Good environmental record best card to play in Canada’s deck

No wonder the Americans aren’t worried about the “tough talk” of Prime Minister Chretien when he was in Alberta.  I guess he thought a little macho talk was appropriate in the land of swagger and oil. There must be a better way.

polite-canadian

Chretien told an Alberta audience that he gave US president Bush “hell” for putting barriers up to Canada’s lumber while wanting our oil and gas.  Chretien’s bravado was lost on Americans.

Most Americans aren’t even aware that they get energy from Canada. They think that all their fossil fuels come from the Middle East.  And the idea of a threat of Canadians cutting off energy flow to the US is unthinkable to Americans.  Part of the problem is that we are seen nice people — incapable of doing rotten things like retaliating.

The idea of cutting off oil and gas exports is unthinkable to Albertans, too.  They are in no mood to sacrifice the windfall profits they are making on gas and oil.  After all, it’s those profits that are fuelling the political agenda of the Alberta government.  Without oil and gas, the right-wing gospel of the marketplace and low taxes would be hot air.

The unfair American tactics couldn’t come at worse time for the new B.C. Liberal government.  Not only are they faced with a slowing continental economy, but now this and the layoff of thousands of B.C. workers.

British Columbia suffers more than any other province from the 19.3 per cent tariff on softwood imposed by the US.  Almost half of all Canada’s export lumber comes from here.  To add insult to injury, the Americans are handing the tariff money over to sawmills in the States.

The federal Liberals have chosen a path that will inflict maximum damage on B.C.  The feds stubbornly support the North American Free Trade Agreement and its dispute resolving committees.  Sure, eventually the Americans will loose this dispute.   But in the meantime, B.C. suffers.

The federal Liberals could have chosen to keep the money in Canada as the last federal government did. In the last dispute with the US over softwood, the then-Conservative  federal government implemented an export tax that kept billions of dollars in Canada.

The effect of both taxes is the same.  Both an export tax by Canada or import tax by the US drives the price of lumber up.  The difference is that Canada could collect billions that would go to help unemployed saw mill workers in B.C.

Former Minister of Trade Pat Carney knows what its like to deal Texas presidents — she had to deal with Bush Sr.  Carney was bluntly told by Bush toadies that “You are going to loose regardless of how fair or legal your case is.”  The current Minister of Trade, Pierre Pettigrew,  blindly believes in NAFTA and due process.

You can’t beat bullies by playing fairly.  The only way to win is to play smarter.  We need to take advantage of our nice image.  Canada should market its goods through Canada’s good brand name, says professor David Wheeler of the Business and Sustainability department of York University.

Canada is universally known as promoting fair play, social and environmental concern, says Wheeler.  Although our reputation has been tarnished by foot-dragging on the part of the feds in signing the Kyoto agreement to reduce greenhouse gases, the Canada brand still has some marketable value.

We should forget about the mass export of our natural resources at discount prices.  Canada needs to tap into the valuable environmental market. For example, the giant retailer Home Depot will only take lumber with environmental credentials.  Also, Europeans are prepared to pay more for paper that has been produced without environmentally harmful chemicals.

Even after years of wrangling with the US and the softwood dispute is finally won by Canada, there is still the perception that our stumpage rates for logs too low.  Americans have to pay more than Canadian sawmills because our logs are taken from publically owned Crown land.

Environmentalists on both sides of the border claim that we are giving our resources away a bargain basement rates.   And maybe they are right.  We need to regain the high road so that “made in Canada” means that we care about our environment.

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