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Ask Kady Anything

The horror of the unending softwood lumber stalemate (plus zombies)

Ask Kady Anything: The horror of the unending softwood lumber stalemate (plus zombies)

Let’s start with a topic currently topping the #cdnpoli news cycle: the recent unveiling of the Liberals’ long-awaited proposal to legalize marijuana. (If by some sliver of a chance you happened to miss that memo, the intrepid reporting team at Vice News Canada has you covered and then some, so feel free to hit pause on this Q&A and catch up on the latest details.)

Keith Ferguson asks:


Okay, first off, I should probably state up front that I haven’t actually done a straw poll of the Senate, which, like the House of Commons, has actually been on hiatus since the day that the Marijuana Act — or C-45, as you say — was introduced. Even so, I think I’m on fairly safe ground predicting that, as far as overall okay-ness, there are likely as many varying views as there are senators (99 at last count, in case you’ve lost track.)

Given the close ties between the Conservative Senate caucus and their Commons colleagues in the House, you can likely expect the Official Opposition to officially oppose the bill in both the lower and upper house chambers, although depending on what, if any, changes are made before it makes it through the House, the specific line of attack may change when the Senate Tories take the lead.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that each and every one of them will vote against the bill as proposed, or even if they do, that their criticisms are necessarily rooted in the same concerns. Some will likely come down squarely against any move to relax the current restrictions while others may be willing to accept decriminalization — or even switching to a ticketing system, at least for simple possession. In general, though, it’s hard to imagine many of those on the Conservative benches backing the government’s plan.

Of course, the Conservatives no longer hold a majority of seats in the upper chamber, which means that it will ultimately come down to the Senate Liberals — who, despite the name, have no formal affiliation with the House Liberal caucus or the government — and the growing number of senators with no ties to any party caucus, many of whom were appointed specifically to sit as nonpartisan arbiters as part of Justin Trudeau’s efforts to limit partisan influence within the red chamber. From what we’ve seen to date, it seems likely that, while many of those senators are on board with the concept of legalization, they’ll almost certainly have questions — and very possibly concerns — over the fine print in the proposed law, which could make for a fascinating exercise in sober, second thinking when the committee gets its hands on the draft text.

There will undoubtedly be amendments put forward. And given the general leaning within those clusters, it’s probably more likely those changes would address concerns over overly punitive sentences and seemingly sweeping new powers that would be given to law enforcement to enforce even stricter laws on impaired driving. But really, you never know with the Senate.

At least a few Conservatives are already grumbling about raising the minimum age to legally partake in such pursuits, which the bill pegs at 18 while permitting more puritanical provinces to raise it to taste.

In any case, if the bill is amended in the Senate, it would be up to the House to decide whether to accept or reject the new version, which could set the stage for a standoff between the two Houses, as very nearly happened during the hurly-burly surrounding the physician-assisted dying bill last spring.

So, to go back to your question: No, I wouldn’t expect it to go through without any revision, although it’s too early to predict what changes could be made — or, indeed, how any such rejigging could delay the plan for it to go live by Canada Day 2018.

A mid-column twist, from Christa B:

First, a caveat: Zombie lit is one of the few subgenres of SF/horror that I really don’t enjoy, for some reason. Give me witches, warlocks, vampires, ghosts, elves, selkies — even the occasional ghoul, and I’m fine, but zombies — ugh. I think it’s because my brain immediately starts hearing those sickening crunching noises. Ugh. Now I’m getting icked out just typing this.

ANYWAY, there are at least two exceptions to that rule, the first of which is the Newsflesh series by Mira Grant, who also writes as Seanan McGuire, and who managed to imagine up a terrifyingly realistic world populated with zombies that hits on all my literary sweet spots: politics, horror, journalism and science. Just make sure you don’t start the first book without having the second and third ready to go, that’s all I’ll say without risking spoilers.

The other isn’t a book — well, it isn’t the book that I’m recommending, in this case — but the delightfully gruesome iZombie, which is based on a series of graphic novels that I’m ashamed to say I haven’t actually read, but honestly, the show is just so good that it practically counts as a book on its own, just one that is being acted out on your TV screen instead of inside your head.

