Mayor’s Column – January 25, 2017

January 25, 2017

 

As we are moving relentlessly into the unknown of 2017, and we’ve already taken stock of the things accomplished (or not) in 2016 and before, we need to examine our priorities again. Adding to the uncertainty of the future, is the certainty that we are now living next door to an unknown entity. (Almost unknown.)

We may remember, and some of us will remember with clarity, the battles leading up to the last Softwood Lumber Agreement with the USA, our friendly neighbour and biggest trading partner. We are now back in the same battle but with different goal tenders.

The softwood lumber producers in the USA are determined to slap punishing and ruinous duties on imports of Canadian softwood of which British Columbia is the largest producer in Canada with Chetwynd being one of the major suppliers of softwood in British Columbia. It doesn’t take a cost accountant to guess how that could affect a huge portion of our population. That is, me, you, and our friends and families – real people with real needs.

Knowledgeable people in the forest industry assure us that we are in a stronger negotiating position in 2017 than we were in for past negotiations. Some comfort, but we still have the unknown of a US president who was elected by protectionist constituents who will demand results for their ballots.

The outcome will partly hinge on the strength and will of the negotiators plus a lot of wit.  Canada has much that the US needs. How much of that US need can be leveraged to secure a workable outcome for Canada on the softwood arm-wrestle remains to be seen. With Mr. Trump threatening to tear up NAFTA we might have a number of uncertainties on our plate in the next months.

I assume that if NAFTA is torn up, the court rulings that Canada used in the past to support our trading position will no longer apply – at least not with the force they once did.

Having worried about all this, we should recognize that Mr. President must also recognize that the USA is not an island in a universe all by itself. The global community, with all of its problems is still part of our experience.

It will take a bit of time, and maybe some discomfort, but a new equilibrium will be established. We may not like all of it but, be honest, we didn’t like all of the things we have lived through over the last few decades, did we?

The USA is not our only trading partner. We’ve been through the ups and downs of the pulp industry and the coal industry with their markets largely controlled by Asian interests. Diversification of industry and markets, as rapidly as possible, is the best answer to our local employment environment. During the last Softwood Lumber negotiations Canada sent 90% of its softwood output to the USA. In 2017 that figure has moved in Canada’s favour to 65%.

As individuals living in the great North East, we won’t have much influence on the outcome of the trade talks. We have to look to our own affairs and hedge ourselves as securely as possible to weather any storm that may descend on us. May you be blessed with wisdom.

 

Merlin Nichols, Mayor