Liberal candidate says BC could impose “environmental levy” against US thermal coal
Premier Christy Clark has asked the Canadian government to bar shipments of American thermal coal through British Columbia ports in retaliation for a 20 per cent duty imposed upon Canadian softwood lumber exports yesterday by President Donald Trump.
And if Prime Minister Justin Trudeau chooses not to accede to her request, Clark says in a letter dated April 26 that “British Columbia will use the tools we have at our disposal to discourage the shipping of thermal coal through” the province.
The Port of Vancouver is federally regulated, as are imports and exports. When Clark asks Trudeau to “ban the shipment of thermal coal [burned to create electricity] from BC ports,” she is tossing the ball squarely in her fellow Liberal’s court.
Will Trudeau risk a trade war with Trump? Not likely.
“There are no victors in a trade war,” Scott Brison, a senior Canadian cabinet member, told Reuters by phone from Detroit.
Canada is in an awkward spot. Turning off the oil spigot or putting the brakes on auto exports would likely cause more pain for Canada than the USA. Stopping imports of a less vital good, like cherries or office chairs, would have no effect on the Americans.
Ottawa will likely do what it has always done – launch a World Trade Organization or NAFTA challenge, and help companies that lose sales and workers who lose their jobs.
Thus far, Trudeau says Canada will “vigorously defend” the softwood lumber industry and has treated Trump’s trade aggression as a spat between neighbours rather than pretext for a war.
Clark is in a different situation entirely. The Liberal leader is two weeks into a provincial election and trailing John Horgan’s NDP in public opinion polls, 34.7 per cent to 42.5 per cent respectively, according to the CBC’s B.C. Poll Tracker, an aggregation of all available polling data.
The worst news for Clark is that her party is down three points and her main rival is up 1.2 points. Much of Clark’s loss has come in Metro Vancouver.
She needs to rally the troops.
And what better way to do it than fighting with Donald Trump, almost universally reviled by Canadians; a Jan. IPSOS poll found almost three-quarters of Canadians think Trump will be a bad president.
Shades of Rosie O’Donnell, The Donald’s long-time American media nemesis.
A very loud and public scrap over coal will certainly appeal to left-leaning, eco-friendly Vancouverites, a point acknowledged by Jas Johol, Liberal candidate for Richmond-Queensborough.
“There have always been some in British Columbia who have said we should’t be shipping US coal through BC because it’s used to produce electricity and adds to greenhouse gas emissions,” Johol said in an interview. “There is a constituency here that likes what the premier has to say.”
That constituency supports the Liberals on softwood lumber and has long advocated for a thermal coal ban, he says.
Clark’s letter points out that last year the Port of Vancouver exported 6.2 million tonnes of US thermal coal, a figure she claims is forecast to rise as Asian demand increases.
“Banning its transport through Canada would be consistent with the efforts of both British Columbia and Canada to reduce global greenhouse emissions,” she said.
How might a new Liberal government effect a ban?
Johol says the first priority would be working with the Canadian government. But if that doesn’t pan out, BC can assess its own environmental levy.
‘That is a policy lever we have to ban US coal from coming through the West Coast,” he said.
As for Horgan, he is trying to keep the focus squarely on Clark, not allowing her to distract voters with a coal ban sideshow.
“Nothing short of a [softwood lumber] deal is acceptable to me. Within 30 days of being elected, I’ll go to Washington to stand up for the thousands of British Columbians who depend on these jobs. That’s something Christy Clark should have done a long time ago,” he said in a statement emailed from the NDP campaign.
As Canada’s biggest lumber producer, BC will be hit hardest by the US action.
British Columbia has a long history of battles with the Americans over softwood lumber. Trade spats hurt real businesses and real workers, a point Johol emphasizes several times in a serious voice.
But one can’t help feeling that in a quiet corner of Liberal headquarters, war room strategists are thanking the political gods for Trump’s ham-handed negotiating tactics.
Last election in 2013 it was promises of the LNG bounty. This election, will it be an all out political cage match with Trump over softwood and coal that turns the trick for Clark and the Liberals?
I wouldn’t bet against it.
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