Federal bill exempting farmers from carbon tax passes second reading

·4 min read

The federal carbon tax has been a hotly contested political topic since its inception in 2018.

While supporters of the levy argue taxing carbon encourages environmental tech innovations and sustainable lifestyles, critics say the tax does little to decrease emissions and simply acts as a cash grab against Canadians who do not have reasonable alternatives to carbon consumption.

Specifically, farmers and ranchers are often left with monthly carbon tax bills worth thousands of dollars as effective green technology has yet to be developed for essential tasks that still rely on fuel consumption, like drying grain and heating barns.

As a result, the Conservative MP for Northumberland-Peterborough South, Philip Lawrence, introduced a private member’s bill back in February 2020. Bill C-206 proposes amendments to the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act to include marketable natural gas and propane as a farming fuel exempt from the carbon tax.

The bill passed second reading on Feb. 24 and may come before the House of Commons for third reading this summer.

Exempting farmers from the carbon tax, says Foothills MP John Barlow, is a necessary step for Canada’s economic recovery.

“As a Canadian economy, we rely on certain industries to pull us through difficult times,” he says. “Agriculture is one of those things that we rely on, so we need them to have the tools that they need to be competitive.”

Since competitive markets like the United States and the United Kingdom don’t have carbon taxes, imposing one on Canadian farms and ranches puts them at a disadvantage. Given the advances the industry has made, Mr. Barlow adds, enforcing an agricultural carbon tax adds insult to injury.

“Farmers and ranchers should be recognized for the work that they’ve done to reduce emissions through carbon storage and conservation,” he says. “There’s no question they are amongst the best conservationists we have in the country, so they should be getting credit for that, not punished.”

For its part, the federal government maintains fighting climate change is a national priority.

“As we continue to fight the Covid-19 pandemic, we cannot afford to ignore the real and immediate impacts of climate change on our environment and our economy,” reads a joint statement from Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau and Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson.

“Our government is committing to a path forward that further supports farmers in the fight against climate change, and the unique challenges they face. Bill C-206 does not provide relief for the fuel costs of grain drying, as it does not add grain drying as an eligible farming activity.”

Rather than outrightly exempting the fuel used, the federal government plans to provide financial rebates for grain drying and barn heating through a $165 million Agriculture Clean Technology fund and a $185-million Natural Climate Solutions for Agriculture fund. Details for both funds will be announced in the coming months.

The programs, the statement says, will “support our food producers and also encourage new investments in sustainable technologies that go beyond existing exemptions for farm fuels and rebates for greenhouses.”

With the carbon tax set to grow to $170 a tonne by 2030, however, Mr. Barlow says the refusal to support Bill C-206 indicates the Liberal government’s lack of empathy and understanding.

“The Liberals need to understand that the carbon tax is disproportionately more punishing to rural Canadians than urban,” he says. “Arguments for getting people to park their cars, take public transit or ride their bikes might work in Toronto, but they’re just not feasible in rural areas like my riding.”

Forcing farmers to shift from reliable methods of drying and heating, he continues, places more stress on an industry that already deals with a host of unknowns.

The fact the bill has been supported by the Bloc Quebecois, the NDP and even the Green Party, Mr. Barlow adds, suggests the government is ignoring the needs of rural Canadians in favour of ideology.

“They’re really an immovable object on this,” Mr. Barlow says. “They believe in a carbon tax and think this is a lever that is going to reduce emissions.”

Bill C-206 can be viewed online at http://bit.ly/farmer_exempt.

Sean Oliver, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Shootin' the Breeze