Softwood may be too hot to handle for
[PoliticsWatch Updated 5:00 p.m. February 8, 2006]
OTTAWA — Questions are being raised about whether
David Emerson, the newly appointed Trade Minister will be able to work on
the softwood lumber file, the most pressing file in his department.
Harper named former Liberal Emerson trade minister Monday in a move that shocked the Tory caucus and the media.
Emerson had just been elected a Liberal MP in the riding of Vancouver two weeks ago.
Conservatives defending the decision to take the newly minted
Conservative are arguing that Emerson, a former executive with Canfor, will help settle the softwood lumber dispute with the U.S.
However, on November 11, 2004, Emerson signed a public declaration of recusal with the ethics commissioner's office forbidding himself from being involved in matters that
directly involve Canfor.
Canfor is Canada's largest forestry company and one of the companies specifically named in the anti-dumping case initiated by the U.S. in the softwood dispute.
"As former president and CEO of Canfor Corporation, I have an entitlement to an unregistered pension plan, partially funded through a Retirement Compensation Agreement," Emerson's declaration of recusal states.
"In order to prevent the appearance of a conflict of interest situation from arising, I have undertaken, in the exercise of my duties and responsibilities to abstain from any participation in discussions or decision-making processes involving direct dealings with Canfor Corporation, its subsidiaries and affiliates."
Emerson was industry minister in the previous government.
The softwood lumber dispute consists of two separate legal cases involving anti-dumping and counterveiling duty measures against Canadian lumber exports.
Anti-dumping investigations concern the pricing practices of individual
companies. The firms and not the federal government are party to the investigations. The US Department of Commerce issued anti-dumping questionnaires to six Canadian companies, including Canfor.
Duff Conacher of the public interest group Democracy Watch says Emerson cannot work on the softwood lumber file without being in a conflict.
Conacher says because of Emerson's financial interest in Canfor he should not be trade
"The best thing is to be totally separated from it and have ministers that don't have these ties that raise conflict of interest issues, especially if it's a minister who has switched parties and caused other ethical questions as David Emerson has," Conacher said in an interview with PoliticsWatch.
The Conservatives ran on a campaign of ethics and accountability promising tougher ethics rules and to clean up government.
William Stairs, a spokesman for Harper, could not comment on the
recusal letter signed by Emerson while he was a Liberal cabinet
minister under Paul Martin's government.
Emerson was locked up in a cabinet retreat at Meech Lake and could not be reached for comment.
Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn told reporters on Tuesday that Emerson would be leading the government on the softwood lumber file.
"To be the lead on the softwood lumber dispute I can think of no one who can handle this file better," Lunn said after a Conservative caucus meeting.
"It will be great not only for British Columbians, but the softwood lumber industry across the country as a whole."
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