Friday, April 7, 2006

emerson should step aside even further, like right out of politics ...

Emerson will step aside to avoid appearance of conflict
International trade minister, who used to work for Canfor, says it won't affect talks
April 07, 2006 , Vancouver Sun

International Trade Minister David Emerson -- the former chief executive of forestry giant Canfor Corp. -- said Thursday there is a possibility he may have to step back in some instances from the planned Canada-U.S. softwood lumber negotiations to prevent the appearance of a conflict in connection with his former company.

But Emerson, who has a Canfor pension that is partly dependent on the company remaining financially viable, said his recusal agreement with federal ethics commissioner Bernard Shapiro won't impact on his ability to function as an effective trade minister.

"If we ever hit a point where there would be a disproportionate gain or loss to Canfor from a critical decision, I would step aside," Emerson told reporters, adding that he had a similar arrangement while he was Liberal industry minister.

"I don't see that as in any way diminishing my ability to carry out the duties of the job."

Canadian trade expert Michael Hart, a former senior negotiator in the talks that led to the 1988 Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, said he doesn't see how the arrangement will negatively impact Emerson's ability to do his job.

If negotiations are launched, Hart said Michael Wilson, Canada's ambassador to the U.S., and federal bureaucrats will be involved in all day-to-day negotiations.

Emerson, as the man responsible for rallying support from the industry and provincial governments, is only required to lend political support when necessary to push the talks forward, Hart said.

Emerson agreed, saying his job is in Parliament.

"I don't think a minister ought to be doing the head-knocking of a negotiation of that sort anyways."

Emerson acknowledged Thursday that a portion of his Canfor pension depends on the company remaining "a living corporate entity."

Canfor would gain financially if a negotiated deal reduces or eliminates the 11-per-cent tariff charge to ship to U.S. markets. The company would also enjoy a windfall if most of the $5.2 billion in tariffs already paid by Canadian firms is returned as part of a settlement.

But Kevin Mason, an analyst with B.C.-based Equity Research Associates, said recently that Canfor is a healthy company that in no way is dependent on a resolution of the lumber dispute in order to meet its pension commitments.

Emerson accused the Liberals of hypocrisy in the House of Commons this week for complaining about his trade role now, even though as industry minister in the Paul Martin government he played a major role in negotiations.

"I shake my head at the hypocrisy," Emerson said Wednesday.

"Those honourable members [in Liberal benches] were very happy to have my involvement in softwood lumber and other forest policy business, but now they have changed their minds."

Shapiro wrote to Liberal trade critic Dominic Leblanc last month saying he will take "under advisement" Liberal concerns that Emerson may be in conflict.