South Okanagan - West Kootenay MP Richard Cannings says he wants to see the government step up for workers in the softwood lumber industry in case of business shortfalls as the trade dispute continues with the U.S. (Submitted photo)

NDP critic calls for support for softwood workers

Tariffs have dropped slightly for most lumber firms, but the trade dispute continues with the U.S.

In light of a recent update to duties on Canadian softwood lumber, the NDP’s natural resources critic said he hopes to see action to alleviate the potential impacts on jobs.

South Okanagan – West Kootenay MP Richard Cannings said the NDP is “disappointed, (but) perhaps not totally surprised” that the U.S. is continuing their tariffs on Canadian lumber. He added there is some relief that the rates have been reduced for most lumber firms.

“We were thinking that perhaps they would bring in just a quota system. Say, restricting the Canadian exports to 28 per cent of the American market,” Cannings said. “They would rather have that than the tariffs because they could sell their product for, obviously, less in the states and compete more easily.”

Related: U.S. adds another border tax to B.C. lumber

Because of the slightly lowered duties on the lumber, Cannings said the U.S. may be starting to see Canada has a stronger hand in the dispute than they initially thought. But while the larger lumber firms could likely weather the storm, he said he is worried about smaller mills, and the people they employ.

“The one fortunate thing, I guess you could say, for the industry is that lumber prices are very high, and so they can still sell, with these tariffs, and still make money to get through,” Cannings said. “It’s the little, family-run mills that might have trouble in this situation, so we’re looking at that.”

Cannings said he would like to see programs put in place for workers in the softwood lumber industry to help tide them over in the case of lost business due to the dispute.

“A lot of federal money went into helping oil and gas workers when the crisis there hit,” Cannings said. “But we haven’t seen that, yet, in the forest sector. So we’re still waiting and watching, hoping that the federal government will really convince the Americans that we need to solve this.”

Related: U.S. ambassador ‘optimistic’ about softwood talks

Cannings’ own bill on the issue is expected to go to debate in the next month, he said. Introduced in the spring, Cannings’ bill would have the federal government look more closely at softwood lumber when constructing federal buildings.

“That would get us away from this reliance on the American market that we have, so we’ll see how that goes,” he said. “We have companies like Structurlam that are really ahead of the curve on some of these tall, wood buildings, and that’s what this bill is trying to support.”

Related: Penticton’s Structurlam continues to rise

Though Bill C-354 has yet to be debated, Cannings said he has seen some support from some of the Liberals he has spoken to in Parliament.

“I think it could be a fairly popular bill, and I’m hoping it will go through,” he said. “There’s some push back from people that have a lot of steel making in their riding.”

Related: Horgan to talk softwood in Washington

That said, Cannings explained the bill wasn’t intended to prefer wood over other materials, but rather to give wood more consideration than it has had in the past, with wood largely on the wayside in major construction projects in recent decades.

“Some of the concrete people are very much on board with that. They think they can compete with that,” he said.

“I just want them to consider that, and make the choice based on the lifetime cost and the greenhouse gas emissions.”


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