Saturday, July 15, 2006

Playing hardball with softwood

Not having time to write at length about Bob Rae’s response to Harper's softwood lumber brinksmanship between work this afternoon and dashing off to a disappointing Blue Jays game this evening, I would now like to try to expand a bit on the topic now. To borrow a phrase it's a complex file, so I'll try breaking it down into questions and answers.

Is the softwood lumber agreement a good deal?

No, it’s not a good deal at all. When they’re honest, I think even its supporters tacitly admit this, admitting ‘well, it’s the best deal we can get.’ Canadian Cynic had a great post on this topic the other day that provides a nice retort to that sentiment. Putting aside the next question for a moment, I think we can all agree this is a bad deal. Basically, we’re paying $1 billion in extortion money for them to stop picking on us and to get a limited time period of peace, rather than face the uncertainly of continued illegal duties and legal challenges in the hope of getting it all back and settling this once and for all.

So should we bend over and take it?

Now that’s the $4 billion question, isn’t it? To bend over, or not to bend over. The legal road is a long and risky one with no guarantees, and the U.S. hasn’t shown itself too keen on obeying rulings anyway. Despite feeling we’re in the right, if we’re going to abandon that road in exchange for certainty and give something up we feel we shouldn’t have to, we still have to get enough back to make it palatable, otherwise staying the course remains more attractive. A clear verdict on this point seems to be emerging, and from those with the most knowledge and interest in the question: the governments and forest industry in B.C. and Quebec.

I think we have to put a lot of stock in the fact that so much of the industry, and it would seem these two provinces as well, have serious reservations about accepting this deal. Why? Because they have the most to lose. It’s the industry’s $5 billion, it’s jobs and the economy in their provinces that’s suffering. If they say this deal just doesn’t do it, I’ve got to believe them.

It has been a long, tough road. But those impacted have persevered through it by saying it will be worth it, by sticking the course we’ll finally settle this thing once and for all, and we won’t have to go through this all again in a few years. But, with this agreement, the suffering would have been for naught, and we’d be right back at square one in a few years. This is no long-term fix, it’s a very expensive bandaid.

Should this be a confidence motion?

No. Harper says he can make anything he wants a confidence motion because he’s the PM. A year and a half ago, he said Martin couldn’t make anything he wanted a confidence motion just because he was the PM. Still, if Harper wants to make this a confidence motion, he’ll probably make it happen. But, legitimately, should a deal to resolve a trade dispute really be a matter of confidence? Nope.

Why is he making it one then?

Once again, to weaken and divide the opposition and push through his agenda. I like his strategy, but he needs us to vote for the deal to carry it out. He wants this agreement, he wants to campaign as having solved the softwood crisis in BC during the next campaign. Wait a minute, we Liberals
would say, that was a crappy sellout of a deal. Well then, why’d you vote for it then? the Conservatives would retort. So, Harper campaigns as the softwood savior even though it’s actually a bad deal, and we’re unable to call him on it because we got goaded into voting for it because we were to weak to stand up to his posturing and bluffing.

Does Harper really want an election on this?

No. Why would he? He’s made some progress on his ever-evolving priorities but he’s not there yet. Even with the Liberals in leadership flux, getting another budget would still be ideal for him. Also, to get his majority Harper needs Quebec and BC, and this deal is quite unpopular there. An election called with Harper on the wrong side of this issue and the opposition parties on the right side would motivate a large concerned voter group in those provinces, and Northern Ontario too, to vote.

Would it really be a softwood election?

After a few days, certainly not nationally. But again, remember the regional considerations. It would be to certain key segments across the country. But more than the merits of softwood, a larger issue would be why the Cons wanted to bring us to the polls over a trade dispute in the first place, when they could have just respected the democratic will of the House of Commons and moved on. There would also be many other issues, which I won’t get all into now. Long story short, I wouldn’t mind our chances.

But wait, weren’t the Liberals going to sign a similar agreement?

Well, we heard that one was on the table. What exactly it looked like, I don’t know. It did seem to be hushed-up, that pissed me off at the time. It seems when the industry was consulted they indicated it was unacceptable, so the thing was shelved until after the election. The rest is history. So, does that make the Liberals offside on this? Hardly. Let’s look at it. Both the Liberals and the Cons negotiated, both reached some kind of tentative accord. Both took it to industry. Industry told both it wasn’t good enough, let’s keep negotiating/fighting. Liberals said ok, we’ll get back to this after the election, which they subsequently lost. The Cons said suck it industry, take it or leave it, because we’re cutting and running, and while we said we’re going to stand up for Canadians, we didn’t mean you guys. And as far as Emerson attesting to anything, David is hardly a model of chastity and virtue, particularly in BC where they’re likely to care about all this.

