NDP leader John Horgan operates a lift at an announcement in Maple Ridge to promote trades training. (B.C. NDP)

ELECTION 2017: Trash talk doesn’t help lumber trade

Christy Clark, John Horgan trade nonsense allegations on softwood battle

One of the unfortunate things about the latest lumber trade attack from the U.S. is that it comes in the midst of the B.C. election campaign.

Provincial politicians blaming one another for federal and even international economic problems is nothing new. And it doesn’t help anyone other than them, assuming they get a superficial boost from people who fall for emotional pitches with little rational basis.

B.C. Liberal leader Christy Clark wasted no time in last week’s TV debate. She claimed NDP leader John Horgan “turtled” in the fight over softwood lumber trade with the U.S., while casting herself as the only one tough and “calm” enough to defend the B.C. forest industry.

This has been her theme since the day the U.S. Commerce Department announced preliminary duties of about 20 per cent on Canadian lumber imports, half of which come from B.C. mills. She uses a selective quote from Horgan about the prospects of getting a new deal despite the harsh protectionist mood of U.S. President Donald Trump. “Good luck with that,” Horgan said, in an ill-advised reply to a reporter’s question about the prospects for success.

Horgan soon developed his own factually challenged response, noting that Clark didn’t personally go to Washington D.C. to engage with Trump administration officials about the benefits of Canadian lumber. This continued his theme since the last trade deal expired, that Clark had “dropped the ball” by failing to get the Obama administration to settle the dispute.

What a load of nonsense from both of them, and they know it. This fight goes back 30 years, and for most of that time it has been a truce via what is politely called “managed trade,” meaning either quotas or border taxes imposed by the U.S.

Duncan Davies, CEO of Interfor with big lumber production on both sides of the border, puts it in plainer terms: the repeated U.S. actions are a “simple shake-down” by American forest industry interests. He told a conference of lumber wholesalers in Vancouver last week that the trade actions are about “increasing the value of U.S. timberlands, which occurs every time trade litigation is launched, Canadian supply is restricted and lumber prices rise.”

Canada’s record is clear in the latest round. With the last “shake-down” deal already expired due to inaction on the U.S. side, it was the first topic Clark brought up with newly elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. He in turn made it his top priority in his first meeting with Obama’s trade team.

This demonstrates the obvious, that ultimately it is a federal trade issue. It would be nice if the U.S. government was less corrupted by corporate lobbyists and would act in the interests of its own home builders and home buyers, but that is not the case, and Trump is simply a more bombastic version of previous lobbyist-ridden U.S. presidents.

Horgan turned up the rhetoric on a visit to Prince George, where many forest industry jobs are at stake. Trying to look tough, he suggested that B.C. could retaliate with its natural gas exports, or the Columbia River treaty, which regulates flood control and electricity production into Washington state.

Clark has threatened to choke off exports of U.S. thermal coal that moves by rail from Wyoming to the Westshore Terminals at Tsawwassen, and then to China. If Ottawa won’t do it, she says she’ll use provincial legislation to put “a levy so onerous on thermal coal through B.C. that no one will do it.”

Would that get Trump to back down, or make things worse?

Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Email: tfletcher@blackpress.ca Twitter: @tomfletcherbc

Just Posted

Freezing temperatures expected in Lower Mainland

Snowfall warning ends, but surge or icy air to continue

Proponent of controversial quarry looking to get out

Sumas Mountain mine has triggered widespread opposition

Public art to adorn pedestrian/cycling overpass

City of Abbotsford now taking submissions for $57,000 piece of art

Tree branches, yard waste can be dropped off for free

Mission extends program that was begun after ice storm

VIDEO: Bear Hide March goes through downtown Mission

Standing up against violence towards women and children

How to keep local news visible in your Facebook feed

Facebook has changed the news feed to emphasize personal connections. You might see less news.

Rebels beat road-weary Giants

Vancouver was playing fourth game in five days

VIDEO: Protesters rally for affordable housing ahead of B.C. budget

Residents call on province to keep locals housed

Update: Highway 97C reopened following multi-vehicle incident

Highway 97C is closed to eastbound traffic near Pennask Summit following an incident Sunday afternon

#Metoo movement causing confusion in many men, fear of missteps with women: experts

Being painted by the same sweeping brush as those alleged to have mistreated women has angered men

Liberals to dig deeper, aim higher on gender equality in 2018 federal budget

Finance Minister Bill Morneau said the budget would include measures to boost women in the workforce

Late-winter snow storm blankets Lower Mainland

Some areas got up to half a foot of snow

Most Read