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B.C. ELECTION 2017: Clark warns knee-jerk response to softwood duties could undermine talks

Liberal Leader Christy Clark wears safety glasses during a campaign stop at CedarLine Industries, a manufacturer of western red cedar products, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday April 24, 2017. A provincial election will be held on May 9.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
April 25, 2017 - 8:00 PM

VANCOUVER - The softwood lumber dispute sidetracked the British Columbia election campaign Tuesday as every party leader pivoted to address the impact a new tariff will have on a key industry in the province.

Premier Christy Clark held a meeting with members of her cabinet as she suspended campaigning for the May 9 election and cautioned against knee-jerk reactions to the duties that would jeopardize negotiations.

"This needs to be calm. Cooler heads need to prevail," the Liberal leader said outside a lumber mill in Maple Ridge.

Clark said the government tried to persuade the previous administration of Barack Obama to reach a new deal on softwood, but the U.S. didn't want to negotiate.

"It's my hope that the Trump administration, despite some of the rhetoric that we've seen, because they have been squarely focused on American jobs and growing the economy, will recognize that choking off the supply of Canadian softwood is only going to kill jobs. It's going to make houses way more expensive and that's going to be a real drag on American economic growth," she added.

The U.S. is imposing duties of up to 24 per cent on lumber imports from Canada.

READ MORE: Some details about Canada's forestry industry

New Democrat Leader John Horgan says he's disappointed by the American tariffs and is accusing Clark of failing to make the ongoing trade dispute enough of a priority.

"After sitting idly by and watching 30,000 fewer people work in the forest sector over the past 16 years, I'm not surprised Christy Clark and the Liberals are once again doing nothing," he said at a campaign stop outside a hospital in Burnaby.

The forest sector in B.C. is a free and fair trader, Horgan said, and past trade disputes have ruled in Canada's favour after lengthy and expensive court cases, which can be avoided.

"We need to up our political participation in this so that the United States knows absolutely that there are other interests at play between British Columbia and the United States," said Horgan, promising to visit Washington within 30 days of being elected.

Green Leader Andrew Weaver said the province has awarded too many forest tenure licenses to multinational corporations "that have no interest in keeping value and jobs in B.C." as he pushed his plan to place restrictions on the export of raw logs.

"Forestry is one of our most important resource sectors and the current government has undervalued it," he said in a statement.

Shortly after the duties were announced on Monday, Clark said the province has started to diversify its lumber export markets, with the U.S. accounting for 59 per cent of softwood exports in 2015, down from 82 per cent in 2001.

The B.C. Lumber Trade Council says the province exports $4.6 billion in softwood lumber to the United States each year and the tariffs will drive up house prices south of the border.

Interfor Corp. CEO Duncan Davies said the tariff is an attempt by the U.S. to gain leverage in negotiations.

"This is just a way of the U.S. government of putting political pressure on the Canadian industry and the Canadian governments to find a longer term settlement that will be more favourable to the U.S. industry than has otherwise been the case," said Davies, who is also a lumber trade council board member.

Council president Susan Yurkovich said softwood disputes between Canada and the U.S. span three decades and Canada has always won in the courts.

"We are not subsidized. That has been proven out in successive actions by the U.S. industry," she said.

— By Geordon Omand in Maple Ridge, Dirk Meissner in Victoria and Linda Givetash in Vancouver.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2017
The Canadian Press

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