Thursday, February 09, 2006

Softwood power

While BCer in Toronto notes that David Emerson is supposedly ethically bound to avoid taking any action in the softwood lumber dispute, the Star points out that Emerson apparently didn't let those concerns keep him from making the call as to whether a planned deal would be announced. And neither Emerson nor the Libs comes out of this one without some serious damage:
Former colleagues as well as officials and diplomats privy to the secret, backchannel talks insist Emerson was instrumental in delaying a breakthrough in the decades-old dispute that cost thousands of Canadian jobs. They say the former Liberal industry minister worried that a pre-election announcement would damage Liberal prospects in key British Columbia ridings...

Liberals and non-partisan sources...say the B.C. government and its powerful forestry industry only lost interest in the plan after meetings with Emerson. His objections, along with concerns in Paul Martin's office that a pre-election deal would stop the then-prime minister from using George W. Bush as a campaign punching bag, convinced Liberals to delay formal negotiations at least until after the January election.

Informally discussed on parallel tracks here and in the U.S., the plan calls for Washington to reimburse about 75 per of the disputed $5 billion in tariffs imposed on Canadian lumber in return for Ontario and Quebec export quotas. In B.C., there would be higher stumpage fees to keep mills in the province's interior from flooding the U.S. market with cheap wood culled from forests hard-hit by mountain pine beetle infestations.

(W)hile making noisy demands that the U.S. abide by the letter and spirit of cross-border treaties and by threatening a trade war if it did not, Martin's government was quietly building a Canadian consensus. First, the three biggest softwood provinces tentatively agreed to the hybrid formula, and then key parts of the industry were brought into the talks on condition of strict confidentiality...

Other sources, including diplomats, confirm the template was complete before Martin's minority government fell. But for reasons Liberals now blame on Emerson, it stepped back from a deal that now falls into Stephen Harper's lap.
Emerson certainly comes out of this looking bad - in his failure to avoid involvement on the file as promised, in his being one of the Liberals who actively demanded that the U.S. meet its international obligations while aware of a deal which would entitle the U.S. to keep over a billion dollars worth of illegal tariffs, and to the extent that the Cons appear likely to push forward with the deal that Emerson kept the Liberals from announcing. And it's likely that all opposition parties will do their best to point that out.

But let's not pretend the Libs are off the hook in the least. It's also clear that PMPM's bluster over softwood lumber was (predictably) nothing but posturing designed for political gain. Indeed, the entire Liberal party was perfectly happy to sign away both money which rightly belongs to Canada, and B.C.'s ability to determine its own forestry policy. And the only reason the Libs didn't announce the deal was that Emerson persuaded them that political concerns should trump policy.

It's particularly amusing that the Libs seem to be leaking the information now in an effort to get retribution on Emerson. The facts seem to show nothing more than that Emerson's hunger for power and pattern of dishonesty made him the poster boy for how the Libs operate - and it's impossible to point that out about Emerson himself without seeing the parallels within the party as a whole.

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