Squamish grappling with softwood lumber duties 

On Aug. 10, Bill LeDuke, an electrician with International Forest Products Ltd.’s Squamish Lumber Division, was walking by the mill manager’s office when he got the news a 19.3 per cent export tariff had been slapped on Canadian softwood lumber bound for the United States.

"That’s 5 per cent more than our worst fears!" the distressed mill manager said coming out of his office.

LeDuke, who has lived with his family in Squamish and worked at the mill for 12 years, remembers his immediate reaction: "I’m going to have to get a job next week."

The sawmill limped along, finishing off orders. Then, on Oct. 1, management shut the plant down a few minutes early and called everyone together. Employees were told that at the end of the week the plant would be closed for two weeks minimum.

On Wednesday, Oct. 31, the United States Department of Commerce imposed punitive anti-dumping duties on top of the 19.3 per cent duty, bringing the total some B.C. sawmills will pay on softwood lumber exports to almost 40 per cent.

People who work in the forest industry in Squamish have been hit by hard times before but nothing may compare to the current crisis in the B.C. sawmilling sector.

"It’s unprecedented!" Ron Sander, manager of Squamish Mills, said sharply.

Interfor’s Squamish Mills Division, which produces western red cedar and Douglas fir products, will have to pay duties totalling 32 per cent.

Canadian softwood lumber products are favoured across the U.S. for construction and home building purposes because of the quality of the wood. But American producers believe the Canadian softwood lumber industry is subsidized and imposed the 19.3 per cent duty as a penalty for that subsidization. They feel the structural component of Canadian softwood is subsidized largely because in B.C. the lands are owned by the Crown and that there’s some benefit derived from owning that land.

"It’s a little disappointing to us, to say it politely," remarks Sander, "because 75 per cent of the wood we cut here is western red cedar, and that’s not a structural wood."

Of the total amount of softwood lumber exported from Canada, producers in B.C. account for about 50 per cent. The export duties mean that in B.C. as many as 30,000 sawmill workers may be out of work by Christmas, if the softwood lumber issue is not resolved.

On Saturday, Nov. 10, I drove to Squamish to see how people are coping with this setback in the forest industry. Like most people, I am overwhelmed by the scenery. Strong outflow winds churn up the cobalt blue waters of Howe Sound, creating the kind of wild beauty the region is famous for.

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