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Opposition parties soften up on softwood

[PoliticsWatch posted 6:45 p.m. May 29, 2006]

OTTAWA  — They were shocked and appalled with the original softwood deal in April, but the federal opposition parties aren't committing publicly to whether they will defeat any legislation expected to be introduced to implement the deal.  
Trade Minister David Emerson told a Commons committee earlier this month that to implement a framework agreement to end the long-running trade dispute some legislation will be required to allow the government to collect an export tax under the new deal. 

Emerson's office is not sure about when the timetable will be, but Emerson gave the indication before the committee that he would push ahead with implementing the deal as quickly as possible. 

"We've got to get going though," Emerson told the Commons trade committee two weeks ago.

"It will require Parliament to execute this agreement. We're going to have to have a framework that will allow and enable provinces to put in place an export tax that could come into play.

"I don't want to wait until fall for that . . . If we do not put people's feet to the fire, if we don't push them very hard, we could be talking like this next year at this time. I just know this is an issue that you can spend your whole career on."

PoliticsWatch surveyed the opposition parties on Monday as to whether or not they would support the legislation and found them taking a wait-and-see approach, even though they blasted the deal after Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced it in the House last month. 

"Canadian industry has been sold out, to put an end to something that was embarrassing the government. That is clear and plain," Interim Liberal Leader Bill Graham said in April. 

"The prime minister said that today was a good day. He believes so. If I were standing in the United States Congress, if I were standing in the United States trade office and if I were standing in a United States industry meeting I would be saying that , this is not a good day; this is a great day. Unfortunately, it is a great day for American industry, for American politics in trade and it is a disaster for Canada, for free trade and the Canadian industry."

Despite Graham's strong language against the deal, Liberal trade critic Dominic LeBlanc said Monday that he did not know if the Liberals would support or oppose any legislation the government brings forward and would wait for more details. 

"Until we see some of the details of how this export tax works, until we can see under what circumstance it applies, we couldn't decide to vote for or against a ways and means motion which would be to implement something we haven't seen," said LeBlanc. 

"It's like signing a blank cheque. We wouldn't sign a blank cheque. If we have more details about what the government is seeking to implement with the ways and means motion, then we'd be in a position as a caucus to decide if we want to support it."

In April, NDP Leader Jack Layton said of the agreement, "there is no hope in the agreement that was signed, and we reject it. A great battle to protect our industry, our workers and their communities is to be expected."

On Monday, when he was asked if he'd vote against legislation to implement the deal Layton said, "We always have to take a look at that legislation. But we sure don't like that idea that a billion dollars of Canadian money has been left in the United States that belongs in B.C. communities."

Of all the opposition party leaders, Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe left the large loophole in his criticism of the agreement in April, expressing doubts about it but repeatedly stressing that he would have to read the full agreement before making a final conclusion. 

On Monday, Duceppe took a similar approached when asked if his party would help scuttle a deal the other opposition parties have called a sell out of Canadian interests. 

"How is it possible to vote on legislation when the deal is not even made?" he asked. 

"We'll see what they will come with. Usually you don't come with a law unless you have an agreement and there is no agreement up to now."

The Conservatives have a minority government, but because of the breakdown of the Commons they could pass the legislation with the support of just one opposition party. 

If the Tories present a ways and means motion to implement the new export taxes, it could be a confidence vote if the government deems it so. 

Harper has made a habit of putting the opposition parties on the spot in the Commons recently, including a vote on extending the Afghanistan mission earlier this month that he nearly lost when the opposition parties suddenly decided to be oppose the process. 

Meanwhile, the Commons trade committee spent two hours Monday hearing from industry executives from outside British Columbia that were largely critical of the framework agreement. 

Criticism ranged from concerns about the government trying to rush the deal through without what the witnesses consider proper consultation. 

Jamie Lim, of the Ontario Forest Industries Association, criticized new language in the 24-page U.S. draft proposal given to the industry on Friday that she said in effects admits that Canada had been dumping lumber into the U.S. and subsidizing its industry.

"That kind of language will not preserve our legal victories," she said, describing it as "punishment" of the Canadian industry and an admission of "guilt."

Carl Grenier of the Free Trade Lumber Council, meanwhile, accused the Harper government of giving up the fight and telling the industry to take the deal to resolve the dispute.

"No industry in the world can fight an attack from the U.S. government, which is supporting its industry, without the support of its government," he said. 

"We've been told this is the deal. This is a take-it-or-leave-it thing. And if you leave it, don't expect support. We were told that."

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> Emerson wants softwood deal passed before fall

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