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Softwood talks go down to the wire

[PoliticsWatch posted 5:30 p.m. June 12, 2006]

OTTAWA  — Time is running out if Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his government want to get the softwood lumber deal passed in the House of Commons before the summer recess. 
The Canadian Press reported Sunday that talks on the wording of a final deal between Canada and the U.S. to end the long-running dispute hit a snag over the weekend. 

As of Monday, a draft of the final agreement still had substantial sections that have yet to be finalized between the Canadian and American sides. 

Trade Minister David Emerson told the Commons trade committee last week that he would have to introduce both a ways and means motion and enabling legislation in the House to get the deal through. 

"We'd like to get a ways and means motion at a minimum in the House before summer," Emerson said last week. "Legislation, we'll have to see how our negotiations progress and see how legislative drafting progresses."

A ways and means motion will be required to put in place a new border tax. 

Such a motion is much easier to pass than a bill, which must go through a number of stages and come before committee. 

But the government appears to have until the end of Monday night to get a deal ironed out if it wants to pass a ways and means motion before the House is scheduled to recess on June 23. 

Ways and means motions require 48 hours notice before the vote. But such a motion on such an important measure would also need the support of the cabinet before being put forward in the House. 

While the Conservative government has not been telling reporters when it is holding its cabinet meetings, it is widely believed that they are held on Tuesday mornings. 

That would mean it would be impossible to get such a motion before the House next week and hold a vote before the House recesses, so the final wording would have to be done before this week's cabinet meeting unofficially scheduled for Tuesday. 

Although the government has said it is not working on any formal timetable, it would be favourable for the government if something was passed through the House before the prime minister meets with U.S. President George W. Bush at the White House on July 6. 

In the House of Commons Monday, Emerson said that the Conservative government will not rush a deal through just for the sake of getting a deal. 

"We will get the deal brought before this House when we get the right deal," he said.

The Liberals began question period by alleging the CP report was proof that the Tories were trying to  rush a deal through before the meeting in Washington. 

"The softwood lumber deal now being rammed down our throats is a classic case of Conservatives trying to appease their Republican idols and getting a bad deal in return," said Liberal House Leader Ralph Goodale.

The prime minister called Goodale's accusations "ridiculous."

"This is a good deal for our softwood industry, a good deal for Canada," Harper said. "That is why the vast majority of the industry supports it. It is why the provinces support it and we will wait and see what the position of the Liberal Party will be when we bring the final text to the House of Commons.

Because this is a minority Parliament, the government will require the support of at least one of the three opposition parties in the House of Commons if it wants to get legislation through. 

When the deal was announced in the House on April 27, NDP Leader Jack Layton and Interim Liberal Leader Bill Graham described the deal as a sell out of Canadian interests. 

However, the parties have since softened their positions. 

When asked by PoliticsWatch earlier this month if they would vote against the lumber deal when it came up in the House, Layton and Liberal trade critic Dominic LeBlanc both said they would have to read the text before making a decision. 

: Related Links

> Emerson hopes softwood legislation can be introduced before fall

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