The Never ending Softwood Story

Dialogue about softwood in Canada needs an overhaul. It’s uninformed, simplistic and jingoistic. Even progressive politicians like Jack Layton have been captured by the rhetoric. Just last week he was in the media, representing the dispute in purely nationalistic terms.

Wake up Canadians -we subsidize our logging industry.

Did you know that Canada’s argument that stumpage is “a levy on harvesting rights akin to a tax…” has been soundly rejected? Did you know that every major trade panel has ruled against Canada, determining that Canada subsidizes its logging industry?

That Canada keeps losing this dispute should not surprise anyone familiar with the 25 stumpage being charged for over a third of the wood from BC’s interior. Would you sell a telephone pole-sized tree from your backyard for a quarter?

Canada hasn’t lost on every point of the dispute, but lets deal with the tariffs first. Canadian courts have ruled that stumpage is “the price paid for Crown timber.” Therefore if the stumpage charged is too low (i.e. stumpage is subsidized), then it is the public that is short changed.

You mean the Canadian public is not getting a fair return on its public resources?

Given the historic oligopoly logging companies have across Canada, it’s not surprising that the dreaded word “subsidy” is never acknowledged by our press, government or industry.
However, this failure to address the obvious has political consequences. For example, did you notice the ridiculous proposition put forward by Jake Kerr, when discussing the terms of Lignum’s takeover by Riverside?

Kerr stated he expects to get back tens of millions of dollars if/when a softwood settlement is completed. Like the recently religious, he is a true believer. He believes he is entitled to the subsidy his tenure provides. He truly believes the tariffs came from the pocket of his logging corporations, not the public. Why shouldn’t he? No one has ever corrected the dogma.

But given the fact that the entire world recognizes that Canada subsidizes logging; logically shouldn’t any tariffs returned to Canada as a part of a negotiated settlement go back to the public, not to the companies?

You bet they should.

But like me you probably aren’t surprised that Campbell’s Liberals haven’t proposed this. Although an injection of tariff money would certainly help the Liberals balance the budget, they too are true believers. They believe that what’s good for mega-corporations will trickle down and be good for BC.

But why hasn’t at least one mainstream reporter or columnist raised this option? Or at least questioned industry claims to the money?

Because it would be heresy. It would begin to acknowledge the well-known secret that we subsidize logging through low stumpage.

This would open the door to other questions about Canadian forest policies. It’s about time!

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