Threat of economic turmoil over softwood tariff becomes B.C. election issue

Clark uses softwood to build leadership case

VICTORIA — A hefty American tariff on Canadian softwood could be devastating for British Columbia’s economy, but it may also be advantageous for political leaders on the campaign trail who are looking to cement or build their images with voters, says a former premier.

The imposition of tariffs as high as 24 per cent on Canadian softwood exports shot the issue to the top of B.C.’s election campaign, with Liberal Leader Christy Clark and John Horgan, leader of the New Democrats, quickly portraying themselves as towers of strength ready to shoulder tough times ahead.

Forestry is B.C.’s dominant resource industry, directly employing more than 60,000 people in more than 140 communities. The United States is B.C.’s largest market for softwood lumber, accounting for $4.6 billion in sales last year.

Clark seized upon the tariff issue as pivotal to her jobs-focused re-election campaign. She told B.C. workers she had their backs and suggested Horgan did not have the temperament or strength to handle such a comprehensive issue with provincial, national and international implications.

Clark demanded Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ban the shipment of thermal coal through B.C.’s ports in retaliation to the tariffs. She said Friday if Trudeau did not take retaliatory action she was prepared to go it alone and impose a heavy tax on U.S. coal shipments through B.C. ports.

Horgan said the threats ring hollow because Clark has been silent on softwood even though the trade deal between Canada and the U.S. expired more than two years ago. He said now that B.C. is in the final days of an election campaign, Clark is suggesting it’s her top-of-mind concern.

“She’s obviously trying to present herself as a calm, experienced leader,” said Ujjal Dosanjh, a former B.C. New Democrat premier and federal Liberal member of Parliament. “Whether she succeeds or not remains to be seen.”

He said the hard negotiations on the softwood file will be conducted by officials linked to the Canadian and U.S. governments, but Clark’s strategy to focus on her history as a determined politician, her experience and charisma are all factors weighing in her favour with voters.

“That may stand you in good stead,” said Dosanjh.

David Black, an associate professor at the Royal Roads University school of communication and culture in Victoria, said Clark is offering voters symbolic reassurance on an issue she has little control over.

“It’s fascinating to watch a provincial leader position herself as a peer of, and as a dialogue partner with, a national leader,” he said. “Things don’t usually work that way.”

Black said Clark’s suggestions about the threats B.C. faces from softwood tariffs and the possibility of further protectionist actions from the U.S. administration position her as “a resolute leader who is seasoned and tried and true. So, let’s stay the course because it’s a dangerous world.”

He said Horgan is campaigning as an economic populist ready to fight to make life better for people, while Green leader Andrew Weaver presents himself as a new face of politics that is neither right nor left.

Dosanjh said Clark has a record of success in elections and a political style that draws people to her, but Horgan can achieve success despite being relatively untested politically.

“You have to reach back into your life,” said Dosanjh. “Start talking about where you have been. What experience you have in dealing with people. You have to dig deep.”

He said it means taking risks, like the one former prime minister Jean Chretien took in March 2003 when he refused to send Canadian troops to Iraq.

“Jean Chretien, when he turned down participating in the Iraq war, I thought that was gutsy,” said Dosanjh. “It was brilliant and it was the right thing to do. You ran the risk of angering the president next door. But he was proven to be right.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press

Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

National drive-by art show rolls in Victoria on Saturday

Map shows drivers where local artists have set up displays in windows, balconies, driveways

Univeristy of Victoria parking lot hosts drive-in movies

The Breakfast Club, Hook and The Life Aquatic shown on a 40-foot screen

Renowned Oak Bay floral arranger debuts first book

Instagram star Christin Geall combines photography, floral arrangements

Province buys Paul’s Motor Inn to house Victoria’s homeless population

Inn is the second hotel the province has purchased to support vulnerable community

Telus headquarters to come to Victoria in ‘landmark building’ development

City sells land on coroner of Douglas and Humboldt streets for $8.1 million

B.C. records four new COVID-19 cases, Abbotsford hospital outbreak cleared

Four senior home outbreaks also declared over, eight still active

Friendly Cove and Kyuquot will remain closed until further notice

Transition of other B.C. communities will be monitored before a decision to ease restrictions

Gold River organizes a shop local initiative to creatively boost economy

Local purchases can earn shoppers $200 gift certificates to be spent on businesses within Gold River

Young killer whale untangles itself from trap line off Nanaimo shore

DFO marine mammal rescue unit arrived as whale broke free from prawn trap line

B.C. schools see 30% of expected enrolment in schools as in-class teaching restarts amid pandemic

Education minister noted that in-class instruction remains optional

Trudeau avoids questions about anti-racism protesters dispersed for Trump photo-op

Prime minister says racism is an issue Canadians must tackle at home, too

B.C.’s Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics goes virtual

The annual event partnering RCMP with Special Olympians is dramatically altered by COVID-19

Most Read