At a time when shutdowns and layoffs are realities in the forest industry, it was no surprise that a question about forestry was asked at the North Okanagan-Shuswap all-candidates’ forum held at the Sicamous Senors Centre Thursday.
The question asked Oct. 3 was what each party would do to address the downturn and job losses.
Kyle Delfing, People’s Party of Canada candidate, said renegotiating trade deals is the short answer.
He said the Harper government in 2011 had an opportunity to negotiate the Softwood Lumber Agreement before it expired but didn’t. Under the Liberals, International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland was sent, but “Donald Trump actually asked Trudeau to send a better negotiator down there because she wasn’t negotiating with our best interests.”
He said while the federal government can participate in trade negotiations, it also needs to work with the province to revamp stumpage fees.
Marc Reinarz, Green Party of Canada candidate, said wood should be processed locally. By keeping logs here, jobs are maintained and buying back lumber isn’t necessary. He noted that in the past, over-supplies of wood were dumped in the U.S., depleting reserves. Now that there’s a shortage of logs, he said it’s time to log wisely, while taking care of watersheds.
Harwinder Sandhu, NDP candidate, spoke about raw logs, stating that under the previous provincial government over the last decade, raw log exports were increased by 500 per cent.
“That has a lot to do with the problem we’re in today and it went unaddressed.”
Sandhu said the NDP would invest in forestry innovation, research and development, and support value-added products and the good jobs that go with them. It would also expand markets, diminishing reliance on the U.S.
Mel Arnold, Conservative candidate, said he heard from leaders in the industry that there was difficulty moving the product when the wood value was good. They couldn’t get rail cars because they were tied up shipping oil. He said the U.S. started looking elsewhere.
Arnold said the Liberal government had a year to negotiate a new Softwood Lumber Agreement but failed. He said Canada needs to work on its international trade agreements as well as retraining to get people back to work.
Cindy Derkaz, Liberal Party candidate, said the federal government has injected $867 million into supporting workers and expanding and diversifying markets.
She pointed out the Conservatives didn’t get the Softwood Lumber Agreement worked out either, so it ended up with the Liberal government, and the U.S. government also changed. She said she is happy that people the quality of Chrystia Freeland are negotiating for Canada, putting “trade agreements in place with every other G7 country.”
Derkaz said there is a big role for the federal government and the local MP to help communities get funding support.
Other submitted questions the candidates tackled for the crowd of about 75 present included support for small business, construction of pipelines, highway construction, thoughts on SNC Lavalin and protecting species at risk.