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Williams Lake chapter helps organize public forum on the Softwood Lumber Agreement

The Council of Canadians Williams Lake chapter is helping to organize part of a series of public forums on forestry jobs and forest protection in British Columbia.

The Prince George Citizen reports, “Peter Ewart, co-founder of the Stand Up For The North Committee, said these events will take place in Prince George, Mackenzie, Quesnel and Williams Lake. ‘The purpose of these meetings is to have community discussion at a time when our jobs, forests and communities are facing threats from mill closures, lack of forest oversight, runaway forest companies, timber shortages, ramped up raw log exports, an unreliable U.S. export market and other problems’, Ewart said.”

The article adds, “Each meeting will have a keynote speaker – Ben Parfitt, forestry analyst for the Canadian Centre For Policy Alternatives – plus a set of support speakers from forestry unions, First Nations and other stakeholder groups.”

The outreach highlights that the public forums will discuss the Softwood Lumber Agreement, trade and the future of forestry in British Columbia. The United States currently buys 50 percent of Canadian softwood exports and there are about 60,000 forestry jobs in the province of British Columbia alone.

Most timber in Canada is owned by provincial governments and the prices charged to harvest the timber (stumpage fees) are set administratively. In the United States, softwood lumber lots are privately owned and stumpage fees are largely determined by the market. The heart of the softwood lumber dispute between the two countries is that the US deems the Canadian arrangement an unfair subsidy.

The most recent Softwood Lumber Agreement between Canada and the US expired in October 2016.

The Globe and Mail explains, “The 2006 agreement, which ended the last round of trade litigation, managed the flow of Canadian lumber to the United States by imposing export charges whenever prices fell below a predetermined floor.”

In relation to the upcoming renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), a November 2016 memo from Trump’s transition team advised that a more favourable softwood lumber agreement could be extracted during those talks. The Globe and Mail has reported, “U.S. forestry companies want to limit Canadian timber shipments to the United States and allege provinces subsidize companies through below-market rates for harvesting from Crown land. Adding softwood to NAFTA would presumably mean setting a quota or limit for Canadian timber shipments.”

The loss of many jobs in BC is a very real likelihood if that were to happen.

BC Premier Christy Clark recently appointed Stephen Harper’s former trade minister David Emerson as a special envoy to the US on softwood lumber. He says, “At this stage, I can’t really tell you what it’s going to take to resolve the issue.”

The CCPA’s Parfitt argued in 2008 that British Columbia should pursue more value-added manufacturing jobs within the confines of the Softwood Lumber Agreement. He wrote, “More value-added forest products – including wood trusses, beams, pallets, garage doors, and window and door frames – could be made in BC and are not subject to the Softwood Lumber Agreement’s punitive export tax provisions. Making more higher-value forest products is not only a way around the tax provisions. It also strengthens the social and economic fabric of BC’s rural, forestry-dependent communities, which would benefit from a manufacturing strategy that stresses generating more jobs from a smaller overall raw material supply.”

The schedule for the upcoming series of public forums is:

  • Prince George, March 13, 7 p.m., College of New Caledonia’s Stan Shaffer Theatre (Room 1-306)

  • Mackenzie, March 14, 7 p.m., Mackenzie Recreation Centre

  • Quesnel, March 15, 7 p.m., Arts & Recreation Centre (500 North Star Road)

  • Williams Lake, March 16, 7 p.m., Central Cariboo Arts & Cultural Centre (90-4th Avenue North)

For more on these public forums, please see the Facebook event pages here.