Canada at War:
The Softwood Lumber Dispute

Nanaimo, B.C. - Monday, March 25, 2002 - by: W. J. Bill McCullough


Make no mistake about it. Canada was attacked this past week as crudely and cavalierly as ever we have been in our some 135 years as an independent nation. The crudeness is only accented by the fact that the attack was launched from the South, by our erstwhile friend and ally, the United States of America.




And, make no mistake about it, our casualties are already mounting and will continue to rise for the foreseeable future.




In British Columbia, some 15% of the total labour force is dependent on a viable forestry. Here on Central Vancouver Island, the figure is 17%. The economic impact in our area alone is almost incalculable. What is clear, however, is that thousands of Canadians employed today will be out-of-work next week. Worse, many of them will never again be fully and productively employed. Homes will be lost; families will be fractured; lives ruined; and, some businesses will close forever.


Nation-wide, some $10 billion in export sales is at stake. The collateral damage will be catastrophic.




How did this happen? Could it have been avoided?




It has to be clear now to even the most skeptical that the Americans never had any intention of striking a fair deal with us. They negotiated, if negotiations they could be called, in the worst possible bad faith. Oh, they would have signed a deal with us. But, would only have done so if we had given ourselves over to rape by US special interest groups. The much-admired US political system stands revealed today at its populist worst. To hell with your neighbour if there s a buck to be made, or, a vote to be bought or sold!




Could this have been avoided? Maybe not. However, in Election 2000, when I tried to raise this as a Number 1 Campaign Issue in this riding, other candidates seemed puzzled that a retired soldier could get so worked up over a natural resource issue. The Liberal candidate, who made part of his living from the forestry, came johnnie-come-late to the debate and obviously had little influence with his own party on a matter vital to this riding. Our sitting MP has been largely silent in this debate.



went to

With the help of Nanoose Bay retiree Tom Boag, a former forester, and, Frank Oberle, a former PC MP, who also worked in the forestry, we managed to get this issue onto Joe Clark's agenda. Unfortunately, the liberals were returned to power and promptly went back to sleep.




However, recriminations now just don t cut it. We all failed on this one. Rather than finger pointing, as both the Alliance and PC spokespersons did last week, how do we fix it?




First, I agree 100% with the current position of the federal government. This case now must go to litigation. We will win our case, but, what then? In litigation, only lawyers make money.



will hurt

Winning before the WTO or at a NAFTA tribunal just gives us the right to impose similar sanctions on US exports to Canada. Stop and think about that. We'll then have the right to make it more expensive for Canadians to buy US produce next winter or US- built cars now made from parts manufactured in Ontario and Quebec. That's not the way.




We must instead see this as an economic war to be waged and won on a number of seemingly unrelated fronts. Oh, for a 21st Century Churchill to provide us the inspiration to fight on the beaches, on the landing grounds, in the fields and in the streets, and, to have the courage to do so until the fight is won.




This is a war to be fought on several fronts and to be fought in a number of different ways. Like the War of 1812, it is war that can be won, if we, the people, are prepared to fight it and to pay whatever price is to be exacted from us.




Politically, by all means, proceed with litigation. However, the Government of Canada should now promptly inform the US that, with a dead deal, all of our earlier offers of compromise over the way we run our own forestry, in our own interests, are off the table. If the US wants peace (and they will) they better bring incentives of their own to the next negotiations.




At the same time, the federal government needs to bring a degree of political coolness to our other relations with the US. There are unquestionably dozens of issues that the US would like to see addressed in ways favourable to the Americans, which we should now move onto the back burner, unless there is an overriding Canadian interest in proceeding. Having worked in government, I could think of a number of ways to do this, but these are not for discussion on the pages of a newspaper. Indeed, some carry other risks with them that require careful, circumspect thought before undertaking them.




Of course, we can t just wave a wand and make this all happen. Capital, business and labour have to find practical ways to work together, towards a common goal. That s not a job for government.




Economically, you and I, as individuals, have an even bigger chip to play.




Walk into your local grocery store. You ll find you have the choice of US or Canadian tomatoes and potatoes. Guess which one we should buy, price, quality and all other considerations notwithstanding?




When the greengrocer finds his US produce rotting, unsold on the shelves, his next buy will be from a BC hothouse or from a PEI or an up-Island warehouse. Need a new pair of jeans? Skip the New York designer label (it was actually imported from Taiwan anyway), in favour of a pair manufactured in Sherbrooke, Quebec.



holiday in

No Canadian, for whatever reason, should voluntarily holiday in the US until this war is won. Our snowbirds are on there way home. Let s stay here until the war is won. This summer, skip Disneyland in favour of BC s Interior or Canada s far north.




To do otherwise takes bread off a Canadian table. Money spent unnecessarily South of the border is little better than tribute; 21st Century Danegeld.




Economically, we must avoid fire sales advantageous to the Americans. Every provincial government will want to see this war fought and won, but will cry NIMBY. We need to be prepared for what the US euphemistically describes as collateral damage unrelated to the forestry. There will be other casualties, but the damage can be minimized if we all accept a share and part of the risk.




Let s bring back foreign investment review. If US investors want to buy a bankrupt Canadian lumber mill, put them through another mill first. Environmental and economic impact studies, all at the expense of the investor, are perfectly legitimate under NAFTA. Let's not make the rapacious takeover of our own industry any easier than it has to be.



no cheap

The US wants more of our energy output and we want to sell. OK. But, let's do so to the national advantage. Make every barrel, every watt and every unit of energy sold to the US as expensive as if it originated in Saudi Arabia. And, if this results in a surcharge to Canadians to keep us within fair trading rules, rebate that surcharge back to Canadian taxpayers, much as Alberta has done for Albertans.



get those
flags down

Finally, one small jingoistic gesture. Dozens of Canadian businesses on Vancouver Island fly US flags. Previously, it was a hospitable, neighbourly gesture. It s now entirely inappropriate. Get those flags down, now! They are an offence to a sovereign, self-respecting people, particularly in a time of war.



a Question
of will

And, we are at war. We didn't start this war, but, if we stick together, we will win it. An earlier generation advanced up onto Queenston Heights to win one battle. I think our generation is made of the same stuff. It all comes down to a question of will.


Colonel (retired) W. J. Bill McCullough
President of Nanaimo-Alberni PC Association