Senators debate amended Bill C-234, farm groups want original version passed

A Private Member’s Bill aimed at exempting natural gas and propane used for certain farming practices from the carbon tax, is front-and-centre again in the Senate.

It’s possible, that debate over Bill 234 will resume, or be put over to another day. On Tuesday, there was debate on the bill in the upper chamber and the amendment tacked onto 234 by the senate ag committee more than a week ago. That change was to remove fuel used for heating and cooling barns and greenhouses; the exemption for grain drying remains intact along with an 8-year sunset clause.

Committee chair Robert Black, who’s firmly opposed to the amendment, led the discussion on C-234.

“This is not the first time a bill with similar intent has been presented in Canada. Numerous attempts have been made in both chambers to provide relief for farmers from the carbon tax, underscoring the significant concern and importanceof this issue to our nation. In fact, this is the second bill to pass (the House of Commons) and come to our esteemed chamber of sober, second thought and may very well be a second time the industry will not benefit from these measures, even though their elected officials voted and passed similar bills twice.

“I’ve heard…from hundreds of Canadians, consumers, farmers, producers, and numerous others in the last week or so who are extremely disappointed with this report, who are extremely disappointed that the bill has been gutted and the basic intent has been removed.” said Black.

“Another farmer I visited in southern Alberta told me that when the carbon tax reaches $170 a ton it will cost him a half-a-million dollars per year, just on the carbon tax,” added Senator David Wells. “Money that could be spent getting better technology or newer technology…this is the affect of additional cost and brings with it no benefit to the farm and no benefit to the environment. The government is calling it a market signal; farmers, ranchers, and growers believe that the only signal this sends will be higher cost to them and higher prices for the consumer.”

But the most passionate comments came from Alberta senator Paula Simons. It was her deciding vote that moved the amendment, to not exempt propane and natural gas from the carbon tax when heating barns, forward.

Simons explained the rationale behind her decision, saying the exemption for grain drying made sense to her, but not for heating and cooling barns and other structures, adding “there are all kinds of ways to heat and cool buildings and all kinds of ways to make barns and farm buildings more energy-efficient” to reduce costs.

“So when it came time to vote on the amendment I made a difficult choice — I voted pragmatically in an effort to save the bill by amending it.” Simons added, and also admitting to hearing from people who were unhappy with her decision.

The senator was also very critical of a recent decision by the federal government to exempt the carbon tax on home heating oil for essentially one region of the country.

“How am I, as an Alberta Senator, supposed to look at Alberta farmers in the face and tell them that I took a principle stand against carbon tax exemptions when the government has pulled the rug right out from under me? I am not a climate-change denier, I am not a carbon tax opponent, what I am is a very frustrated Albertan and a very frustrated deputy chair. How can we support having the tax breaks for one region and not another? How can we adopt the system of carve-outs that pits one region against another? And how can we maintain public confidence in the fairness of our carbon tax regime if we pick and choose exemptions willy-nilly?” Simons said.

The amendment to Bill 234 has garnered reaction from farm groups in Saskatchewan. SaskCanola, SaskBarley, SaskWheat, SaskFlax, SaskOats, and the Saskatchewan Pulse Growers are calling on Senators to reject the amended bill, and “instead pass Bill C-234 as originally written.”

“If the amendment is passed, the Bill will be further delayed as it will need to go back to the House of Commons.” said a statement on the Pulse Growers website.

(With files from Dean Thorpe, CFCW)

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