Carbon tax ruling disappoints farm groups

Western Canadian farm organizations say last week’s Supreme Court of Canada decision that upheld Ottawa’s right to impose a carbon tax is disappointing.

Many supported the efforts of the Saskatchewan, Alberta and Ontario governments to fight the tax, saying farmers have no way to pass on the extra costs, after the federal government implemented the tax in 2019.

Although fuel used in farm vehicles is exempt from the tax, other activities are not. For example, the rainy harvest that same year required extensive grain drying that added significantly to the carbon tax farmers paid.

Federal agriculture minister Marie-Claude Bibeau and Jim Carr, minister responsible for the West, have both said relief is coming.

But the court decision adds to western farmers’ concern that Ottawa doesn’t understand their economic reality. The Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan said farm sustainability is at risk.

APAS has estimated the cost of producing one acre of wheat will rise by $12.50 when the tax is fully implemented at $170 per tonne in 2030. That includes the tax paid on trucking, rail freight and grain drying.

“APAS decided to get involved as an intervenor in the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal case because agriculture and environment are shared federal-provincial areas of jurisdiction, and policymaking in those areas works best when it’s developed by both levels of government and reflects the best interests of those sectors,” said president Todd Lewis.

Western Canadian Wheat Growers said taxing farmers to reduce greenhouse gases is an “ill conceived” idea.

“They are placing a huge financial burden on family farms,” said president Gunter Jochum. “I am concerned that many family farms will be taxed so high that the next generation will leave the industry.”

Research has shown grain farmers are already net-zero emitters due to technologies such as no-till seeding, he said.

Team Alberta, a group that includes the province’s barley, canola, pulse and wheat growers, said that province must now develop its own plan that will ensure economic sustainability.

The Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in favour of the federal government’s position, saying it was a matter of national concern. Two judges fully dissented and a third partially disagreed.

The dissenters warned of the intrusion by the federal government into provincial jurisdiction. Both Saskatchewan premier Scott Moe and Alberta premier Jason Kenney said they were concerned about exactly that.

Moe said a provincial plan is coming and he expected Ottawa to approve it. Opposition leader Ryan Meili agreed with Moe that it must include exemptions for grain drying.

Kenney noted that two-thirds of voters in that province oppose a carbon tax.

“We’re going to consider all options, listen to Albertans and see what they want to do,” he said.

Meanwhile, premier Brian Pallister said Manitoba would continue its legal challenge of the tax, which it is fighting on different grounds.

Manitoba had planned to introduce a $25-per-tonne tax on July 1, 2020, along with a cut in PST, but Ottawa said that wasn’t good enough.

“I think we’ve made a compelling case, a better case frankly I would have to say than our other provincial counterparts made because… we stepped up and we demonstrated we were ready to act on climate change,” Pallister said.

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