In the Legislature on Thursday, Premier John Horgan came under increased scrutiny from the official opposition about the softwood lumber dispute after telling MLA Jackie Tegart quote “stop whining about it.”
“There are 140 forestry-dependent communities in our province that are suffering without a softwood lumber deal,” said Fraser-Nicola MLA Jackie Tegart. “I have had constituents come into my office literally in tears because of rolling layoffs at the local mill. I am appalled the Premier of this province called MLAs ‘whiners’ during Question Period today for putting pressure on the government to act. The Premier said nearly two years ago that he would be directly involved in negotiations, but we haven’t seen or heard anything since.”
“To have the Premier suggest that it be inappropriate for us to call them to account on promises they made two years ago, to me is more than disappointing,” said Tegart. “He has been in the states a number of times. He should bring it up every time he’s there, it should be a top priority as far as I’m concerned.”
“I just want the constituents in Fraser-Nicola to know, that the BC Liberals are asking the appropriate questions. But unfortunately, the response from the Premier suggests in his own words that we are whining,” said MLA Tegart.
“British Columbia is responsible for 50 per cent of all softwood lumber exports to the United States; Horgan should be on the forefront of Canadian efforts to resolve the dispute,” said Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Critic and Nechako Lakes MLA John Rustad.
The softwood lumber dispute has been a trade irritant between the two countries for decades.
One underlying issue is the difference in land ownership between the two countries. In the U.S., about 90% of forest land is owned and managed by private entities, whereas in Canada about 90% is managed by provincial governments on behalf of the public.
Another underlying issue leading to the continuation of this dispute is that the U.S. lumber industry has been successful since the mid 1980’s in having its government impose tariffs on Canadian lumber, even after Canada has demonstrated in international appeals that the tariffs were unfounded.
Currently with no deal in place between Canada and the US, America is free to implement duties on the lumber being imported from Canada. Two of these duties are the countervailing and antidumping duty. The BC government describes the duties as the following.
A countervailing duty is a duty assessed by the U.S. government on Canadian exports of lumber to the United States. The U.S. argues that the duty is required to offset unfair subsidies that Canadian and provincial governments allegedly provide to lumber companies.
An antidumping duty is a duty assessed by the U.S. government on Canadian exports of lumber to the United States. The U.S. argues that the duty is required to offset unfair selling practices by Canadian lumber companies that are allegedly selling lumber into the U.S. at a price below their costs or sales value in Canada.
“Premier Horgan held a joint news conference with Governor Inslee just weeks ago and never even raised the topic of softwood lumber,” said Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett. “We have a premier who appears in lots of photo ops but seems afraid to act on behalf of the forest industry.”
“I use every opportunity to get this government’s attention when it comes to forestry and supporting the families who depend on this industry to make a living,” said Cariboo North MLA Coralee Oakes. “The softwood lumber dispute can only be solved through leadership that this premier is sadly lacking.”
In early 2018, high demand for Canadian softwood drove lumber prices high enough to mitigate the impact of these tariffs on Canadian exporters. However, in the second half of 2018, market prices collapsed, and many sawmills in Canada – particularly in BC – have been curtailing operations or closing for extended periods of time to save costs.
On Twitter: @Q101Merritt