Looming softwood lumber tariff worries Outaouais mills
Duty could also affect pulp and paper mills
West Quebec municipalities are worried about the potential impact if the Trump administration imposes tariffs of up to 24 per cent on Canadian softwood lumber imports.
The United States is expected to impose a range of tariffs on imports on Canadian lumber after an investigation by the U.S. Department of Commerce concluded those imports are unfairly subsidized.
At the Commonwealth Plywood sawmill in Low, Que., about an hour's drive north of Ottawa, 30 per cent of their highly finished softwood products are exported to the U.S., including natural eastern red and white Ottawa Valley pine.
"This news is very difficult, very disturbing for us," said general manager Frank Chaboud in an interview in French.
The mill has been around since 1985 and has forty full-time employees.
"We'll have some tough decisions to make," said Chaboud. "We might have to cut our operating time, lay off staff, or if it comes down to it, close the sawmill all together."
Pulp and paper mills could also suffer
While the new duty is aimed at softwood lumber products, it is also worrisome for other industries.
Pulp and paper companies often partner with sawmills to share the cost of logging rights and transporting lumber out of the forest. The pulp and paper companies use byproduct from the sawmills to manufacture their own products.
If sawmills start scaling back their operations, pulp and paper mills will also feel the impact.
Benoit Lauzon is the mayor of Thurso, Que., a 45-minute drive east of Ottawa along the Ottawa River, home to the Fortress pulp and paper mill with 326 workers.
He also represents the Outaouais on a forestry committee with the Union des Municipalités du Québec, an association of Quebec municipal governments.
"We're heading towards another crisis," said Lauzon in an interview in French.
Western softwood could also hurt Ontario, Quebec mills
Lauzon said he's also worried the impact the U.S. duty could have on softwood lumber being shipped across Canada. If western Canadian sawmills start exporting less to the U.S., the thinking goes, they'll start shipping more of their product to Ontario and Quebec, thereby cutting into local profits.
"It will have a major impact on our forestry industry," said Lauzon. "Our community and business people face an uncertain future in the coming months."
Lauzon is imploring provincial and federal politicians to speak up in defence of Outaouais sawmills.
An hour and a half north of Ottawa in Maniwaki, Que., mayor Robert Coulombe echoed Lauzon's concerns.
While his town has made an effort to diversify its economy, Coulombe said it remains very dependant on natural resources.
"The heart, the foundation of our workers, is the forestry industry," said Coulombe in an interview in French.
With files from Louis Blouin and Jean-Sébastien Marier