BY BILL PHILLIPS
Ottawa’s nearly $1 billion in aid for companies hit by softwood lumber tariffs isn’t new funding, says Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen.
“A lot of it is re-circulated money,” Cullen said Wednesday during a scrum with northern reporters. “It’s money that was already planned and they rolled it into one package to get to a more significant number.”
The federal government announced June 1 that it is providing $867 million in measures to support forest industry companies affected by U.S. measures targeting softwood lumber.
The funding includes federal loans and loan guarantees to complement provincial efforts for viable Canadian companies. Export Development Canada (EDC) will make commercial financing and risk management solutions — including loans and loan guarantees — valued at up to $500 million available to assist viable forestry companies. The Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) will make $105 million in commercial financing available to help eligible forestry companies in the short and medium term. Funding for further loan guarantees may be considered by the Government in the future to address changing market conditions.
Cullen said his biggest concern with the ongoing trade dispute which saw the U.S. impose duties averaging 20 per cent on Canada lumber heading south, is how it will affect smaller, independent mills.
“They can’t sustain long attacks against their products,” Cullen said. “Obviously the American plan is to wipe out more and more producers on the Canadian side.”
Part of the problem during this set of talks is the fact that many major Canadian lumber producers are now heavily invested in operations south of the border as well.
“They were an ally in fighting softwood last time,” Cullen said. “My concern is their enthusiasm, their energy isn’t going to be as great, simply because they’ve placed a bet on both sides of the table.”
He said the federal government does lots of talking about diversifying markets, but “they don’t seem to have any urgency on doing that.”
Cullen said he would like to see help for workers to stay in their communities, should they be laid off because of the dispute. He added it’s disappointing that Ottawa didn’t move earlier on getting a deal with the U.S.
“This whole file has been neglected,” Cullen said. “We’ve had lots of advance notice and you didn’t have to be a trade genius to know that the Americans were likely to launch another case. “I’m frustrated everyone hits the alarm bells now, when we had more than two years of notice that this was coming.”