Expect to pay more for softwood products after U.S. tariffs: Frank Dottori
‘Pretty soon Canada is gonna kick back where it hurts,’ says Frank Dottori
Hundreds of forest workers in northern Ontario are bracing for a new softwood lumber trade war with the United States.
The U.S. has announced it will once again slap tariffs on Canadian timber.
Forest entrepreneur Frank Dottori estimates the tariffs will impact his White River mill by about $6 million per year, and slightly less at his Horneypayne operation.
"Trump's jacking up the prices of lumber by roughly 20 per cent, or at least 10 percent," Dottori said. "Who pays? Joe consumer. It's not the big companies. They'll just make more money."
He likened the battle to the way the [U.S.] attacks wheat.
"They're bullies and they can get away with it," he said. "And we don't retaliate. If you kick me where it hurts pretty soon Canada is gonna kick back where it hurts."
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Dottori was CEO of lumber giant Tembec during the last lumber dispute, between 2004-09, which is blamed for the closing of dozens of mills across the country.
Statistics Canada reported that Quebec and Ontario suffered significant losses during that period, as employment shrank by 6,795 (-46.6%) and 3,393 (-60.0%.)
Emotions, not facts, at heart of duspute
Dottori says the dispute stems from emotions, not facts.
"The [U.S. producers] can make a much higher quality product," Dottori said. "We have to make a lot of 2x2s, 2x3s, 2x4s.We have lower quality wood."
"If someone said you're gonna buy a cherry and a watermelon and they're saying ' you're getting the cherry cheaper,' well, I should hope so."
Dottori thinks some Ontario mills will raise prices to absorb some of the costs as long as the dispute drags on..
"We'll also look at our operations and say 'what are we gonna do to survive?," he said.
"These [tariffs] are illegal, so we'll win. The problem is our governments have sold us out for 30 years. They've negotiated deals that have left us vulnerable."
Bad news for Ontario forestry workers
Guy Bourgouin, president of a Steelworkers local representing some 1,200 forest workers in northern Ontario, says this bad news comes just as the industry is rebounding.
"Some of the membership were starting to settle in, they thought the worst behind them because the industry was starting to breathe."
Bourgouin says this is a sticky issue for his union, as many steelworkers south of the border voted for Trump's protectionist platform.
"They need to give some type of relief, because this is nonsense," Bourgouin said. "We've been winning these challenges for years and they keep imposing these tariffs. It's just not founded."
Bourgouin would like to see the federal government play hardball with the Americans on softwood lumber.
He's also hoping the Canadian and Ontario governments will give emergency funding to keep sawmills from closing.
The Ontario government announced that it would be offering some relief for the industry, increasing 2017's funding for the construction and maintenance of forest access roads by $20 million.
The province also named former federal trade minister Jim Peterson as Ontario's chief negotiator to represent the province's interests in the ongoing dispute.
Dottori isn't holding out much hope for more provincial help.
"B.C. and Quebec are taking a much more aggressive approach," he said. "We're still pretty Toronto focussed. Where the hell is northern Ontario?"
with files from Wendy Bird