Carbon tax, Bill 6 priorities for Alberta ag minister

Ensuring support for ranchers affected by the bovine tuberculosis quarantine is also a concern for Oneil Carlier

Rural angst over provincial farm safety legislation and the carbon levy and worries about a bovine tuberculosis outbreak were the highlights, or perhaps the lowlights, of Alberta Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier’s portfolio last year.

In a year-end interview, Carlier said his government expects to prepare a final draft this spring of recommendations from the six consulting groups tasked with working out details of the En-hanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act, previously known as Bill 6.

“We’re hoping to get a final draft of recommendations, if you will, by early spring,” said Carlier.

“We don’t want to drag it out too far into what would be the busiest season for most folks, calving season, seeding, that kind of thing, so we’re hoping to have it out before that season … for a final opportunity for folks, whether they’re technical working groups, Ag Coalition people or even the general public to have a look at it. That was a commitment we made early on.”

Carlier said most of the working groups have made their recommendations to government, but the two involving Occupational Health and Safety have yet to file.

The OH & S aspects are considered to be the most complex parts of the new legislation.

“I’m quite happy, quite proud and pleased with the work these people are doing: the employers, the worker representatives, the chairs, the department.”

Various members of the Ag Coalition, which is a diverse group of organizations formed to ensure farmers’ views were represented in discussions, voiced concerns that the government may not accept the recommendations put forward.

Carlier acknowledged that the consultation groups did not reach consensus on all points.

As well, the latter months of 2016 saw several rallies organized against the provincial carbon levy, which took effect Jan. 1.

Carlier said farmers and ranchers can apply for funding through government programs for use on projects to increase their energy efficiency, and those programs have been well subscribed.

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“I think a lot of producers, I would say most producers, are always taking steps to improve their efficiencies,” he said.

Everyone wants to do their fair share on helping the environment, but there’s an economic benefit as well to find those efficiencies.”

Carlier said concerns that the levy will increase input costs are legitimate but noted funds collected will go back into the provincial economy. Some sectors will feel the levy’s effects more than others.

“That would include greenhouses, intensive livestock operations, irrigation perhaps,” said Carlier, so the government has designed programs to help those operators improve their energy efficiency.

On Dec. 21, Carlier visited ranchers affected by a bovine tuberculosis quarantine in southeastern Alberta.

The discovery of one cow with the disease, followed by confirmation in five other animals, led the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to undertake a major trace-out and impose quarantine on about 26,000 cattle in 45 herds.

That has prevented many ranchers from moving or selling their cattle as they would usually do in the fall, resulting in financial hardship.

Carlier said he has heard praise about government response to the crisis.

“The timing was bad, but I am happy with the quickness of the response and hearing from folks … including the Alberta Beef Producers, even though it was a gloomy time of year that they found this, it was a real bright spot in the response that did happen.”

The province put up 40 percent of the $16.7 million announced by the federal government to assist ranchers during the quarantine and trace-out process.

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“My understanding from CFIA is they feel that will be enough, that the worst for sure is over,” said Carlier.

As for the extended harvest of 2016, Carlier said his own constituency of Whitecourt–Ste. Anne was among the hardest hit, along with several others in central Alberta.

He pointed to Agriculture Financial Services Corp. programs as a way of helping farmers weather the problem.

“Thank gosh that most producers are well subscribed to some of those insurance products. While nobody grows a crop just for insurance, I’m glad that AFSC continues to provide those effective insurance products.”

The counties of Brazeau and Lac Ste Anne declared states of agricultural emergency this fall, which Carlier said raised the profile of the harvest situation.

He has also discussed agricultural issues with federal Agriculture Lawrence MacAulay on several occasions and said he likes the federal commitment on research funding.

“I’m encouraged by this Liberal federal government that they are looking to reinvest into research, reinvest into their research stations … which is good news,” Carlier said.

“Agriculture in this country and in Alberta has always progressed because of the research we’ve done around new seed varieties, around new chemicals to add to further our production.”

