Hot U.S. lumber market good for trade talks: Canadian ambassador – Oak Bay News
A B.C. pulp mill’s ability to provide critical material for COVID-19 personal protective equipment was a big step toward resolving forestry trade issues with the U.S., and the current lumber shortage pushing up house prices is the next step, Canada’s ambassador to the U.S. says.
Ambassador Kirsten Hillman spoke to the B.C. Council of Forest Industries convention Thursday, offering cautious optimism that the election of President Joe Biden on a promise of pandemic recovery and jobs represents a turning point in Canada’s 30-year dispute over softwood lumber. It hasn’t changed the insistence of the U.S. lumber industry that B.C. lumber is unfairly subsidized, but the pressure is on Biden to deliver on affordable housing and union jobs, she said.
Even before Biden replaced former president Donald Trump and his aggressive trade policies, the ability of Harmac Pacific’s Nanaimo pulp mill to provide key material to the U.S. in the early days of the pandemic got the attention of American leaders.
“The story of Harmac and the specific pulp product that it was providing to the United States was critical to certain masks and gowns and medical supplies,” Hillman said by video link from Washington D.C. April 8. “And we were able to talk to the Americans about how restricting trade and cutting supply chains between our two countries was going to in fact hurt them and hurt us both.”
Now a pressing issue for Biden is soaring lumber prices that are holding back his post-pandemic recovery plans. Supply shortages have pushed the average price of a new U.S. home by $24,000, and that has priced three million Americans out of the market, Hillman said. And there are “anecdotal reports” that U.S. builders are delaying projects from three to six months due to uncertain lumber supply as well as high prices.
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COFI president Susan Yurkovich and other B.C. industry players have been involved for many years in trade disputes, with appeals currently in progress under NAFTA and new U.S.-Canada-Mexico trade agreements. Trump’s administration neutralized the NAFTA appeal process by refusing to appoint new members, and agreeing on impartial arbitrators will take time, Hillman cautioned.
Meanwhile, a World Trade Organization panel ruled in Canada’s favour in the long-running dispute, and the U.S. Commerce Department has reduced duties on Canadian lumber to about nine per cent on average, less than half of what was imposed on behalf American producers in the most recent trade action against Canada.
B.C. Forests Minister Katrine Conroy told the convention the high price of lumber has helped B.C. mills restart and recover from a slump in prices and log shortages, and B.C.’s efforts to promote mass timber technology are helping producers “get more from less” after a loss of allowable cut in the wake of widespread beetle epidemics.
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According to an old saying, “when you gotta go, you gotta go,” but a local merchant believes the distance involved should be shorter where restrooms in downtown Mount Airy are concerned.
“The lack of public bathrooms in the 400 block causes quite a problem for a number of people, especially those that are visiting our town,” Martha Truskolaski told the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners during its last meeting.
Local officials tend to promote this community as a “friendly city,” Truskolaski added during a public forum of the July 15 session in which citizens could address any municipal government topic.
“How friendly is it when you must tell tourists visiting and shopping that when they must use a restroom, they must walk uphill two blocks to find the closest restroom?”
Truskolaski was referencing the proximity of public facilities to entities such as hers on the northern end of the central business district, where Truskolaski operates Spotted Moon, a retail gift shop, in a building she owns at 419 N. Main St. For orientation purposes, it is near Brannock and Hiatt Furniture Co. Inc., a longtime business located at 420 N. Main St.
“The closest public restroom is almost two blocks away at the (Greater Mount Airy) Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center,” she told city officials. “The only other public restroom is at the end of the North Main Street shopping area.”
That is the Jack A. Loftis Plaza rest area, where a mural of The Easter Brothers musical group recently was painted.
“The lack of bathrooms in this area (the 400 block of North Main) has been an ongoing issue for quite some time and I feel it is an issue we need to address here and address quickly,” Truskolaski said during the recent public forum.
She mentioned that this is particularly a problem with young children and the elderly.
“If you needed to use a restroom while out shopping, would you want to walk two blocks up a hill to do so?”
“I am asking you to please bring this up for discussion,” Truskolaski urged city council members. “We would love to know that you are willing to help us out in what some of us call the ‘Forgotten 400 Block.”’
The local merchant suggested that the restroom need has been overlooked by Mount Airy officials in favor of other projects.
“I feel that with the amount of money that has been spent by our city and our commissioners on Market Street, the Spencer (’s) project, potential hotel and splash pad, as well as future projects, the city seriously consider installing restrooms on the North 400 block of Main Street.”
The city government allocated several hundred thousand dollars to give Market Street downtown a complete makeover several years ago. And it has doled out millions, and counting, to prepare the former Spencer’s textile mill complex now owned by the municipality into new uses including the possible hotel.
Adding public restrooms to the area in question “will benefit not only the visitors that come to our friendly city but our citizens as well,” Truskolaski said.
Individual stores limited
In her comments to Mount Airy officials, the Spotted Moon owner addressed a thought that might have crossed the minds of listeners during the presentation.
“Some of you may be wondering why, as a business owner, we are not prone to allow customers to use the bathrooms in our businesses,” Truskolaski said of the various establishments in the 400 block.
“Well, I can’t speak for any other businesses, but I will say I am the only person working my store and I keep stock in my back room where my bathroom facilities are located,” she explained.
“I cannot keep an eye on people going into my back room and keep an eye on my store and/or help customers.”
Before the recent meeting, Truskolaski had spoken with Mayor Ron Niland about the restroom concern. After looking into the matter Niland informed her that the plumbing infrastructure for restrooms had been included when the city government refurbished a parking lot in the area some time back.
That lot is located on the east side of North Main between Brannock and Hiatt and Old North State Winery.
Truskolaski said she was told by Niland that he didn’t believe installing restroom facilities in that parking area “would happen for quite some time.”
In the interim, the shop owner said Niland advised that Ben Webb of Old North State Winery had given permission for businesses in the 400 block to send visitors to its restaurant to use the facilities there.
“That was a very generous gesture on Mr. Webb’s part,” Truskolaski said during the forum, but doesn’t fully address the problem.
“The issue with that is they (Old North State) are not open every day that the stores are open, nor are they open the same hours.”
At the end of the meeting in which Truskolaski spoke, Mayor Niland said the need she cited might be handled through ongoing Vision committee efforts in which groups of citizens headed by commissioners are seeking improvements downtown and elsewhere.
“We appreciate people that come and help us see the things that maybe we don’t see every day,” he said of her presentation.