Opinion

OUR VIEW: Same old lumber story

You could almost set your watch by these shenanigans. Or, perhaps more accurately, your calendar.

It matters not who occupies the White House — every time the Canada-U.S. Softwood Lumber Agreement expires, the howls from south of the border begin, the trade fight starts and angst over job security sets in for the people of Vancouver Island and the rest of the province.

Yes, president-elect Donald Trump is spouting more protectionist drivel than most of his more recent predecessors. His stance on softwood is hardly original, however, and crosses those U.S. political party lines that seem like walls when it comes to other issues.

Think about a president of the last 50 years who is less like Trump than all the others. Jimmy Carter would be a good one. Yet Carter was a protectionist when it came to lumber as much any of the others, perhaps more. You see, Carter, like U.S. politicians before and after him, want to protect the U.S. lumber industry. Carter’s home state of Georgia, where he had a peanut farm and was governor, has a softwood lumber industry that needs to be protected from that evil Canadian lumber.

We put that to the test about a decade back. We called some home construction firms in Georgia and promised we would not reveal their identity. We asked them about the differences between Canadian and Georgian lumber and which product they preferred to use. They all preferred Canadian lumber. A 2x4 from Georgia, we were told, often needed a hole drilled into it before a nail could be hammered home.

One of Carter’s other favourite projects (and a good cause indeed) was Habitat For Humanity, the group that builds homes for those who cannot afford homes. We heard many stories — but were unable to get anyone on the record to confirm — about Habitat for Humanity homes being built in the U.S. out of Canadian lumber.

The U.S. argument remains the same: the fees Canadian provincial governments charge lumber companies here to cut trees (stumpage) are too low and constitute an unfair subsidy. Therefore, the price of lumber on the shelves of do-it-yourself box stores in the U.S. is too low, squeezing out the U.S. lumber producers.

It will get settled after some sabre-rattling. It always does. And the elephant in the room — the superior quality of lumber from B.C. — won’t be discussed.

— Editorial by John Harding, Black Press

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