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Softwood Lumber Crisis—Inquiry

Softwood Lumber Crisis—Inquiry

Softwood Lumber Crisis—Inquiry

Softwood Lumber Crisis—Inquiry

Published on 21 June 2017
Hansard and Statements by Senator Terry Mercer

Hon. Terry M. Mercer:

Honourable senators, I rise today to resume debate on the inquiry of the Honourable Senator Maltais, calling the attention of the Senate to the software lumber crisis.

Here we go again. This past April, the Trump administration slapped new tariffs, ranging from 3 per cent to 24 per cent, on five specific lumber companies: West Fraser Mills, 24.12 per cent; Tolko Marketing and Sales, 19.5 per cent; J.D. Irving, 3.02 per cent; Canfor Corporation, 20.26 per cent; Resolute Forest Products, 12.82 per cent; and 19.88 per cent for all other producers and exporters. It is important you hear those numbers because I will refer back to at least one.

This is the latest in the long struggle for fair lumber trade between our countries. They say good fences make good neighbours. When boundaries are clearly defined, we all better understand one another’s issues and can then live in relative peace.

While this has worked in general between our two countries, which share the longest international border in the world, lumber seems to be a consistent sticking point with the United States. The last agreement was reached in 2006. It required the United States to return 80 per cent of the more than $5 billion in duties it had collected on lumber imports from the previous dispute. The Harper government at the time left a lot of money on the table, honourable senators — $1 billion.

I have to wonder if the Conservative senators opposite remember that. I will remind them to be careful when talking about lost money now, because they are not in power and it’s politically expedient to blame the new Liberal government. Perhaps if that money from 2006 hadn’t been left on the table, it could have been used to fight this current nonsense with the current administration in the United States. That’s just a thought.

Of course, Canada usually wins these disputes in the fight over software lumber with the United States, either through NAFTA or the WTO dispute mechanisms. But, as in the past, these new tariffs will have to be paid by Canadian firms until we have a new ruling on whether they are justified. Déjà vu, honourable senators.

Where do we go from here? Thousands of jobs are threatened. Billions of dollars in sales are threatened. Unity is threatened. You will notice that the tariffs applied in Eastern Canada, notably to J.D. Irving, are low since most of our lumber comes from private land. It appears to the United States that we are not dumping cheap lumber into their market because of what they feel is unfair pricing from other lumber and from Crown lands across Canada.

When I was recently in the United States on a trip with the Agriculture Committee to talk about the acquisition of farmland, I made a point to inform representatives and senators we met with on Capitol Hill that because of the tariffs they are proposing, Americans would be spending an extra $10,000 to $15,000 to build their homes. That’s a lot of money that could be spent elsewhere. Some of them were surprised to hear that.

That is why I urge all of us here, in the other place and in the departments to continue to communicate when it comes to these types of disputes. Only from proper evidence and accurate information can we fight against these unfair and uninformed tariffs. I urge both the United States and Canadian governments to continue working to find a more permanent solution. With the threat of NAFTA negotiations on the table, our industries demand it.

I should point out that I have been going back and forth to Washington since I was appointed to the Senate in 2003, and one of the documents the department has always produced for us is an analysis of the effects Canadian trade with the United States has, state by state. Now they have refined it, and I’m very impressed by this work by the department. When we sat down with a particular member of the House of Representatives, a congressman or congresswoman, we were able to quote to them the amount of business that happens in their small district with Canada. We were able to identify the number of jobs in their district that depend upon trade with Canada.

This is powerful information. I congratulate the department for doing that. It is a revision of an old document that used to be produced. It’s important that, any time you go to the United States on business, you ask the embassy to give you the details of that. It is powerful when you can look a congressional representative or senator in the eye and say, “Here are how many jobs in your district or state that are dependent on trade with Canada.” It’s always amazing that jobs and money talk. We’ve got the materials and the interest.

I thank Senator Maltais for raising this important issue, and I encourage all of you to take part in this debate.