'Outrageous': Senate abruptly adjourns third reading debate on farm heating bill

The third and final reading of Bill C-234 — by bad luck or poor legislative planning — comes at a crucial time for the Trudeau Liberals’ carbon pricing scheme

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Moves to abruptly adjourn debate during Thursday afternoon’s third reading of a contentious farm heating bill sparked uproar in the Senate, and puts the legislation on ice until later this month.

Bill C-234, a private member’s bill tabled in the House of Commons last February, would amend the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act to exempt carbon taxes from propane and natural gas used to heat or cool barns and livestock buildings, and dry grain — essentially extending carbon tax exemptions already available to farmers on gasoline and diesel.

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During the bill’s third reading in the red chamber — the final stage before the bill moves to royal assent to become law — Ontario Senator Lucie Moncion tabled an amendment that would remove mechanisms in the bill allowing extension of exemptions beyond the established sunset period.

Moncion’s amendment, as was pointed out during the debate, is nearly identical to one proposed and rejected during the senate’s clause-by-clause review of the bill.

Moncion’s amendment comes just days after senators voted to reject a committee report recommending to remove all but grain drying from the bill.

Senators voted 42 to 28 on Tuesday to reject the report and move the bill to third reading.

They have signalled now that this is no longer a fair-dealing chamber

Shortly after Moncion tabled her amendment, Sen. Bernadette Clement moved closure of debate, eliciting a flurry of protests and a point of order from Manitoba Senator Don Plett.

“This is very rare and very unfair,” Plett said in response to the motion.

“I was standing on debate, and for Madame Speaker to allow somebody to move an adjournment motion while people are standing on debate I believe is definitely out of order.”

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Quebec Senator Leo Housakos described the situation as ‘outrageous.’

“Never before have I seen in my time in this place, somebody get on their feet and move an adjournment without debating the amendment,” he said.

In a 29 to 24 vote, Senators voted to adjourn debate until the next sitting on Nov. 21.

Speaking with the National Post after the conclusion of the sitting, Plett said the adjournment was even more surprising considering the leaders of all five factions within the Senate agreed on Tuesday morning that debate on C-234 would wrap on Thursday.

“The Prime Minister and entire Liberal Party is trying to take away the livelihood from Canadian farmers, it’s a simple as that,” he said.

“They have decided that the whole country is subject to what (Environment) Minister (Steven) Guilbeault wants.”

Plett said he assumed that each leader would have enough support in their caucuses to defeat the adjournment motion, but said he was surprised to see three of the five leaders stand and vote in favour of it.

“After all-party support was given to this in the house, and here have some self-righteous Senators from Montreal and Toronto who have never been on a farm in their life, and they are running this bill and convincing others to support them,” he said.

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Sen. David Wells, who sponsored the bill in the Senate, accused Speaker Raymonde Gagné and the Independent Senators Group (ISG) of colluding in delaying the bill’s debate until after a week-long break next week.

“They shut it down with an adjournment motion on the debate with people ready to speak? Unprecedented. Unprecedented,” he told the National Post during a recess before the motion’s vote.

“They have signalled now that this is no longer a fair-dealing chamber. The ISG is not independent, and the speaker has acted in a way that I’ve never seen.”

Some Senators told the National Post earlier this week that they suspect the government of attempting to whip the committee to either kill or suppress the bill.

Sources tell the National Post the government isn’t content to let the bill pass as-is, and that several high-ranking Trudeau Liberal cabinet ministers had allegedly reached out to independent and non-aligned senators who voted to reject the amendment.

The third and final reading of Bill C-234 — either through bad luck or poor legislative planning — comes at a crucial time for the Trudeau Liberals’ carbon pricing scheme.

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Late last month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced exemptions for home heating oil from the federal carbon tax — a move meant to shore up cratering poll numbers in Atlantic Canada but instead suggests Ottawa’s carbon policy is far more malleable than intended.

Bill C-234’s potential passage into law also comes when federal officials maintain no more exemptions would be permitted.

“There will absolutely not be any other carve-outs or suspensions of the price on pollution,” the Prime Minister told reporters last week.

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Earlier on Thursday during question period, Sen. Marc Gold — the government’s representative in the red chamber — maintained that carbon taxes are key to reducing emissions.

“The price on pollution continues to be considered to be the most effective market-driven tool to create incentive for businesses and Canadians to make the change to a cleaner and more sustainable form of energy,” he said in response to a question from Saskatchewan Senator Denise Batters — who described the government’s heating oil carve-out as ‘regional discrimination.’

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“That continues to be the centrepiece of this government’s environmental policy.”

During Thursday’s third reading debate, Wells said that Gold’s summary of the government’s carbon pricing policy doesn’t apply to most producers.

“Farmers have no viable fuel alternatives to which they can easily switch — they’re either unavailable, or cost prohibitive,” he said.

“Where it has been neither of those, farmers, ranchers and growers have switched, because it makes business sense to do so.”

The carbon tax, he said, simply takes money out of the pockets of farmers — particularly since natural gas and propane, so-called “transition fuels,” burn markedly cleaner than gasoline or diesel.

“The carbon tax is supposed to send a price signal to incentivize the transition to lower carbon emitting fuels,” Wells said.

“However, because of the absence of alternatives, this price signal does not work when it comes to propane and natural gas used for agricultural purposes.”

The Senate’s next sitting is Nov. 21.

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

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