Bottom Line

The Liberals need to vote no on this, and if Harper insists on irresponsibly making it an election, so be it. We can’t vote no because we’re scared of an election, or because it doesn’t suit our leadership timetable. The Canadians that voted Liberal and sent Liberal MPs to Ottawa didn’t send us there to put our election timing issues or leadership agendas first. They sent us to represent their interests. This deal isn’t in their interests, so we should vote against it. Plain and simple. It’s time to be decisive.

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Robert said...

very nice exapnsion, as always Jeff.

Small point, but I think Harper is the Brinksman; Rae is just one of many advocating calling the bluff.

pale said...

Confidence motion - since there is a duty/tax part to the deal it is a "money matter" - all money matters are by defnitnion confidence motions.

burlivespipe said...

With industry heavily against this and having to withdraw their legal action before the deal can be ratified, all appearances suggest this won't make it to Parliament. But Harpor and his pocket weasel Emmie Emerson say otherwise, saying they'll force it to the house. So why are they trying to pick a fight and force the opposition -- remember, Liberals and NDP alone can't kill this. But you Tories go on and ignore the separatists while you pad each others behind like football follies... I've just read an interesting take on the coming future of journalism at ottawa watch. For those who think in conspiracy theories, here's one ally who will certainly be behind our American Prime Minister (the Harpor-ator) so to help him cinch that majority and therefore saving their skinny bottom line by allowing more American selloffs -- CanWest. As an employee in that company I can tell you my impression of what he writes, at least on the CW side, looks fairly close to reality.

And you know CanWest would go to the floor in printing lies, twisted facts an innuendo, right? A photo of the Dirty Thirties under the caption of 'Bob Rae's Days in Ontario'... Oh and not one mention of Harpor's letter to the US paper about how Canada should be in Iraq, or his secret meeting with American republican machinists.
I really should get my manuscript of 'Conspiracy Theory II' to my agent. He's got James Woods and Lindsay Lohan on hold...

Cerberus said...

Having a monetary component to the bill does not make it a "money matter" or a matter of confidence. Read up on your Parliamentary protocol Pale.

CuriosityKilledTheCat said...

The sixty four dollar question is: will the Bloc will oppose the softwood deal?

Methinks the Bloc will side with Harper and vote the softwood deal through, in return for some additional deal from Harper, or just because they are afraid of an election now.

Fighting Harper's New Tories on his failure to deliver the socalled "federal balance" is one thing – it is clear: Harper promised to shovel lots of money from the federal government to Quebec, and to give Quebec greater powers of taxation. Not delivering on this promise is a winnable issue for the Bloc, and they would chomp at the bit to unseat the Tories and have an election on t his.

But selling out the country and the softwood companies? That is not so clear cut.

The only way the Bloc would be persuaded to vote the Tory government out of power on the softwood issue is if the Liberals (lead by Bob Rae) managed to frame the issues in such a way that the Bloc would lose votes in Quebec by not throwing the rascal Harper out, and so could not afford to side with Harper on the softwood agreement because they would lose seats to the Liberals and NDP come the next election, early next year.

How should the Liberals frame the discussion of the softwood sellout in such a way that the Bloc is forced to vote against Harper or lose seats? My suggestions:

• Start now – frame the issues now, so that the pressure on the Bloc gathers force over the next three months – if the LPC and NDP wait until the vote, they will fail and the Bloc will vote to keep Harper in power;

• Personalize the harm - hammer on the number of Quebec employees who will be harmed (state numbers, consequences) – make it personal;

• Guilt by association - make the Bloc defend itself against joining Harper in selling out these Quebec voters if its sides with Harper on the vote;

• Sovereign capitulation - hammer on the attack on the sovereignity of Canada which Harper has agreed to in his deal with Bush – this is a diminution of the powers of Canada and of the provinces, by giving the Americans the right to interfere in our internal affairs. If the Bloc supports Harper, it will be supporting a giveaway of sovereign powers to another state – a tough position for the Bloc to defend. Liberals will score points with federalists and with separatists in Quebec with their defence of sovereignity.

• The Softwood Five – reduce the message to Five Points and repeat the title and points in all the messages. This ties in nicely with the Five Priorities of Harper. It also focuses the message and makes it more effective. Even better if you cast the Softwood Five in negative terms, such as: Harper's Softwood Five Sellouts.

Anonymous said...

If this deal was such "trash" as some industry individuals like to pretend, all that would be required from any of the big Canadian Producers would be an Press Release indicating that they are not dropping their legal precedings.

This has yet to happen.

Coincidence? I think not.

However, that in no way shape or form means it's fair.

However, given the choice between endless litigation or an 4 Billion dollar check and some measure of stability...