Canadian farmers push for carbon tax exemptions as heating bill flounders in Senate

Bill C-234 would exempt barns, greenhouses, livestock buildings who use propane or natural gas for heating

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Despite senior officials vowing no more carve-outs of Canada’s carbon tax policy, Canada’s agricultural sector is urging the government to cut them a break.

And with a critical private member’s bill on the verge of either becoming law or entering Parliamentary purgatory, the country’s food producers say they’re long overdue for a little relief.

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Last week, Ottawa announced home heating oil was carbon tax exempt for three years — a move clearly meant to bolster cratering Atlantic Canada poll numbers, but one experts say demonstrates how malleable the federal government’s climate policies really are.

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Among those seeking similar relief are Canada’s farmers, who are pinning their hopes on the Senate’s third reading of bill C-234 — a private member’s bill tabled by Conservative MP Ben Lobb that would exempt farms from paying carbon tax on propane and natural gas.

But amendments introduced during Senate committee neutered much of the bill, and some are accusing the Trudeau Liberals of either whipping the committee to match government policy, or plotting to send it back to the House of Commons where it could be lost forever.

The amended bill would only exempt grain dryers from carbon taxes, leaving out barns, livestock buildings and greenhouses.

“We have certain industries in this country that can actually produce food year-round,” Mushrooms Canada CEO Ryan Koeslag told the National Post.

“Canada has harsh winters, as everybody knows — greenhouses, mushroom farms and livestock operations have defined ways to heat their farms to grow the food that we like to eat all year.”

Canada’s 150 mushroom farms rely on year-round, climate-controlled growing rooms to produce over 153,000 tons of mushrooms annually — around 40 per cent of which is destined for export.

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“An average-sized mushroom farm pays around $150,000 a year in carbon tax,” Koeslag said.

Such a farm would employ around 100 workers, he said — growing large numbers of mushrooms in a footprint comparatively smaller than other producers.

Bill C-234 was first tabled in the House of Commons last February, passing third reading in the House on March 29 before moving to the Senate where it passed second reading in June and moved to committee consideration, which ended on Thursday.

Dave Carey, co-chair of the Agriculture Carbon Alliance, said the bill had a rough ride at the Senate Agriculture Committee, accusing the Trudeau Liberals of trying to either get the bill scrapped or bounced back to the House once clause-by-clause review commenced on Oct. 24.

“At that committee meeting, which is very rare, we had the government’s representative in the Senate (Sen. Patti Laboucane-Benson) join the committee for clause-by-clause,” he said.

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“She attended that committee after not hearing any deliberations and voted in favour of an amendment to strip out heating and cooling of livestock barns, greenhouses, other growing structures from the bill.”

The Agriculture Carbon Alliance is a consortium of agricultural producers devoted to ensuring meaningful dialogue on carbon pricing.

“For farmers, there are no viable alternatives except for natural gas and propane for food production and growing food, whether that’s drying your grain or cooling your barn,” he said.

“Heat pumps in agriculture don’t work up to a certain ambient temperature, and it goes far below that in the prairies — you have to keep livestock barns at a static temperature.”

With the amended bill now back in the Senate, it’s up to Senators to either accept the amended bill or reject the report and send the original bill to third reading.

If the senate votes in favour of the amended bill, said Sen. David Wells, it would be sent back to the House for approval, where it would likely never be seen again.

“Because the government controls the pace and placement of bills, it would just die a slow, lonely death — especially after the steps we saw late last week in carving out exemptions on home heating fuel,” he said.

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Wells recalled speaking to a chicken farmer who is expecting to pay $500,000 in carbon taxes this year.

“That’s just money out the door,” Wells said.

When asked what we would have otherwise done with that money, the farmer told Wells it would have been invested back into his operation.

“He said if we make $500,000 in one year, that’s probably a good year — but now all of the sudden that’s a break-even, or a loss year.”

Lobb, who tabled the bill in the House, described forcing undue financial burdens on Canada’s food producers as the “genesis” of inflation.

“These extra costs that the carbon tax bear on farmers is punitive,” he said, explaining that unlike many other industries, producers aren’t able to pass on these extra costs to their buyers.

“Farmers are price-takers, not price-makers — they don’t make the market, they take the price that’s available to them.”

Like Wells, Lobb hears constantly from struggling producers, including a hog farmer in his riding whose monthly carbon tax bill averages $3,000.

Like all Canadian agricultural producers, Koeslag said mushroom farmers continue to struggle to make ends meet, contending with both rising costs and the carbon tax.

“The cost of buying packaging and cardboard is going up, labour has been going up, so when we add on carbon tax and the price of the natural gas they use on top of that,” he said.

“This is an easy one. This is an easy win for the government and the consumer.”

• Email: [email protected] | Twitter: @bryanpassifiume

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