What’s to come for agriculture and the minister in 2017? Carlier said there will be more discussions on the next national agricultural safety net program. As well, he said he plans to seek further value-added opportunities for the agricultural sector.

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  • Kent Larouche

    Just wondering how I am supposed to get more efficient at drying my grain? Or heating a 50 year old building? What are they gonna do, give us a small grant by for spending hours filling out forms to spend big dollars to build a more building thats more efficient? Government can take their carbon tax and stick it where the sun dont shine.

    • Harold

      I’m not sure that you need to wonder. Not so all-knowing are they, as the government faces reality. However, lies do not ever make sense and neither are they supposed to. To make a lie into being the “common sense”, you only need to confound and separate your people. (advertising) The more fractious the public- the better. Obviously, like the commercials on TV, you now have their product in hand. Rightfully you have chosen the garbage can, and now have no need to wonder. I agree with your choice, but rather than a notice of non-consent, protesters have chosen a referendum of a 3 year leeway instead. I am not that forgiving, but then i am only of the few.

    • Jayson

      With the grain dryer, you’re a bit stuck until you go to replace it. But when the time comes, instead of buying the cheapest grain dryer that blows through propane and/or electricity like it’s free, your purchasing decision will also need to factor in the increased costs of running it. This message will also be heard by the companies making grain dryers, they will want to keep their sales and will work to improve their unit’s efficiency.

      Same thing when it comes to buildings. Before it might have made more sense/cents to just crank the thermostat and let the furnace run 24/7 pushing heat into a drafty, poorly insulated building. Now, it might make more sense and cents to add insulation, wrap the building in rigid foam, and replace windows to keep the heat in and cold out. And the opposite come summer.

      Now this is where things can be up for debate. Is the carbon tax high enough to spur people to change things or are they just going to shrug and deal with the higher costs? Is the carbon tax being offset enough by reduced taxes in other areas to allow people to invest in improvements? Is the carbon tax being applied equally? Are you actually paying the carbon tax or is that business just adding a line item called “carbon tax fee” to increase their profits while they can use the government as the scapegoat? These are all things that will have to be looked at and adjusted as the years go by. 19 days in is hardly enough time.

      This is what isn’t up for debate. We live in a world where we can no longer do as we please when it comes to the environment. Pouring used motor oil on the gravel road to keep the dust down is no longer acceptable. Idling the tractor all night when it’s cold because you don’t know where the extension cord is to plug it in is not going to be a reasonable option. Wasting energy in general is no longer going to be affordable. That’s where the world is going and you just have to deal with it. As they love to say at all the farm shows, if you aren’t moving forward, you’re falling behind.

      • Harold

        “As they love to say at all the farm shows, if you aren’t moving forward, you’re falling behind”. By who’s opinion is this true? The publics, or the governments, or is it of those who wish to dominate and resort to the “punishment business” in directing their fellow adults.
        Your opinion is not new because i have heard the same one over and over again, and if i needed to hear it again, it would be ingenious of me to sit upon Notley’s lap like her children did. Someone in charge who has made a mistake, or corrupt, etc, are hardly a “scapegoat”. The scapegoat has been the public, and in this topic the farmer. Let’s do the math. farmer + expenses + opinionated interference expenses + own energy + over-production+ feed World + carbon = Wage minus “intelligent” government punishment expenses, balance + government carrot = total. Perhaps a farmer can add correctness to my math. How would a policeman behave in protecting the interests of one single farmer if employed by that farmer? Like the government does? The Government is policing something?
        Furthermore, are we the masters of our own diminishing wealth and necessity of our extended hours and double incomes to make ends meet within this country of abundance? If not, who are, and why are they so important?
        The carbon Tax is 100% dependent upon the doors of science remaining closed and our abiding faith. (no contrary evidence)
        Moreover, perhaps we should ask ourselves; Is government the parent, or are we the parent of government? Parent’s are entitled to be wrong but nonetheless they are obeyed. Kent and I have answered that question, and i believe so have you.