The Opposition Progressive Conservatives say mixed messages from the Liberal government are jeopardizing thousands of potential forestry jobs in the province.
For the second straight day, the PCs demanded to know whether promised Liberal changes to a provincial forestry plan would affect the amount of wood companies can cut.
But Natural Resources Minister Denis Landry didn’t give them much clarity.
“It’s possible some things will change in the plan, maybe some things that aren’t major, maybe some things that are major,” Landry said in Question Period on Wednesday.
The minister even gave a nod to a bill introduced by Green Party Leader David Coon that would cancel wood supply agreements signed under the plan by the previous PC government of David Alward.
“It probably won’t happen, but we’re ready anyway to see what his demands are, to see what solutions the leader of the third party is proposing,” he said.
The Tories point to industry promises of 7,800 jobs as a result of the increased wood supply provisions of the plan, some of it resulting from mill expansions.
“There’s more than half a billion dollars in private sector investment that’s being held up because they won’t make a decision,” PC MLA Glen Savoie said in Question Period.
Savoie later acknowledged to reporters that several mill expansions are already underway, but he said companies may hold back on further upgrades without a decision from the Liberals.
“They’re the ones that are going to decide if changes need to be made, and certainly that’s their prerogative. What we’re saying is they’re taking way too much time,” he said. “We’re six months into their mandate and the companies are no further ahead as to what the direction of government is.”
“Will these companies continue to invest, without having some certainty going forward? That would be the question that I would have.”
Landry says his stakeholder consultations are still not finished. “We’ve been meeting groups, and groups, and groups,” he said, “and the more we meet, the more want to meet us.”
Landry said before Christmas he might recommend against changes to the policy because of the risk that companies would sue over lost investment.
At the time, he said he hoped to have a decision by the end of January. Now he’s refusing to provide a new timeline.
When in opposition, the Liberals questioned the plan without promising to undo it. They pointed to scientific opinion that the new logging levels might jeopardize the long-term sustainability of the forest.
Landry told the legislature if the PCs had done a better job developing the plan, he wouldn’t have to canvass stakeholders on how to improve it.
But he also acknowledged there’s no consensus on the plan among the people he’s meeting.
“There are people for the plan, there are people on the fence who see both sides of it, and there are people completely against it.”