On lumber and hammers

There is no rest for the wicked or the parliamentarian. PoliticsWatch reports the international trade committee has been recalled, after calls from the NDP to do so, to discuss the softwood lumber deal with the US. The recall comes amid heavy and prolonged attacks on the deal by both provincial governments and the private sector, neither of which like the 23-month escape clause or the fact that the US industry gets to keep $1 billion dollars in Canadian tariffs paid over the past four years.

For his part, Minister of International Trade David Emerson maintains that the deal guarantees three dispute-free years of trade at a minimum and that $300+ million per year is a fair price to pay for that. (I’m not sure how the three years he referred to equates to the 23 month escape clause, so I’ll just leave off without niggling.) Several of the larger Canadian operations have launched costly court action against the US government to recover their tariff dollars, all of them, and are unwilling to give up on the lost dollars for two or three years of trade “stability”. If the seven-year deal actually was seven years long, there might be less opposition to it, but that’s not the case.

The deal is set to come into effect October 1 and the Conservative government would dearly love to have all opposition details ironed out of it by then. So much so that Harper has pulled out the hammer and threatened that the issue will be considered one of confidence in Parliament, thus triggering an election should it fail. Why not? Having defended Rona Ambrose’s job using the same tactic in the spring, he has already demonstrated that the Liberals are scared to go to election until their leader is chosen in 2112, so the deal should be as good as done, at least from Parliament’s standpoint.

It remains to be seen what industry will do, but for now it doesn’t look likely that trade peace is going to be the product of a summer of love.


3 thoughts on “On lumber and hammers

  1. Notice that Bob Rae has said that they should call Harper’s bluff and vote against the deal – I think possibly losing the job he has so clearly come to LOVE is a possibility Harper is not willing to embrace when push comes to shove. With Dion coming out with one more truly canadian policy after another – the latest being real strategies for women in politics – and Harper more and more embroiled in Bush’s messes, I think the Liberals are now beyond their low point and will be looked to for the sanity we so clearly appear to be losing with this rather bizarre man. I think Harper’s gone too far this time.


  2. Susan,
    You may well be right. The deal has all summer to simmer in the minds of Canadians before Parliament sits on it, so I think that if opinion on it goes south (ahem!), Harper might live to regret his tough talk.

    That said, voting against the bill would still be a huge gamble for the Liberals. Bill Graham has proven to be an ineffectual or invisible interim leader, and he would pretty much be the choice should the writ get dropped. Would Canadians be angry enough with the Conservatives to vote for a party with an interim leader is a good question. For a number of policy reasons I don’t like Harper, but I don’t like the Liberals chances in an election before they’ve chosen a leader, either.


  3. The sixty four dollar question is: will the Bloc will oppose the softwood deal?

    Methinks the Bloc will side with Harper and vote the softwood deal through, in return for some additional deal from Harper, or just because they are afraid of an election now.

    Fighting Harper’s New Tories on his failure to deliver the socalled “federal balance” is one thing – it is clear: Harper promised to shovel lots of money from the federal government to Quebec, and to give Quebec greater powers of taxation. Not delivering on this promise is a winnable issue for the Bloc, and they would chomp at the bit to unseat the Tories and have an election on t his.

    But selling out the country and the softwood companies? That is not so clear cut.

    The only way the Bloc would be persuaded to vote the Tory government out of power on the softwood issue is if the Liberals (lead by Bob Rae) managed to frame the issues in such a way that the Bloc would lose votes in Quebec by not throwing the rascal Harper out, and so could not afford to side with Harper on the softwood agreement because they would lose seats to the Liberals and NDP come the next election, early next year.

    How should the Liberals frame the discussion of the softwood sellout in such a way that the Bloc is forced to vote against Harper or lose seats? My suggestions:

    • Start now – frame the issues now, so that the pressure on the Bloc gathers force over the next three months – if the LPC and NDP wait until the vote, they will fail and the Bloc will vote to keep Harper in power;

    • Personalize the harm – hammer on the number of Quebec employees who will be harmed (state numbers, consequences) – make it personal;

    • Guilt by association – make the Bloc defend itself against joining Harper in selling out these Quebec voters if its sides with Harper on the vote;

    • Sovereign capitulation – hammer on the attack on the sovereignity of Canada which Harper has agreed to in his deal with Bush – this is a diminution of the powers of Canada and of the provinces, by giving the Americans the right to interfere in our internal affairs. If the Bloc supports Harper, it will be supporting a giveaway of sovereign powers to another state – a tough position for the Bloc to defend. Liberals will score points with federalists and with separatists in Quebec with their defence of sovereignity.

    • The Softwood Five – reduce the message to Five Points and repeat the title and points in all the messages. This ties in nicely with the Five Priorities of Harper. It also focuses the message and makes it more effective. Even better if you cast the Softwood Five in negative terms, such as: Harper’s Softwood Five Sellouts.


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