…and on B.C.’s approach to the softwood lumber agreement

MLA candidates for the Columbia River- Revelstoke region weigh in on the softwood lumber agreement

On October 12th, 2015 the softwood lumber agreement between Canada and the United States of America expired.

The agreement was in place for seven years, and according to Global Affairs Canada, fostered a strong trade environment, with $5 billion in duty deposits to Canadian companies. But the lumber industry in the U.S. has sought for restrictions to be placed on Canadian softwood lumber through antidumping laws, and other countervailing measures.

As British Columbia is one of Canada’s largest lumber exports the provincial government has been fighting to protect B.C.’s resources.

“We are going to have to fight hard, we are going to have to be firm, and we are going to have to make sure the deal we get on softwood lumber is one that works for B.C. workers and works for B.C. businesses,” said Premier Christy Clark.

Columbia River-Revelstoke riding candidates for the upcoming provincial election, recently shared their stances on the matter with The Echo.

“The new softwood lumber agreement is being negotiated by the federal government. While we do need to stay involved and do what we can to help push it along, put simply, the agreement itself is out of provincial jurisdiction. We should be focused on our province. The B.C. Liberals have taken a few steps to protect our province, but we could do better,” said independent candidate Justin Hooles.

Hooles suggests a way to start is by looking at how the new agreement will affect the economy in British Columbia.

“A good start would be to include some realistic estimates as to how our economy will be impacted, in the updated 2017 budget, that will be moved through the legislature shortly after the election, since the current version of the budget does not include it,” said Hooles.

Liberal candidate Doug Clovechok said the U.S. market is hugely important, and B.C. accounts for over 50 per cent of Canada’s softwood lumber exports.

“Forestry is a sunrise industry in this province, and the B.C. Liberals and I are committed to standing up for our forestry workers. The forestry industry is one of our key economic drivers and employers providing more than 60,000 direct jobs over 140 communities, and makes up 35 per cent of all goods we export,” said Clovechok.

According to Clovechok, Premier Clark has appointed former Canfor chief executive officer and federal cabinet minister David Emerson as the B.C. trade envoy to the United States to work with Canada and the U.S. on the agreement.

“Reaching a new softwood lumber trade agreement with them remains a top priority for our government, and that’s why Premier Christy Clark and our team are working hard with the federal government and industry to make sure B.C. producers continue to have access,” said Clovechok.

NDP Candidate Gerry Taft said the softwood lumber agreement doesn’t look promising for British Columbians.

“Softwood lumber negotiations with the United States are never easy. It is unfortunate that a new agreement was not reached before the expiry of the most recent agreement. With the turmoil and reality of the protectionist Trump administration, the prospect of a balanced or favourable softwood lumber agreement for British Columbia does not look promising,” said Taft.

Taft went on to say Christy Clark and the B.C. Liberals have let the forestry industry falter, with no serious efforts to improve value-added processing.

“We should not be so reliant and dependent on the United States for the sale of simple 2’ x 4’s. We have an amazing resource in British Columbia and a great deal of local talent,” said Taft.

Green candidate Samson Boyer suggested that stronger leadership is needed for the negotiation of the softwood lumber agreement.

“I believe that it is important to have strong leadership at the negotiation table when it comes to the softwood lumber agreement. We need to ensure that B.C. logs are not subject to undue tariffs when crossing the border,” said Boyer.

Boyer said that Christy Clark is not the right person for the job, adding the issue requires thinking and negotiating for a longer term and bigger picture.

“There has to be innovation in the government’s approach to our lumber and wood product exports. Exploring further how we can add value to the wood product we export, providing jobs and opportunities, rather than simply selling raw product is essential,” said Boyer.

All candidates were in agreement that softwood lumber agreement will have a direct impact on the B.C. forestry industry and B.C. needs a fair deal.