While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau focused on plans to show up for only one hour a week in the House of Commons, the U.S. Department of Commerce slapped duties as high as 24% on Canadian softwood lumber imports.
Now thousands of forestry jobs in Whitecourt, Fox Creek, High Prairie, Slave Lake, La Crete and many other communities are at risk because the Liberal government failed to secure a framework agreement on softwood lumber with the United States.
In March 2016, the Liberal government promised to negotiate a framework agreement on softwood lumber exports within 100 days. Prime Minister Trudeau even boasted about the importance of his ‘bromance’ and ‘dude-plomacy’ with the former US President Barak Obama.
It’s been over 400 days since this promise was made, and not only is Canada without a softwood lumber agreement, but the new tariffs are putting forestry jobs at risk.
The Liberal’s broken promise and inaction will affect nearly 60,000 jobs in Alberta alone. Of those, 19,000 are workers who are directly employed by Alberta’s forestry industry. They and their families will feel the pain first before the economic downturn trickles down to the 38,000 who rely indirectly on the industry for income and security.
U.S. President Trump’s aggressive pro-American trade stance was hardly a surprise, yet the Liberals ignored the warning signs. Instead of negotiating a new softwood lumber agreement, evidence is mounting that they put the issue on hold and simply hoped for the best.
At issue is the fundamental difference between how Canada and the U.S. price their harvestable trees. The majority of Canada’s logging takes place on Crown land while in the U.S., forest land is privately owned. Canadian producers are responsible for costs associated with the industry such as road infrastructure, environmental monitoring, and land management. U.S. producers do not have these additional costs, yet they allege that Canadian lumber is unfairly subsidized.
In Canada, the forestry industry is also responsible for site reclamation and reforestation. These measures are a requirement of federal and provincial governments to ensure sustainable harvesting for future generations.
A spokesperson for Millar Western noted, “Unlike in the U.S., 100% of areas that are harvested in Alberta must be reforested. We are proud that companies in Alberta planted 74 million seedlings in 2016.”
The previous Conservative government was well aware of how to bridge the stumpage fee pricing gap. We negotiated a balanced agreement twice that benefited both countries. In April 2006, we solved the softwood lumber dispute and signed an agreement that secured Canadian jobs in the industry. In 2012, we negotiated an extension of the deal to ensure market stability through to October 2016.
Prime Minister Trudeau should have seen this coming. Canadians are outraged that the Liberals didn’t place a higher priority on an issue that threatens to destabilize one of Canada’s most important industries. The Prime Minister needs to get back to work. He needs to start focusing on securing agreements that keep Canadians employed and their futures stable.
Canadians especially don’t need defeatist comments from the Natural Resource Minister that “there inevitably will be job losses.” What we need is a Prime Minister and Natural Resource Minister who are willing to make Canadians, their jobs, and their economic well-being their number one priority.
I call upon the government to take all necessary steps to have these tariffs on softwood reversed and immediately begin negotiating a new framework agreement on softwood lumber exports. The thousands of jobs in Northern Alberta depend on it.