Quebec mayors head to Washington to plead for softwood lumber deal
Trip comes as sawmills in province prepare for downturn in U.S. demand
A group of Quebec mayors are in Washington today trying to rally support for a swift end to the latest softwood lumber dispute, the effects of which are already being felt in the province.
The delegation — headed by Drummondville Mayor Alexandre Cusson — is expected to meet in the coming days with both adversaries and potential allies in the dispute.
Among their most daunting meetings will be with members of the U.S. Lumber Coalition, a powerful lobby group representing American sawmills.
They are among the most ardent supporters of the 20-per-cent duties that the Trump administration slapped on Canadian lumber last month.
"That will be a tense meeting," Cusson told Radio-Canada before leaving.
Cusson, who is also the vice-president of the Union des municipalités (UMQ), will be accompanied by the mayors from Rivière-Rouge, Saint-Félicien, Senneterre and Val-d'Or — all communities dependant on the lumber industry.
Quebec already feeling the effects
Along with the sawmill lobby, the delegation will meet with the National Association of Home Builders, a federation of various sectors of the residential construction industry.
They have expressed concerns that the duties will drive up construction costs and lead to job losses within the industry.
"They are our allies," said Cusson. "They're already seeing the consequences in the increase in home building costs."
The trip by the Quebec mayors comes as sawmills in the province adjust their output to deal with lower demand from the U.S.
Quebec-based Resolute Forest Products announced recently that, beginning Monday, it will cut shifts at seven sawmills and delay the start of forest operations that will affect 1,282 workers.
The Quebec mills are among the first in Canada to feel the effects of softwood duties.
During the last softwood lumber dispute, Canada shed 20,000 forestry jobs between 2000 and 2006, and about 400 sawmills closed entirely between 2004 and 2009.
Roughly 90 per cent of the province's lumber exports head to the U.S. and the forestry sector accounts for 60,000 jobs in Quebec.
Negotiators from the federal government and the provinces are hoping to strike a long-term deal with U.S. authorities to remove, or at least lower the duties. Ottawa maintains the duties are illegal under NAFTA.
With files from Radio-Canada and The Canadian Press