Doherty calls out feds over softwood

Conservative MP Todd Doherty slammed the federal government's approach to the softwood lumber deal as "an afterthought" after the year-long standstill period expired.

"(The deal was) not mentioned in the Liberal campaign platform. It's not mentioned in the (trade minister's) mandate letter. It's not mentioned in the speech from the throne," said Doherty. "It's almost like an afterthought. And now they're catching up and behind the eight ball from the beginning."

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The first-time MP said the previous Conservative government set the stage to finalize a new agreement between Canada and the United States. The 2006 deal expired a year ago, just before the election, but a one-year standstill period kicked in to allow both countries to come to some sort of resolution.

"Our government ... got the discussions significantly down the path so that whichever government formed after the election, they were well positioned to finalize an agreement."

The limbo "signals times of uncertainty" for forestry companies and for his Cariboo Prince George riding.

"We've already had an industry that's had some hard times whether it was the pine beetle - it's harder and harder to find fibre - and now we've got some uncertainty that we don't have an agreement with our major trading partner," said Doherty. "We know that there are mills that are in our riding that are at risk of closing."

The statement by Canadian Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said officials are meeting in Washington, D.C., this week.

"In our effort to reach a new agreement on softwood lumber, we and our officials have been intensively engaged in government-to-government sessions, in meetings with our respective producers and other stakeholders, and in dialogue with state and provincial governments," the statement said.

"The United States and Canadian governments are committed to continuing negotiations in an effort to achieve a durable and equitable solution for North American softwood lumber producers, downstream industries and consumers."

Doherty
Cariboo Prince George MP Todd Doherty during question period on Oct. 7 argued the previous Conservative government "set the stage for the Liberal government to finalize a new softwood lumber agreement." - CPAC

To Doherty, though, not enough was done and part of the problem was a lack consultation and consensus-building among industry.

"There's a lot of inconsistencies from east coast to west coast and no real consensus what the starting point for negotiating was," said Doherty, adding he'd suggested at the end of August government should convene a roundtable of industry in the provinces.

A spokesman for Freeland said the government is aware how vital the softwood lumber sector is across the country.

"Canada is prepared for any situation, and our government will vigorously defend the interests of Canadian workers and producers," Alex Lawrence said in an email.

"The reality is that the U.S. industry is not where we need them to be. At the same time, the protectionist climate in the U.S. does complicate any trade negotiation, including this one."

The end of the standstill period means the U.S. could begin the process of imposing tariffs on Canadian lumber imports.

Some Canadian producers are concerned that their counterparts in the U.S. will start petitioning Washington to impose such duties on their softwood in about six months, a move that could result in mill closures and layoffs in Canada.

That's been the fear Doherty keeps hearing from northern communities, especially if Canada takes a more adversarial approach.

"We know that the the government's been preparing for a couple months for litigation," he said, adding that will likely lead to mill closures.

Quesnel's mayor told him at least two mills are at risk, representing about 400 jobs, Doherty said.

"That's what hits home for me, we don't have other industries that are picking up those jobs."

After the expiry of the previous softwood lumber deal in 1996, the U.S. Department of Commerce imposed a 32 per cent export duty, which was reduced to about 27 per cent in 2002 and remained at that level until a new agreement was reached four years later.

The U.S. Lumber Coalition has pushed for a reinstatement of across-the-board quotas, something that has been rejected by Western Canadian producers.

-with files from Canadian Press

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