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February 2006 - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal



The abuse of Canada in trade deals with the US shows that our similarities may not be enough to keep us good neighbours.





By Adam J Leamy and Jamie Lamb

Funny, sometimes, the impact of images and words. One image can elicit a crystal clear understanding of commonality, and a few simple words can provoke a powerful understanding of difference.

On September 11, 2001, sitting in our offices on the far side of Canada in British Columbia, we watched the devastation and destruction in New York City. The faces of the people? The same as seen in any part of Canada. Same for the jobs they did, the clothes they wore, the cars on the streets, the brand of their morning coffee. We thought, “They are us, and we are them.”

On that morning, through that image, we knew this was not something happening somewhere else, to others, unrelated to Canadians or to Canada. On that morning, we saw a new image of horror against the backdrop of the familiar features and qualities of daily life that are the same in our two countries. It had happened to us. To all of us. No surprise that in the aftermath our two countries would take many of the same actions— often working together—to prevent it from happening again.

But that there are also some fundamental differences between our two countries was emphasized recently by, of all things, an episode of the television show, Everwood. In the show, the son has returned from Europe, and tells his father of the animosity towards America he experienced abroad. The father responds,“You’re supposed to say you’re Canadian.”

Simple words from a US television show. Powerful in the sense that they remind Canadians and Americans—well, perhaps just Canadians—that no matter our commonalities, our two countries are, in many ways, very different places. While our pursuits and goals may be similar, and while many are identical (is anyone
in either country arguing against better health care?), we have different ways of pursuing those goals.

It is these different paths that remind Canadians that while America is our neighbour, “They are not us, and we are not them.” Other countries know it, too. We say all this because Canada and Canadians have reached a new level in our relationship with America. We’ve been brought to this new place by the American behaviour and attitude to the goods—particularly softwood lumber— we export to the US and to the rules we use to govern this trade.

What is important is that about a third of the softwood lumber used in the US comes from Canada. And Canadians who make their living in this industry and secure their livelihood from their ability to trade with the US will tell you that what’s important is that Canada trades its softwood lumber fairly, and within the rules of NAFTA.

What most Canadians would consider important is that in recent years the US has charged Canadian forestry firms some $5 billion in duty deposits. Canadians know that no matter how many times we have turned to NAFTA’s dispute settlement process—a process that both our countries jointly established when we negotiated NAFTA—our fair trading practice with the US has been affirmed, and the US tariffs have been deemed unwarranted.

What troubles Canadians is not that these disputes arise. Of course they’ll arise. Trade is complicated. No, what has angered Canadians is that when Canada turns to the NAFTA dispute settlement mechanism to resolve these problems, the US ignores the decisions.

Canada’s federal government—and this undoubtedly will continue with the new Harper government to push for American respect for free and fair trade between our two countries. It continues to ask that the duty deposits be refunded. It continues to seek not just vigorous American participation in NAFTA, but increased American commitment to upholding the NAFTA agreement it signed, and presumably still wants. This is as it should be.

In respect of the relationship between the two countries, Ottawa, in offering a far more aggressive stance with the Americans, is rightly trying to do so with as much of a polite and reasoned posture as it can muster. After all, the world watches these things, and if Canada, of all places, and Canadians, of all people, can’t get the Americans’ attention, and the Americans won’t live up to their trade agreements with Canada, what incentive is there for countries around the world to sign trade agreements with the US?

Having said this, however, timing is everything. The stance by Ottawa on softwood lumber, and as supported by the premiers of the Canadian provinces, may be coming at a time when Canadians, having grown bone weary of years of US bullying and disrespect, have moved on.

We’ll talk about where Canadians have moved on to in the next issue of Logging & Sawmilling Journal.


Adam J Leamy earned his master’s in public administration at the University of Southern California. Jamie Lamb was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University. They are partners in Northwest Public Affairs, a BC-based consulting firm.



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