Bibeau still unconvinced of carbon pricing impact

A grocer posts the effects of a carbon tax in Australia in 2012, shortly after the tax was introduced.  |  Flickr/Stephan Ridgway photo

OTTAWA — Canada’s Minister of Agriculture Marie-Claude Bibeau says she needs more evidence of how the federal carbon tax is affecting farms.

During an interview at the end of 2019, Bibeau questioned the impact of levies used to curtail carbon emissions in agriculture and said she will seek more information.

“We want to make sure that we work to decrease the level of emissions that we create,” she said. “Having said that, the agriculture sector in general is differently impacted and we do recognize that.”

The federal government has recognized the unique situation of agriculture, according to Bibeau and countless news releases from her ministry, and that is shown by the exemptions and additional credits offered under the federal carbon pricing scheme.

The federal carbon pricing plan offers relief for gasoline and light fuel oil costs used in tractors and trucks. Canadian farmers are also not accountable for certain emissions from their farming operations, such as methane from cattle or nitrous oxide from cropland. There is no exemption for other costs, such as grain drying or heating.

“We do recognize there are special considerations to be taken into account,” Bibeau said.

However, she still questions the overall impact a price on carbon has on the agriculture sector.

“I am at the point of building a case. So I’m asking my colleagues, I’m asking industry to share evidence,” she said.

“This is the case that I am building right now, to see if, in fact, I do have a case to present in front of the Minister of Environment and the Minister of Finance. I cannot go just on feelings. I have to go with a case built on evidence and this is what I’m building right now, with the collaboration of my provincial colleagues and the collaboration of the industry that is affected,” she said.

Asked if seeing high grain drying bills regularly posted to social media is enough evidence for her to advocate for an exemption on such costs, Bibeau could not.

“I don’t want to go on feelings, but I’m more than willing to advocate once I have the case in front of me,” she said. “I just need more evidence to see the impact it’s had on a farm.”

“This is really what I need to (do), because at the same time I have to make sure that we as an industry do what we need to do to fight climate change,” she said, noting she is aware there is much work already being done.

She offered February as the earliest timeline for movement on the file.

Bibeau also expected to improve export markets in 2020. Despite several new trade deals being signed, she wants producers and exporters to “really benefit from all these agreements.”

“We can do much more. We’re not benefiting enough yet from these agreements,” she said. “There’s some things that the industry has to do, but definitely the government has a responsibility and a role to play and to facilitate the accessing (of) new markets.”

Her office is also expecting to continue to improve business risk management (BRM) programs, citing recent changes to AgriStability as a “step in the right direction.”

But she recognizes more is expected from industry: BRM programs have long been a gripe producer groups have with the federal government, and Bibeau is not shying away from this.

“We want to be sure that we are putting our efforts, and eventually more money, in the right programs,” she said, noting the programs are cost-shared with the provinces and would require flexibility from treasury boards at the provincial and federal levels. “To do so, we have to build a good case and this is what we are all working on together in a very collaborative way.”

Her office now pegs the cost of improving BRM programs to be “more or less $400 million.”

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