Private members bills provide glimmer of hope to tax-weary farmers

Prairie grain farmers opposed to the federal carbon tax are hoping that a pair of private member’s bills will result in a carbon tax exemption on natural gas and propane that’s used to dry grain and heat farm buildings.

But it remains to be seen how quickly either bill could become law, particularly now that Canada’s Parliament has been suspended until April 20 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A pair of private member’s bills — Bill S-215 and Bill C-206 — have been brought forward in Parliament during the past four weeks.

The bills — one introduced by an independent senator from Prince Edward Island and the other by a Conservative MP from Ontario — call for a carbon tax exemption on farm fuels used for grain drying and heating.

Bill C-206 — An Act to Amend the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act, was introduced by Tory MP Philip Lawrence from the Ontario riding of Northumberland – Peterborough South.

The bill was introduced and received first reading in the House of Commons on Feb. 18.

“There is currently an exemption for farmers, but only for gasoline and diesel. For whatever reason, both propane and natural gas were left out,” Lawrence said.

“That left many grain growers and farmers out in the cold, as they were drying their grain and paying thousands of dollars in carbon tax.”

“My private member’s bill would … (make) life just a bit easier and more affordable for our farmers: (and) would allow farmers to invest in technologies to fight climate change ….”

Bill S-215 is a senate public bill brought forward March 10 by Prince Edward Island Sen. Diane Griffin.

Griffin, who was appointed to the senate by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, is a self-described conservationist who “strongly support(s) the federal government’s jurisdictional authority in implementing a national (carbon pricing) backstop.”

However, Griffin said modifications to the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act are needed to ensure equitable treatment among farmers and to support competitiveness in the Canadian agriculture sector.

“My bill seeks to treat all farmers equally, regardless of the crops they grow or the livestock they raise,” Griffin said.

“It does this by adding propane and natural gas to the list of exempted fuels. Additionally, it removes the carbon levy on any machinery that is used to heat or cool a farm building.”

Griffin said a 2018 report by the senate committee on agriculture and forestry recommended similar changes to the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act.

The 2018 report suggested that taxing agricultural fuels would have a negative impact on producers’ competitiveness and on food affordability for Canadians.

Griffin also cited figures from the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan (APAS), suggesting that the federal carbon tax would, on average, reduce the net farm income on a 5,000-acre grain farm by about eight percent in 2020

In 2022, when the carbon tax increases to $50 per tonne, the same tax bill for the same 5,00-acre farm could increase to a range between $13,000 and $17,000, APAS stated.

“At present, farmers who use propane or natural gas to dry their grains are at a disadvantage. For these farmers, grain drying is not an optional activity,” Griffin said.

“The intent of the carbon tax is to encourage Canadians to alter their fuel consumption habits by using more environmentally friendly efficient machines or alternative sources of energy. This is a laudable goal. However, when this premise is applied to farming, there is a disconnect between the policy and the outcome…. Heating barns and drying grain are not discretionary fuel use.”

Jeff Nielsen, chair of the Grain Growers of Canada (GGC), encouraged other senators to support Griffin’s bill and advance the legislation as quickly s possible.

“We are very pleased that Sen. Griffin has brought forward this legislation so early in the parliamentary session,” Nielsen said in a March 11 news release.

“This (legislation) lessens the burden of the carbon tax on our farmer members ahead of a crucial spring seeding season.”

“Sen. Griffin articulated very well just why the carbon tax is simply not workable for farmers, and why these broader exemptions for fuel used to dry our grain is so important right now,” he added.

“There are simply no alternatives to fossil fuels to dry our grain and those costs are coming at a time that farmers can afford it least.”

Nielsen said GGC is hopeful that one of the private member’s bills will be passed into law in advance of the 2020 harvest to ensure the taxes are not applied to the cost of grain drying this fall.

But in a March 13 interview with the Western Producer, Griffin said it’s unlikely that either bill will receive royal assent before the 2020 harvest season begins.

Before receiving royal assent, the bills would require three readings in each house and would also need to be referred to parliamentary committees for review and possible amendments.

Earlier this week, both houses of Parliament were suspended until late April due to the COVID-19 virus. Parliament is also scheduled to break for summer in late-June and is not expected to reconvene until late September, leaving little time to advance the proposed legislations.

Further complicating the situation is the fact that membership on the Senate agriculture committee has yet to be determined.

Griffin said it may be unrealistic to expect that either bill would become law prior to October or November.

“It’s going to be tough, especially because of this long break that we’re having now,” she said.

“I’m thinking that we probably won’t be seeing this (Bill S-215) get through Senate before late June … (and) even if it did pass Senate in June and get handed over to the House of Commons … there’s not a lot of time (allocated in the House of Commons) to private members’ business.”

Griffin said it’s unlikely that either bill would garner general support from the Liberal government.

The Trudeau Liberals are reluctant to grant carbon tax exemptions because they fear that granting breaks to agricultural producers will lead to similar requests from other business sectors.

“I’m hopeful that this will be self-evident as a good bill,” Griffin said.

“Even though the government is worried about setting a precedent for (carbon tax) exemptions … this is a good thing to do.”

Contact brian.cross@producer.com

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