GRAY, Sask. — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau eagerly climbed into the sprayer and combine and got down to the ground to examine an air drill during his visit to a Saskatchewan grain farm last week.
Rural Saskatchewan didn’t vote for him, but those on hand to witness his enthusiasm and many questions about the technology couldn’t help but smile. He was like the proverbial kid in a candy store, some remarked.
“I might have to have him back for harvest,” laughed Todd Lewis, president of the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan and one of the hosts.
Lewis, his father, Don, and brother, Rod, were happy to show the prime minister around the farm — Trudeau had specifically asked to see a canola farm after dealing with trade irritants with China last fall — and help him understand modern agriculture.
Federal Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale were also there.
“He gets that technology is a pretty big part of modern agriculture, and precision agriculture is the future,” Lewis said.
“We’re not just out there throwing seeds on the ground by hand anymore. It’s big business.”
However, what he and more than 100 farmers and local residents who packed the Gray Recreation Centre after the tour hope Trudeau really understands is how much a carbon tax will affect them.
The prime minister defended his decision to impose a $10 per tonne tax as of next Jan. 1, which will rise to $50 per tonne by 2022.
Trudeau said farmers know how technological improvements over generations have already helped them become more efficient, use less fuel and reduce emissions.
“How we innovate, how we get more efficient, how we work towards a country and businesses that are less polluting and more efficient is something that every farmer gets,” he told the crowd.
He said the changing climate and more extreme weather events, including periods of heavy moisture such as that which extended last fall’s harvest, are undeniable, and farmers have to adapt.
Everyone has a responsibility to pollute less, and putting a price on carbon encourages that, he said.
“So it’s a market-based solution that encourages more of what we want, which is savings and efficiencies, and less of what we don’t want, which is pollution,” Trudeau said.
“This is something that I know represents a change, represents a bit of a shift, but it’s one that I truly believe we need to do.”
The prime minister also said that a room full of farmers certainly understands that what’s good for the environment can’t be separated from what’s good for the economy.
However, few farmers agree that a carbon tax will really do what Trudeau believes it will do.
Lewis said it has already proved to be a detriment to some agricultural sectors in other provinces that can’t compete with imports from countries that don’t have a tax. He said the industry can’t be taxed without recognition for what it’s already done, such as no-till, and for what hasn’t yet been measured, such as the sequestration of carbon in pasture and grasslands.
“Intuitively, farmers recognize (if) you burn fuel, you spend more money,” he said.
“For years we’ve been on the carbon bandwagon just from the practices we do. It wasn’t about saving carbon. It was about being efficient and growing better crops, and that’s what we’ve done.
“Low carbon agriculture, it was born in Saskatchewan, we’re improving it constantly. We need to get the recognition for that.”
Jack Froese, president of the Canadian Canola Growers Association, said the government must find a way to neutralize a carbon tax on producers.