Farmers caught in political games over carbon tax

Beginning with the Green Shift policy in the federal Liberal platform of 2008, the party showed that it really didn’t understand the physics of carbon in crop and livestock production or the economics. Or, maybe they do.

And now as government, with little to no representation in rural, agricultural Canada, they might be choosing to put the screws to their political enemies, using farmers for leverage on the dials.

To give the current government some credit, it appears to have been building on a 2007 National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy report that said Canada needed to move away from public policy directions that recognized storage technologies and practices, granting carbon credits for these, and penalized polluters instead.

However it was a Liberal party in opposition and later in government that said Canadian agriculture would not necessarily see its operations subject to a carbon tax.

Canada, as an export-dependent nation, does have to recognize that global markets do have expectations that it will do its part to meet international climate change goals. If it doesn’t, it will face steep trade penalties. One needn’t believe climate change is real to understand that Canada’s agricultural customers do.

Over the next nine years, the government’s carbon policy will reach the point where it will cost most grain farmers about $30 per acre annually. That alone is $5 per acre more than many modern farm operations had for a margin since the end of the last commodity price boom.

All new costs in commodities-agriculture come to the farmer. Supply and demand economics dictate these cannot be shared with the rest of the value chain for any significant time. And these new costs will leave Canadian farmers carrying a major burden that their global competitors do not have.

That $30 per acre farming tax is money that needs to be invested in new technologies and infrastructure in agriculture, not transferred to other sectors of the economy to build solar panels, buy electric cars for commuters, rebate homeowners or filter factory emissions.

Last week the federal minister of agriculture said farmers’ international competitors will also be facing carbon tax challenges. But few to none exist to date, and likely won’t or will be offset with carbon storage credits.

Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau also said that farmers have access to a few new federal funds to develop and take advantage of technologies that could potentially lower energy consumption. That would be great if step-change technologies existed in commercial agriculture to do that.

There are no new technologies, no science, that will dry grain, build nitrogen fertilizers or haul commodities to and from tide water with any significant energy efficiency improvements. These would be in use already.

For our federal minister to suggest this amounts to a “then let them eat cake” moment and is disrespectful to producers and the industry she is supposed to represent in cabinet.

It was disingenuous and anti-science at best. Shame on you, madam minister, and shame on your government for suggesting it is the case.

Last week, the minister also suggested that farmers need not pay the ever-expanding tax. About that she was right. If the provinces have their own provincial carbon tax programs they are free to rebate any or all of the farm carbon taxes to producers.

And there may lie the reasons for her disingenuousness.

Farmers had been asking for improvements to AgriStability. The federal government agreed to them. But the conservatively led provinces have resisted because of their responsibilities for the costs.

It is also up those conservative governments to adopt their own carbon tax regimes to ensure farmers don’t pay an unfair carbon tax.

A pattern may be developing here.

Karen Briere, Bruce Dyck, Barb Glen and Mike Raine collaborate in the writing of Western Producer editorials.

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