Clark talking tough on timber in Maple Ridge mill

But NDP say Clark slow on issue after U.S. duties suddenly slapped on lumber

B.C. Liberal leader Christy Clark was talking tough Tuesday in Maple Ridge after the U.S. suddenly slapped duties of 20 per cent on Canadian lumber, starting next month.

“We are here for you. We are going to fight for you and we are not going to give up this fight until it is won,” Clark said at Partap Forest Products on River Road.

The mill employs about 100 people on two shifts a day and remanufactures cedar products such as shakes and siding and ships about 80 per cent of it south of the border.

The U.S. Department of Commerce says that Canada subsidizes its lumber exports, one means of which is by its timber pricing policies, and claims to have determined the rates of subsidization for each company.

Canfor, it says, is subsidized at a rate of 20 per cent, while West Fraser, says the U.S. Department of Commerce, is subsidized at a rate of 24 per cent, says a release from the U.S. Lumber Coalition.

The U.S. industry also claims that Canada dumps its lumber into the U.S., selling at less than the cost of production.

C.J. Saini, supervisor at Partap Forest Products, doesn’t yet know the duties his company will face. But previously when the U.S. has imposed duties, it’s hurt the Canadian lumber industry.

“It is premature to predict anything, but definitely it is going to affect,” Saini said.

He was confident though that when the duties are challenged in court, “the results will come out positive.

“Its immediate effect on the jobs is my concern.”

Clark was also confident that B.C. would win in court, as it has in the past.

In order to ease the impact on the duties, the B.C. government will pre-purchase B.C. lumber for domestic housing needs.

The government will also launch trade missions to India, China and Japan to develop demand there.

Another $5 million will be added to the $5 million already in the Forest Innovation Investment fund. The PST will also be cut from electricity costs for the forestry industry. A government release says that in 2015, 59 per cent of B.C.’s softwood exports go to the U.S., down from 82 per cent 2001.

Clark said during an election campaign it’s important not to provoke the U.S. with rash talk.

She said it’s important that the government be “strong, calm and reasoned in the face of this American provocation,” adding that subsidizies to help forestry here could jeopardize Canada’s court case.

“Cooler heads need to prevail. We do need to be tough. But we do need to make sure we are being thoughtful and not jeopardizing the long-term interests of B.C. forest workers because we end up losing in court from actions … that may not be well-thought out.”

When asked why B.C. forestry should have faith in Clark when the lumber issue has been ongoing for so long, Clark said that the previous U.S. adminstration under President Barak Obama was not interested in getting a softwood deal.

But she added that she hopes the new government under President Donald Trump would realize that cheaper Canadian lumber would spur U.S. housing.

“We are going to do everything we need to … to make sure we get a deal.”

Another question asked if the B.C. government should have started earlier trying to reach an agreement. The industry and both levels of government have “left no stone unturned,” trying to reach a deal.

The softwood lumber pact between Canada and the U.S. expired a year and a half ago.

Clark said she’s been to Washington but not since the election of Trump. But the B.C. NDP said Alberta and Saskatchewan premiers Rachel Notley and Brad Wall have both visited Trump.

However, B.C. is going to set up a permanent trade office in Washington, D.C. “The previous administration was not interested in getting on the dance floor with Canada when it came to lumber products,” Clark said.

She said Obama’s administration didn’t want to endanger the Trans Pacific Partnership by signing a softwood deal with Canada.

NDP leader John Horgan said that Clark has “failed to make getting a deal a priority.

“Because of her delay and inaction, thousands of B.C. workers now risk losing their jobs and their livelihood.”

Clark said she wouldn’t touch Horgan’s arm again in the TV debate Wednesday. At a debate last week, Horgan asked her not to touch him.

“Now that I know he doesn’t like it, I certainly won’t be doing it. I don’t want to annoy him any more than I already am,” Clark said.

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