Critic plays politics with Bibeau, but he makes a valid point

Conservative agriculture critic John Barlow may be playing a bit of politics in his latest attack on federal Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau, but the point he is making has validity to it.

On Jan. 28, Barlow stood in the House of Commons and referenced the “extremely difficult” harvest farmers experienced this fall.

“Farmers had to dry their grain and the carbon tax cost them billions of dollars, money they do not have,” he said, before alluding to recent Glacier FarmMedia reporting that “the agriculture minister still says she does not know how the carbon tax will impact farmers.”

Barlow then read a response to a formal written question he had asked Bibeau’s office about an exemption for Canadian farmers from the carbon tax.

“In her response, she admitted she and her department ‘does not have information concerning the administration of the federal carbon tax,’ ” Barlow told the House of Commons.

While it continues to baffle how Bibeau can reasonably plead ignorance on the carbon tax’s industry-wide impact, it is the job of her colleagues in the finance department, led by Bill Morneau, to administrate and evaluate its financial impact.

Taking aim at Bibeau’s office partially ignores this, suggesting a dose of political gamesmanship involved.

Nonetheless, we should not excuse Bibeau from her continued unfamiliarity with the program’s impact, especially given recent assertions from her that she is gathering information on the very subject.

So the question he presented to his parliamentary colleagues is a good one, if a bit political: “How can the Liberals implement a crippling carbon tax on Canadian agriculture without having any clue how it will impact hard-working farm families?”

At some point in the next few months — possibly as soon as this month —Bibeau’s office is expected to reach some sort of conclusion on its review of how the carbon tax is affecting the agricultural sector.

What happens after is anyone’s guess, but it would be unwise to anticipate a major overhaul given the federal government’s continued desire to achieve its climate targets.

Adding to the silliness of Bibeau’s suggestion that she doesn’t have enough information is word from producer groups, provincial governments and her own department that ever since announcing a need for more data at the end of 2019, she has been getting it.

Folks are sending in their grain drying bills and organizations such as Keystone Agricultural Producers in Manitoba are releasing numbers. KAP’s initial data showed that Manitoba producers will have paid almost $1.7 million this harvest in carbon taxes related to the cost of drying grain on their corn alone.

Adding to all this is a sense of frustration that Bibeau failed to visit a farm while in Manitoba for the recent Liberal cabinet retreat. She had offers and was well-positioned geographically to do some bridge building. Failure to do so was a missed opportunity to gain a dose of political goodwill.

This is an example of Bibeau’s office being outmanoeuvred politically by her opponents. While she continues to suggest she doesn’t have the data necessary to choose a side on the future of carbon pricing and buys time, opponents of the policy will keep criticizing the delay in a well-co-ordinated fashion.

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