New softwood lumber trade war with US worries northern Ontario forest workers

Mill workers and mill towns across northern Ontario are fearing the start of another trade war with the U.S. over softwood lumber.

Trade agreement struck in 2005 expires as of Oct. 12

(EACOM)

Mill workers and mill towns across northern Ontario are fearing the start of another trade war with the US over softwood lumber.

That's because the trade deal that helped stabilize the shaky wood business over the last decade expires as of today.

"I think it's very concerning and I wouldn't want to underplay that," says Kevin Edgson, the CEO of Eacom which operates mills in Sault Ste. Marie, Timmins, Gogama, Elk Lake and Nairn Centre.

He says he has little doubt that duties on Canadian lumber headed to the U.S. market will be announced "immediately" after the end of the trade agreement and could be imposed in the next few months.

"I think we are looking at a rather dire outlook and therefore we are doing all we can to strengthen our balance sheet," says Edgson.
Kevin Edgson is the CEO of EACOM corporation, which operates mills in Timmins, Sault Ste. Marie, Gogama, Elk Lake and Nairn Centre. (EACOM )

He says he has already spoken with the federal government about funding to help keep sawmills from closing in the event of a trade war.

Back before the softwood lumber agreement in the early 2000s, there were several mills shuttered across the north and hundreds of jobs cut.

Guy Bourgouin, the president of the Kapuskasing-based United Steelworkers Local 1-2010, saw the membership of his union shrink by thousands of members in those years.

He still represents about 1,200 forestry workers across northern Ontario, including loggers in Kapuskasing, Opasatika and Cochrane, and mill workers in Hearst, Chapleau and White River.

Bourgouin doesn't see much room for compromise in the ongoing trade talks.

"Our position is free trade is free trade. It should be free trade for wood products, the same as any other product," he says.

Bourgouin, who started out as a mill worker at an operation in Dubreuilville which is now closed down, says he fears that the federal government and the forest companies will make a deal with the Americans that's good for them, but bad for workers.

"They should take that position that free trade is free trade and hold that position and the government should stand up for us," he says.  

"But in some cases, they put pressure on companies and some companies fold and accept deals that they shouldn't be accepting."