BY BOB ZIMMER
Prince George-Peace River-Northern Rockies MP
Since forming government, the Liberals have repeatedly assured our forest industry and Canadians that negotiating a new Softwood Lumber Agreement with the United States is a priority.
However, as the saying goes, actions speak louder than words.
The fact is Canada has been without a new Softwood Lumber Agreement since the fall of 2015 and duties have been imposed on Canadian imports since 2017. The Liberal government also failed to negotiate softwood lumber into the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement.
At a Natural Resources Committee meeting in February, I questioned the Honourable Mary Ng, Minister of Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade, about whether negotiating a new Softwood Lumber Agreement came up during the first bilateral agreement between the prime minister and President Joe Biden.
The minister refused to give a straightforward answer, and I could only conclude from her response that it was not discussed and is therefore not a priority for this government.
Recent events have confirmed my suspicions.
U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai recently told U.S. Senators that, “In order to have an agreement and in order to have a negotiation, you need to have a partner. And thus far, the Canadians have not expressed interest in engaging.”
And then, on May 21 came news that the United States Department of Commerce is moving to double duties on imports of Canadian softwood lumber from 8.99 per cent to 18.32 per cent.
Instead of taking any meaningful action to secure a Softwood Lumber Agreement, we are now seeing a step backwards with this announcement.
During a recent Question Period, I asked the minister about these new developments and why the Liberals refuse to come to the table to negotiate a new agreement. Then at committee, Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan evaded my direct question asking if the Liberal government was negotiating a Softwood Lumber Agreement, yes or no. He then went on to say:
“The U.S. hasn’t been willing…we are.”
Who is telling the truth? I’ll let you be the judge.
The Standing Committee on Natural Resources recently tabled a report on the economic recovery of Canada’s forestry sector, which included a dissenting report from Conservative Members of the committee, including myself.
Our dissenting report points out the Liberals’ lack of effort in securing a Softwood Lumber Agreement and their continued delay in providing Canadians with a detailed plan on how they will fulfill their promise to plant two billion trees in ten years. The report also highlights the need for the government to recognize the significant progress the forest industry has made in environmental protection and sustainable resource development.
The news over the last few weeks makes it increasingly apparent that securing a Softwood Lumber Agreement is vital to our forestry sector’s long-term stability.
We British Columbians have seen firsthand the devastating impact this failure by the Liberal government has had on our mills and communities in recent years.
My Conservative colleagues and I understand how important this sector is to our national economy and will continue to work to secure predictability in our forestry sector for its workers and their families.