This past Saturday, Aug. 29, ForestNB and Irving Woodlands, a division of J.D. Irving Ltd., ran full-page ads in all the Brunswick News English dailies and in Acadie Nouvelle, the French daily newspaper.
Titled, “An open letter to all New Brunswick Political Parties,” the ad stated, “If political parties support a ban on glyphosate, then they should ban the use of all chemicals on all land types in all applications including: agriculture, golf courses, private residences, etc. Anything less than that is strictly politically motivated.”
The J.D. Irving and ForestNB advertisement appears to contravene the Political Activity Financing Act. Elections NB requires organizations to register as a “third party” in an election if they spend more than $500 to “publicly promote or oppose a political party or the election of a candidate, or take a position on an issue with which a political party or a candidate is associated.”
The list of eight registered third parties on the Elections NB website does not include ForestNB or J.D. Irving.
Social media lit up over the J.D. Irving and ForestNB “open letter.” The discussion, especially on the Stop Spraying New Brunswick (SSNB) Facebook page, included posts by New Brunswickers concerned with both the content of the letter and the legality of the advertisement.
SSNB, one of the eight registered third parties in this election, depends on donations from its supporters to fund their anti-spraying signs around the province. The organization is also lobbying political candidates.
At press time, 11 Green Party candidates, six NDP candidates, two People’s Alliance Party candidates, and one KISS candidate had signed SSNB’s Pledge to “take concrete action towards the banning of herbicide spraying on public lands in New Brunswick”.
Candidates who have not signed the SSNB pledge include all the current PANB MLAs, all the Liberal Party candidates, and all the PC Party candidates.
SSNB’s recent report card rated the action on glyphosate spraying by the four political parties in the past New Brunswick legislature. SSNB vice-chair Donald Bowser reported that “the Green Party has been the most active” which earned them a B+ for “Efforts for changes in the legislation/Tabling a motion or a bill.” The Greens were unable to get their bill to second reading.
The other parties received rankings of D- for the Progressive Conservatives, D+ for the Liberals and C- for the People’s Alliance under this category of the SSNB report card.
Yesterday in the northern riding of Restigouche West where Green Party candidate Charles Thériault is running, David Coon announced that a Green Party government “would immediately ban the use of the spraying of herbicides, such as glyphosate, on Crown lands and under power lines.”
Several people posted on the SSNB Facebook page that they had contacted Elections NB about the legalities of the J.D. Irving and ForestNB advertisement. Another posted that Elections NB had replied to their query stating “we are already aware of the advertisement and we are looking into the matter.”
Whether or not Elections NB decides to refer both ForestNB and J.D. Irving to the RCMP for further investigation, the situation raises many other questions concerning the content of the advertisement itself.
The ad is clearly referring to the forest industry’s softwood plantations, not the traditional Acadian forest hardwood trees that once covered all New Brunswick, in the statement that “70% of planted trees will not survive” if glyphosate is banned.
The information in the advertisement protects the status quo: continuing herbicide spraying on public lands.
Without referencing sources, the ad makes claims about the amount of glyphosate used in New Brunswick and across Canada, and how glyphosate is used by different industry sectors. The ad also minimizes the current spraying practices of Irving Woodlands in New Brunswick. These “facts” create the impression that all is well in New Brunswick.
The outrage from many New Brunswickers tell an entirely different story. SSNB is currently one of the largest political activist groups in the province, with more than 15,000 members on its Facebook page. More than 35,000 New Brunswickers have signed a petition tabled in the Legislature to stop spraying glyphosate on Crown land.
The “open letter to political parties” states that the all-party Climate Change and Environmental Stewardship Committee, established in December 2019, should be allowed to do its work. This suggests that ForestNB and J.D. Irving are confident the new members of the committee after the September 14 election will be agreeable to them.
The advertisement contains implied threats, including that 20,000 jobs will be lost if any political party bans glyphosate spraying.
The “open letter” challenges political parties to ban herbicide spraying everywhere in all commercial operations. The SSNB Facebook page site administrator explains “they know that a goal like this will take forever to achieve. Delay tactics!”
Another SSNB group member raises an important question about ForestNB, whose logo appears on the ad. “Isn’t this organization a partnership between government & industry? Is it legal for a government organization to make political statements during an election campaign?”
These questions and many others posted on social media highlight the serious concerns some New Brunswickers have about both the written and implied purpose and motivation behind the “open letter to political parties” from ForestNB and J.D Irving.
Does Elections NB have the ability and legal authority to properly address how the use of this advertisement could influence the outcome of this election?
Will there be any legal action to challenge both the content and the use of this medium to influence the outcome of this election by J.D Irving and ForestNB?
Will the federal and provincial government department and programs working with ForestNB and J.D. Irving continue their funding arrangements with these organizations while they are under investigation?
Answers to these and many other questions about the “open letter to NB political parties” will be on the minds of many voters as they cast their ballots in this snap election.
Brian Beaton is a writer and the calendar coordinator of the NB Media Co-op.
*this story was corrected shortly after publication to clarify that the Political Activity Financing Act, not the Election Act, is the law that appears to have been contravened.