Former colleagues as well as officials and diplomats privy to the secret, backchannel talks insist Emerson was instrumental in delaying a breakthrough in the decades-old dispute that cost thousands of Canadian jobs. They say the former Liberal industry minister worried that a pre-election announcement would damage Liberal prospects in key British Columbia ridings.
They say the B.C. government and its powerful forestry industry only lost interest in the plan after meetings with Emerson. His objections, along with concerns in Paul Martin's office that a pre-election deal would stop the then-prime minister from using George W. Bush as a campaign punching bag, convinced Liberals to delay formal negotiations at least until after the January election.
Informally discussed on parallel tracks here and in the U.S., the plan calls for Washington to reimburse about 75 per of the disputed $5 billion in tariffs imposed on Canadian lumber in return for Ontario and Quebec export quotas. In B.C., there would be higher stumpage fees to keep mills in the province's interior from flooding the U.S. market with cheap wood culled from forests hard-hit by mountain pine beetle infestations.
Those behind-the-scenes talks, led in Washington by Ambassador Frank McKenna and nursed in Ottawa by then-international trade minister Jim Peterson, were rapidly moving the two countries toward brief formal negotiations and a quick deal until they tripped over political realties. At the time, Martin's government was publicly resisting Bush administration pressure to return to the negotiating table, arguing that Canada had won serial tribunal decisions and would settle for nothing less than complete victory and full compensation.
In sum: David Emerson held up the softwood lumber deal to save a few Liberal seats in B.C. and to appease the hate-America wing of the party; now he's going to seal the deal and make the Tories look like heroes for luring him across the floor.
The Grits get the blame for playing politics and the Tories get the credit without doing any of the work.
Throw in a second gunman on the grassy knoll and you've got the political conspiracy theory of the century.
Source: Toronto Star