Jim Irving’s testimony to a New Brunswick legislative committee ended in a heated exchange with Green opposition leader David Coon on September 21, over J.D. Irving’s use of glyphosate in its forestry operations.
The exchange occurred after a J.D. Irving delegation tried to undermine the credibility of experts opposed to the company’s use of glyphosate, a chemical spray that is classified as a potential carcinogen by the World Health Organization.
The committee is examining glyphosate use in the forestry industry, and Irving’s testimony came days after an Indigenous delegation voiced their opposition to spraying to the committee.
Irving, co-CEO of J.D. Irving Ltd., the largest forestry company in the province, told New Brunswick’s all-party Standing Committee on Climate Change and Environmental Stewardship in the Legislature that a ban on glyphosate would hinder the company’s ability to maximize output of its logging operations on Crown land.
Crown land, 50 per cent of the land base in New Brunswick, like the rest of the province is unsurrendered Wolastoqiyik, Mi’kmaq and Passamaquoddy territory. Forestry companies spray glyphosate-based herbicides after a clearcut in order to kill vegetation that competes with the softwoods it plants.
J.D. Irving’s director of research and development Andrew Willett drew criticisms for dismissing experts when he told the Committee that, “We can’t make public policy and we can’t make public investments on something Karen from Facebook said or something we read on Google.”
Following J.D. Irving’s presentations to the Committee, Irving spoke to the media about global competition in forestry and the flight of forestry companies from Canada to Brazil.
“A lot of companies, you know, have left Canada. They have moved their operations. We haven’t. This is home for us, in New Brunswick. We are proud of it. We have great men and women, working in a lot of great communities, and we have a first class forest. Our job today is to come up and make sure that the committee members understand the opportunities and understand what we have here in the province,” said Irving.
In response to CBC’s Jacques Poitras asking Irving about Coon’s suggestion that given the wealth of his company that it could absorb the costs of not spraying glyphosate on the forest, he said, “I would say Mr. Coon, you know, perhaps, does not really understand the business and we’re in a competitive global business.”
Watch the exchange with Jim Irving and the media in this video by Charles LeBlanc.
Coon responded to Irving: “You’ve done very well in New Brunswick. When you say suspending the use of glyphosate would be catastrophic for the company… it doesn’t quite stand up for me, given how well you’ve done.”
At a time when people are weathering the COVID-19 storm, Canada’s billionaires, including James Irving, owner of J.D. Irving and father of Jim, have added to their profits during the pandemic. The company has long been criticized for tax avoidance and being a large recipient of corporate welfare.
Between April and October 2020, the wealth of James Irving shot up 36 per cent, from $6 billion to $8.1 billion, according to a report by the Canadian Centre for Tax Fairness.
J.D. Irving received more than $3 million in Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) on January 15, 2021, placing it in the top 50 of corporations benefiting the most from the subsidy. Ryan Romard, a data analyst, calls the outcome of CEWS entirely predictable: “Capitalists always desire higher short-term profits and all else being equal, a dollar less in wages is a dollar more for profits.”
As J.D. Irving’s wealth climbs, the company says it would be detrimental to its business if it were to stop glyphosate use in its forestry practices in New Brunswick.
Speaking to the media, Irving drew comparisons to Brazil to justify the practice: “You know they will grow a tree 60-feet tall in six years in Brazil and they’ll put every kind of biocide out that you can imagine, and so we are very selective, very small quantities are used and a very small part of New Brunswick actually gets sprayed.”
Under the leadership of President Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil has opened up more of the Amazon to agri-business, mining and logging interests, leading to rapid deforestation that had been halted under post-2002 left-leaning governments. Social movements in Brazil, including the MST, the Landless Workers Movement, have long opposed glyphosate use in forestry.
Alma Brooks, Wolastoq clan mother, is unequivocal in her assessment of forestry in New Brunswick. For the long-time land defender, glyphosate use is in violation of the Peace and Friendship Treaties, does not have the consent of the Indigenous peoples, and is poisoning the berries, plants and medicines.
Brooks told the Standing Committee charged with making recommendations on the future use of glyphosate in the forest: “We’re going in the wrong direction and that what you are doing is not sustainable, but you didn’t hear the message. You didn’t hear the message because you didn’t listen. Today the world’s scientists are issuing code red warnings — we are on the verge of another mass extinction, and it is the human family.”
In early September, a number of Indigenous representatives, including Brooks as well as Wolastoq Grand Council Chief Ron Tremblay and Cecelia Brooks, on behalf of St. Mary’s First Nation, told the committee they were opposed to spraying the forest with herbicides.
Brooks and Chief Tremblay told the MLAs that the government has a duty to consult and get free prior and informed consent from Indigenous communities on forestry practices on land that has never been ceded.
While the Standing Committee heard from various experts, for and against glyphosate in June, it had not invited an Indigenous representative to give testimony until the last day when forestry specialist Steven Ginnish from Eel Ground First Nation was invited to appear before the committee.
J.D. Irving Ltd., one of the main forestry companies spraying glyphosate, then asked to speak before the committee, generating some debate on whether they should be allowed to present. The Standing Committee let them present on September 21.
Caroline Lubbe-D’Arcy is the chair of Stop Spraying New Brunswick. She questions the process that was used to allow J.D. Irving on the agenda after the committee was supposed to start deliberating on September 21. Lubbe-D’Arcy presented before the Committee in June.
“J.D. Irving, the company that benefits the most from our Crown forests at our expense, tried to dismiss the experts who made presentations to the committee,” said Lubbe-D’Arcy.
The hearings come as McGill researchers announced findings from a series of studies that show agricultural use of glyphosate can impair freshwater ecosystems.
The Green Party and People’s Alliance have long called for a ban on glyphosate spraying. In 2019, Coon tabled a bill aimed at ending aerial spraying of glyphosate in the forest, but did not receive support from the other parties to move it ahead. The Liberals came out against the practice for the first time in the 2020 election campaign, promising to phase out the herbicide in four years.
In 2001, the province of Quebec banned glyphosate spraying in its woods largely due to public health concerns. Quebec uses manual vegetation control instead of chemicals in its silviculture operations, a practice that glyphosate opponents in New Brunswick prefer as an option.
In June, the Maine Senate joined the state’s House of Representatives in approving a bill to ban aerial spraying of glyphosate in forestry. Soon after, Governor Janet Mills vetoed the bill.
Troy Jackson, Maine Senate President, told CBC, that J.D. Irving Ltd. sprays the most in his area: “They are the one that sprays the most, but there’s other landowners, too. I mean, they’ve all banded together against this [bill]. You know, they’ve made the argument that it’s … going to cost jobs.”
The public now must wait for a response from the Standing Committee to what they heard from Indigenous representatives, scientists, conservationists and forestry companies this summer.
Tracy Glynn is an editorial board member of the NB Media Co-op.
Presentations on glyphosate made before the Standing Committee on Climate Change and Environmental Stewardship in June and September can be watched here.