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P.E.I. agricultural group disappointed at lack of support for carbon tax exemption

Bill C-234 would have removed the carbon tax from propane and natural gas used to heat and cool barns, and for drying grains.   (Bridget Yard/CBC - image credit)
Bill C-234 would have removed the carbon tax from propane and natural gas used to heat and cool barns, and for drying grains. (Bridget Yard/CBC - image credit)

Farmers on P.E.I. are watching to see what happens next with Bill C-234, a private member's bill from Conservative MP Ben Lobb that would have removed the carbon tax from propane and natural gas used to heat and cool barns and greenhouses, and for drying grains.

It passed in the House of Commons, with two of P.E.I.'s four MPs — Bobby Morrissey and Heath MacDonald — joining Conservative, Green, NDP and Bloc members to vote in favour of the bill.

But the bill ran into controversy when it reached the Senate and was eventually amended, which means it needs to go back to the House of Commons.

The amendments eliminated the exemption on the fuel used to heat and cool farm structures, and also shortened the time period of the exemption three years from eight.

The bill now faces an uncertain future.

Farmers already receive a carbon tax exemption on gasoline and diesel.

Donald Killorn, executive director of the P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture, said he was disappointed in the amendments to the bill.

Donald Killorn, executive director of the P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture, says he is disappointed with what happened to Bill C-234.
Donald Killorn, executive director of the P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture, says he is disappointed with what happened to Bill C-234.

Donald Killorn, executive director of the P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture, says he is disappointed with what happened to Bill C-234. (Shane Hennessey/CBC )

"I think that the carbon price is a good thing. I think that we have to put a price on pollution, but in order for it to be truly sustainable, we can't have that stand in the way of being able to produce food," Killorn said.

"This bill was very important to agriculture."

Asking for support for C-234

Killorn said he doesn't agree with the argument that farmers can find alternatives to propane and natural gas with lower emissions.

"The technology doesn't exist for our farmers yet to adopt renewables, or green energy to heat their barns or dry their grain," Killorn said.

"As such, it's fair to give them a period of time where they don't have to pay the carbon price on those activities."

A holstein classifier from Holstein Canada scores the cows from poor to excellent. This cow, named Kerry, was rated excellent.
A holstein classifier from Holstein Canada scores the cows from poor to excellent. This cow, named Kerry, was rated excellent.

Killorn says the technology doesn't exist yet for farmers to adopt renewables or green energy to heat their barns and dry their grain. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

Killorn said the bill would have lowered the cost of production, which could have benefited both consumers and farmers.

He said the federation worked to inform the elected officials and senators from P.E.I. about the importance of the bill.

"We did see a lot of support from Prince Edward Island. Unfortunately, the amendment in the Senate passed by a single vote. And there was a vote cast for the amendment by a senator from Prince Edward Island," Killorn said.

"So that effectively killed the bill, sending it back to the House, where we don't expect it will come up for another vote."

We'd like to see it move quickly through the House in its original form and see it ultimately passed.
—Donald Killorn, P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture

The P.E.I. senator who voted in favour of the amendment was Jane MacAdam.

Killorn said the federation has reached out to her, and discussed what happened to the legislation.

"We've continued to reach out to our elected officials and our senators to let them know how disappointed we are in the outcome, and hope that we can find a path forward to make the carbon price more equitable for Canadian farmers," Killorn said.

"We'd like to see it move quickly through the House in its original form and see it ultimately passed. However, we don't have high hopes that that will happen."

In a statement to CBC News, Sen. Jane MacAdam said the bill doesn't reflect Canada's commitment to climate change or incentivize farmers to switch to less carbon-intensive solutions.

"Instead, this piece of legislation could lead to pressure from other groups to seek additional exemptions from the carbon tax policy, which weakens Canada's efforts to lower its greenhouse gas emissions," the statement reads.

"With the amendment, however, there is still a carbon-tax exemption on natural gas and propane used in grain-drying – acknowledging the fact that cleaner technology is not readily available in the short and medium-term for farmers."

MacAdam said farmers are climate-dependent and vulnerable, as evidenced by the impact of post-tropical storm Fiona, and the focus should be on reducing emissions.

Farmers need time

P.E.I. senators Percy Downe and Brian Francis voted against the amendments to Bill C-234.

The design of the new barn came from a company in Holland that specializes in cow comfort.
The design of the new barn came from a company in Holland that specializes in cow comfort.

Killorn says the federation worked to inform the elected officials and senators from P.E.I. about the importance of Bill C-234. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

Downe said the original bill would have given farmers more time to cope with the cost of adapting their operations.

"They're all working on it. Many have heat pumps installed, many more [are] putting in solar panels," Downe said.

"But we have no natural gas, we have no propane, we have no oil in this province. Everything comes here from somewhere else, so they need an adjustment time."

P.E.I. senator Percy Downe voted against the amendments to Bill C-234.
P.E.I. senator Percy Downe voted against the amendments to Bill C-234.

P.E.I. senator Percy Downe voted against the amendments to Bill C-234. (Aaron Adetuyi/CBC )

Downe hopes the House of Commons will reconsider the bill and return it to the Senate.

"There's a whole host of benefits, not only for farmers, for consumers, for the Prince Edward Island economy," he said.

CBC News received a statement from Malpeque MP Heath MacDonald.

"I will review what is sent back to the House of Commons and the remaining debate that follows before deciding how I will vote. Politics often requires compromise, and while I would have preferred to see C-234 remain in its original form, there are still important exemptions within the bill particularly as it concerns grain drying," the statement reads.