Little hope for forest communities in Campbell's words
By Paul Willcocks
VICTORIA - Premier Gordon Campbell offered up all the right sentiments this week, responding to the U.S. duty on softwood lumber.
It was a brutal decision, he said. An assault on families who reached out to help the Americans after Sept. 11. The most serious threat to Canada-U.S. relations in our time.
But families looking for hope had to pick through the words carefully to get more than reassurance that the government feels their pain. There's no quick cure to the problem, no assurance of victory now or in the future.
The effects of the U.S. actions will be devastating. The new duties will average 29 per cent on any softwood sold into the U.S. That's supposed to reflect the unfair advantage Canadian producers gain from subsidies.
B.C. exports about $5 billion a year worth of lumber to the U.S. in normal times, about half the Canadian total. Companies will now have to pay about $1.5 billion in duties if they export the same amount of wood.
They can't afford that. Last year total industry profits were about $200 million. That means that many companies can't export the wood without losing money on every shipment.
Since preliminary duties were introduced, the industry has lost about 15,000 jobs. That toll is likely to double now. And it will felt most sharply by communities already reeling from other economic problems - including government cuts.
Campbell acknowledged that. But the government so far has little concrete to offer.
Canada will press on with appeals to the World Trade Organization and under NAFTA, a process that could take years. Campbell promised that Canada would win those appeals, but families should think carefully before sinking deeper into debt, waiting for those victories to bring their jobs back. This change may be permanent.
The province will hold an emergency summit on softwood, bringing together companies, unions and provincial and federal governments. They'll come up with a "comprehensive and co-ordinated strategy." That's a useful exercise, but it won't much alter today's reality.
B.C. and Ottawa are talking about ways of helping families hurt by the decision. But it's disappointing that five months after Campbell started talking about the need to help families, there's no plan in place.
Those families do deserve aid, to allow them to survive until the victory is won - or to move on to new work in new places.
But B.C. won't support aid to industry, in part because the U.S. would just point to it as another unfair subsidy. While the governments' caution is reasonable, it's too soon to rule out loan guarantees that would let companies hang on until the dispute is resolved.
And the government is finally going to launch a public relations campaign in the U.S., arguing that the duty allows American companies to charge more for lumber, pushing up housing costs.
That's a huge challenge, but it's a measure that should have been under way a year ago. Campbell defended B.C.'s decision to postpone any campaign after the Sept. 11 attacks. That looks now like a bad decision.
And B.C. will continue forest sector reform and looking for new markets.
Not a bad list. But quite a vague one, especially given how long the government has to prepare for this day.
Sadly, Canada and B.C. don't have a lot of options. We need trade with the U.S. much more than they do. And most forms of economic retaliation - like taxing energy exports - would mainly hurt the Canadian industry. Even banning raw log exports would cost needed jobs in the woods.
The only real hope is for a lumber price increase which would allow companies to sell into the U.S. and make at least a small profit.
In the meantime, the government should unveil real plans to help families facing unemployment as a result of a trade dispute that their governments assured them would be resolved.
Paul Willcocks can be reached at email@example.com
Tuesday, March 26, 2002
Liberals flip-flop on urgent need to rescue children
By Paul Willcocks
VICTORIA - What can you do if your 14-year-old daughter skips school, starts using heroin and living in a cheap motel twice her age? What can you do if she refuses all help and takes off for downtown Vancouver?
Just about nothing, right now. And the Liberals have broken their commitment to change the law to allow children in imminent danger to be held for treatment, whether they like it or not.
It's not an abstract issue. Parents confront similar problems every day. And what they find is that under B.C. law no one can help them; a parent who drags a child home could be the one who ends up in court.
That's outrageous, that we can let a child choose to die through reckless and dangerous behaviour and do nothing.
The Liberal used to think so too. They repeatedly demanded the NDP enact a secure care law, one that would allow children at risk, perhaps working as prostitutes or living in crack houses, to be plucked from danger. The New Democrats dragged their feet, finally passing a poor law that they never implemented.
The Liberals were clear: secure care was urgently needed and should be a priority for the New Democrats.
Only one year before the election Gordon Campbell rose in the legislature and demanded the NDP act on a 1998 task force report outlining a sound plan for secure care.
"This is a problem that has been identified for years in this province," Campbell said them. "We know that there are countless families in the province of British Columbia who understand the urgency and the necessity for providing secure care for our children and youth in this province. Again my question to the minister is: what is the holdup? Why is the minister stalling on this matter, which has been so clearly identified as a matter of true risk to the children in the province?"
That was then. Now the Liberals are in power and what once was an urgent matter of life and death has become a low priority.
Childrens Minister Gordon Hogg says the government won't introduce a safe care bill this spring. The Liberals have too many bills to pass, and secure care won't be introduced before the 2003-4 sitting.
Even then, the bill will be much narrower in its focus than the legislation the Liberals supported in opposition.
The Liberals deserve credit for abandoning the NDP's effort. Any such legislation has to balance the rights of the child with the need for protection. The NDP bill, by allowing detention for up to 100 days, went too far.
But their failure to act is shameful.
Hogg offers some justifications, including the cold reality that even if children were plucked from danger, they couldn't get treatment. There's not enough space for seriously troubled youth voluntarily seeking treatment. "We don't have a lot of resources in place," Hogg said. "That's partly why I'm not uncomfortable with not getting on the legislative agenda."
That's not an explanation the Liberals accepted in opposition. Then, they argued the government had a duty to provide services for children at risk. The NDP expected about 10 children at a time would be held under the act - hardly an impossible burden.
Hogg also said the Liberal bill will narrow the focus of secure care to sexually exploited children.
That's not enough. The task force recommendations, accepted by the Liberals, stressed that the plan must include children at risk of serious harm from drug addiction or physical danger, not just sexual exploitation.
Hogg says parents of 13-year-old drug addicts should call the police, have them arrested and hope they'll get help through the courts.
But parents have tried that, and found the courts and over-burdened police are set up to deal with criminals, not lost children.
The Liberals are offering too little, too late.
Paul Willcocks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted by paul at 5:25 PM