Thursday, May 09, 2002

Chretien mocks B.C's tough times
By Paul Willcocks
VICTORIA - Pierre Pettigrew thinks the softwood lumber dispute hasn't cost jobs in B.C., Jean Chretien thinks it's a joke and the provincial government has no solutions.
And forest communities are abandoned, the ultimate losers from this trade dispute.
First Pettigrew, the international trade minister. When the U.S. formally approved the 27 per cent duty on Canadian softwood lumber last week, opposition MPs asked Pettigrew what Canada would do to help communities and workers who have lost jobs.
No need, everything's fine, he said. "There was no direct job losses linked to the situation with the U.S.," Pettigrew said outside the Commons. "The government can't intervene every time there is a natural (restructuring) in one industry's market. We have to sort things out."
This is the guy who is supposed to be championing our cause, who sat through the softwood summit only days earlier and heard there would be another 35,000 lost jobs on top of the 15,000 already gone. He didn't offer that theory then.
Pettigrew's position isn't crazy. The industry's tough times didn't start with softwood duties. The government's own studies - most recently a review of the coastal sector by resource economist Peter Pearse - indicate more mills will close because the industry needs greater efficiency, no matter what the outcome of the dispute.
B.C. even had a small increase in the volume of softwood exported in the first quarter of this year, while job losses were mounting.
But Pettigrew's comment still defies common sense.
Canada exports about $10 billion a year worth of softwood to the U.S., with about half of that from B.C. The duty will add $1.5 billion to the costs of doing business for firms ij this province. Since industry profits in B.C. were $200 million last year, there is no chance they will be able to absorb that cost, and that means lost jobs and mill closures. Pettigrew is living in an economy fantasyland if he doesn't accept that reality.
It's hard to know what fantasyland is home to Chretien. He considered the dispute good for a cheap laugh line at a Montreal fund-raiser, saying maybe the Americans are imposing duties because they're mad that we beat them at hockey.
Even in the House of Commons, Chretien brushed off the seriousness of the threat and ruled out special aid. "We don't need to create new programs to deal with the problem," he said.
So no hope from Ottawa and no indication that they even get it.
Meanwhile, back in B.C., it's hard to feel significantly more confident in the government's handling of the issue. Think back to the premier's televised state of the province address in February. The speech was about 3,500 words long. Softwood was dealt with in only 10 words. "One way or another, we'll resolve the softwood lumber dispute," he said. That's not much attention, and it's no strategy.
The softwood summit - attended by industry and unions and government, including two federal ministers, was supposed to produce a "comprehensive and co-ordinated strategy." It didn't.
There are no easy answers. Canada will fight the duty at the World Trade Organization and under NAFTA, a process that could take several years. Forests Minister Mike de Jong promises that we will win. Canada has always always won the legal battles over whether we subsidize forest companies, he says. But that raises the obvious concern that those past victories meant little, or we wouldn't be in this mess.
In the meanwhile workers will get some help under existing employment insurance plans. The Liberals will finally launch the PR campaign in the U.S. that they have talked about since last year. Some companies will sue the U.S. Some will try to cut a deal, accepting a lower duty and giving up the idea of free trade.
And forest communities and the workers who live in them will face ruin, while their federal government refuses to take notice or provide meaningful help.

Paul Willcocks can be reached at

Canadians have betrayed their troops
By Paul WIllcocks
VICTORIA - The funerals are over for the four Canadian soldiers killed by a U.S. bomb in Afghanistan. The flags have been raised again, the media has moved on and the families are left to face the hole left in their lives. In Ottawa, they're deciding whether to commit troops for another six months.
Now it's time for us to look in the mirror. The sorrow Canadians shared over those deaths was genuine. But it was also hypocritical, and our national shock at their deaths on the dark Afghan plain only compounds our shame.
The worst part is that the shock is genuine. Canadians collectively were stunned that our soldiers had been killed. We didn't think about what we were asking them to do when we joined this war. War is about killing and being killed in a chaotic environment. When we decided to join this odd war, we were condemning some Canadians troops to death.
Our shock shows that we did that without any real thought. The deaths were cruelly pointless. The soldiers of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry were training when an American jet dropped a 250-kg bomb in their midst, killing four young men and wounding eight others.
But so-called friendly fire is a major cause of death in today's high-tech wars. About one-quarter of American casualties in the Gulf War were self-inflicted. About one-fifth of coalition casualties in Afghanistan have been linked to the same kind of errors. American and Afghan soldiers have been killed by U.S. bombs. Canadians should have known this would happen; certainly the government did.
And does it really matter how the men died? Would their families' loss be much different if they had been shot by the tattered remnants of al-Qaeda troops?
Our hypocrisy deepens. Many Canadians have expressed disappointment, even anger, at the American's response. The deaths were a non-event in the U.S., buried deep in the newspapers. President George Bush was slow to offer condolences. They just didn't matter.
But about 3,600 civilians have been killed in this war, people simply going about their business while bombers fly overhead and troops roll around the countryside. And we have paid no attention to their deaths. Those deaths, the families killed in their homes, the children run down in the street, are part of the price we agreed was necessary when we sent troops to Afghanistan.
War is about killing, although we don't like to acknowledge that reality. The U.S. military wants to honour four Canadian soldiers who fought alongside American units. They're extraordinarily skilled sharpshooters; one killed an enemy gunman 2.4 km away, a likely record. Canadian defence officials were hesitant to allow the recognition and David Bercuson, director of the University of Calgary's Centre of Military and Strategic Studies thinks he knows why.
"Canadians don't kill - they don't even use the word kill; that's the problem," he said. "I think the military is not sure that the government is prepared to accept the fact, let alone celebrate the fact. . . that Canadian soldiers do sometimes end up killing people."
It is an extraordinary thing to ask someone to do on our behalf. To stare through sniper sight at another man, take a deep breath, squeeze the trigger. . .and then two seconds later, watch him fall down dead.
I've given too little thought to the mission our troops, some 900 on the ground and 1,700 in supporting roles, have been sent on. I haven't written anything about it.
I didn't even think much about that the decision to join U.S. combat troops, instead of a British-led peace-keeping force. (Canadian troops have an extraordinary peace-keeping tradition, at a high price. More than 100 Canadians have died on peace-keeping missions, more than any other country.)
Our casual indifference, sending our soldiers off to war with no real thought about that that means, was an insult to our troops. We should be ashamed.

Paul WIllcocks can be reached at