Opinions mixed on carbon tax

After 75 minutes of debate at a Keystone Agricultural Producers meeting last month, it’s hard to say where the average Manitoba farmer stands on a carbon tax.

Some want to fight it, others want a provincial referendum, others say farmers should get a refund and some say it’s inevitable, so farmers should be negotiating with the province for the best possible deal.

“I don’t think we can bypass or oppose this carbon tax. I think it’s coming our way whether we want it or not,” Les Ferris, who farms near Holland, Man., said during the KAP meeting in Portage la Prairie, Man.

“We’re going to have to live with it.”

KAP members discussed, mostly in calm tones, five separate resolutions regarding a carbon tax.

It was the topic du jour because the provincial government is expected to unveil a “made in Manitoba” solution to climate change, sometime this spring or summer.

The Manitoba government needs to devise a plan before the end of 2017 because Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised to impose a base price of $10 per tonne for carbon on provinces that don’t have a carbon reduction scheme, by 2018. The price could rise to $50 a tonne by 2020.

KAP’s official position is that farmers should be exempt from the tax; otherwise it’s difficult to compete in a global market with countries that don’t tax carbon, such as the United States.

It also says farmers should be credited for practices that remove carbon from the atmosphere.

The policy didn’t satisfy a few producers at the Portage meeting.

They said KAP should reject the tax and lobby against it, much like the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan is doing.

“Most (feel) we don’t want it,” said Dwight Eisner, who farms near Bowsman, Man.

Similarly, Murray Klassen said KAP should take a definitive position on a carbon tax.

“I don’t think anybody here wants to pay the extra tax on fuel that they use in the field,” he said.

Others said fighting the tax isn’t the answer.

Chuck Fossay, of Starbuck, Man., said farmers must take a position and be at the table with the province to ensure that producer concerns are addressed.

KAP president Dan Mazier agreed. No one is in favour of a tax, he said, but the province is moving forward with a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“It’s a reality. We’ve got to have policy around this so we can go and negotiate (with the government).”

One possibility for Manitoba farmers is a carbon tax exemption, which would be similar to a rebate on the GST.

Ferris said the carbon tax should appear as a separate line on a bill so the amount is transparent.

“We want it totally visible on the invoice and we want it refundable,” he said.

“We want this 100 percent exemption on our inputs to grow crops so we can remain competitive.”

Several producers supported Ferris’ idea, but acknowledged that the province may not support such a plan.

“I don’t think we can give them the system that we need,” said Don Dewar of Dauphin, Man.

“But we should be open to whatever discussion…. We might be lucky to get what we’re asking for.”

It could be difficult for the provincial government to exempt farmers because crop and livestock production is a significant component of greenhouse gas emissions in Manitoba.

Mario Tenuta, a University of Manitoba soil scientist, said farming represents about 35 percent of all emissions in the province.

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