’s public forests.

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