OTTAWA, O.N. – Prince George-Peace River-Northern Rockies MP Bob Zimmer announced yesterday that he is one of seven Conservative MPs that have created a Softwood Lumber Taskforce to hold the Liberal government to account for solving the softwood lumber trade dispute with the United States.
The group announced the formation of the taskforce after a new agreement had not been reached between Canada and the United States. The original Softwood Lumber Agreement was signed in 2006, and was set to expire last year. The two countries agreed to an interim agreement that expired on October 12th of this year. Zimmer says that with the expiration of the interim agreement, the United States could bring back tariffs against Canadian softwood lumber producers, which has left forestry sector workers anxious and uneasy. According to a release from the taskforce, the last softwood lumber dispute cost the Canadian forestry sector $5.3 billion from April 2001 to September 2006.
In addition to Zimmer, the group includes Cariboo-Prince George MP Todd Doherty, Peace River-Westlock MP Arnold Viersen, Prince Albert MP Randy Hoback, Battlefords-Lloydminster MP Gerry Ritz, Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke MP Cheryl Gallant, and Roberval-Lac Saint Jean MP and Deputy Conservative Leader Denis Lebel.
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“Two of the big things that we’re going to do in this taskforce is do stakeholder outreach, which we’ve already done a lot of but we’re going to proceed in a more official capacity, and policy advocacy,” said Zimmer. “We want to really put a structure around what the next agreement is going to look like, and we want to go with some that’s solid as a presentation to government.”
Zimmer says that the group of stakeholders can be boiled down to two major groups: those companies that have properties south of the border, and smaller companies that don’t. He says that larger forestry companies such as Canfor, West Fraser, and Interfor have been diversifying their ownership in recent years in order to better prepare themselves to weather a potential softwood lumber dispute. He says that those companies that haven’t purchased mills in the U.S. will most like be affected more than those that haven’t. “Those are the ones that might not survive, that’s how dramatic it is. Again, the other mills, the company will survive, the mill may not.”
One factor in the potential for an upcoming dispute is the result of the upcoming American presidential election. When asked about some of the policies or ideas that have been put forward by one of the nominees to scrap the NAFTA agreement, Zimmer stated that that was concerning, although he said that the majority of that rhetoric seemed directed more against Mexico, and that the trade relations between Canada and the U.S. would not be something that the next American president would want to jeopardise.
Zimmer said that the taskforce will begin working right away, and should have a solid framework to give to International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland in the near future.