Next up, Kashie42, who, like many of us, admits to being confused over the seemingly unending softwood lumber stalemate:

I’ll confess that, when I first read this question, I screamed and backed away from the screen, hoping that I could force my brain to forget it had ever seen those words in that order with a question mark at the end. This is because like many Canadians — and, I suspect, more than a few political journalists — I am secretly somewhat baffled by the continuing angst over softwood lumber. Surely it can’t be that complicated! Can’t they just, I dunno, work it out? No. No, apparently they can’t.

As far as I understand it, the Americans are absolutely convinced that our producers are unfairly advantaged by the fact that, unlike in the US, most of the land used for logging is owned by the federal or provincial governments, which have a whole bureaucratic formula to decide how much to charge the lumber companies who want to haul all that wood away and sell it for a profit. Their US competitors, meanwhile, face a pricing system determined by market forces, which they, predictably, believe to be the just and proper way for such matters to be decided, and see our system as an indirect subsidy.

This, they believe, gives the US the right to slap our lumber exports with duties, as well as penalties related to alleged dumping, or flooding the US market with lumber priced so reasonably that the American producers just can’t match, let alone beat.

Before you ask: yes, both sides have taken it to the various trade tribunals and courts that are meant to settle such matters, with frustratingly mixed results. They’ve also managed to work out limited-time agreements that serve as temporary cease-fires in the trade war, but the most recent such truce expired in 2015.

Since then, Canadian lumber has been heading south of the border unencumbered by duties, tariffs or other such measures, which has meant cheap lumber for US buyers, but has been less than helpful to the Americans. There are also thousands of jobs and millions of dollars at stake on both sides of the border, which is why neither country is willing to back down.

As for why the US decided to pick this fight now, as opposed to six months ago or next year, that, like so many other decisions of this White House, remains mysterious to anyone not deeply familiar with what’s going on inside Donald Trump’s mind, but my guess is that it has something to do with that whole 100 Days milestone. Beyond that, it’s all a bit fuzzy. Ask again later, as the Magic Eight Ball says. (e.d. While Kady did a masterful job, VICE News also has a primer on the softwood lumber spat.)

Meanwhile, Jordan wonders:


In this case, it’s actually both. Very quick (I swear) background for those who have never indulged in a friendly game of Fantasy Cabinet Shuffle (or, alternately, been served as prime minister): Generally speaking, the ideal cabinet is supposed to be as close a reflection as possible of the country at large: at least one minister from every province and major region, a good balance between English and French-speakers (although if at all possible, every minister should be functionally bilingual), and as close to a 50/50 split as possible on the gender parity front, although thus far, Trudeau is the first prime minister to hit that threshold.

There are also unwritten conventions and longstanding traditions, like rotating between the west and east coasts when choosing a fisheries minister, and every government will have its own particular priorities and weak spots. If, for instance, your party didn’t manage to win a single one of the four seats on Prince Edward Island, you likely won’t be able to put an Islander in cabinet — unless you convince one of those MPs to cross the floor, that is — so you might ask a Nova Scotian or New Brunswick MP to take up that role until one becomes available.

As for the actual cabinet positions, there’s some flexibility there — I mean, yes, you need to have a finance minister, although you might be able to play around with the title, but there’s no Charter requirement that you have a labour minister: You could give those responsibilities to a minister who already holds a separate portfolio. You can also invent new cabinet positions — the job currently styled as “Minister for Democratic Institutions” has only existed since 2003, and hasn’t always been a stand-alone, but was previously bundled with the House leader job.

Basically, as prime minister, you want to make sure that when you and your cabinet are huddled around the table, deciding government policy, you’ll be able to rely on your ministers to provide different perspectives based on region, gender and other variables.

Yes, it can definitely make for some odd — and, in some cases, seemingly unfair — decisions as far as who to bring in and who to leave out. (If you do happen to be a Prince Edward Island MP in the governing party, you have at least a 25 per cent chance of joining the front bench, whereas if you’re one of dozens of Ontario MPs without any other notable characteristic, you might want to get comfy in the back.)

Even so, it’s probably not a terrible tradition, even if it does provoke a regular outpouring of huffy columns about how much better it would be if ministers were appointed solely on merit.

Read all of Kady O’Malley’s past AKAs here.

And don’t forget to hit @kady or @vicecanada with questions via Twitter using the #AskKady hashtag.

Cover: Vice illustration

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