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Red Deer-Lacombe MP frustrated carbon tax relief for farmers being held up

A watered-down carbon tax relief bill still in House of Commons

Red Deer-Lacombe MP Blaine Calkins remains frustrated that a bill designed to give agriculture producers a carbon tax break has been stymied by the Liberal government.

The Senate passed bill C-234 in December, but only after a pair of amendments were made that critics argue undermined the intent of the legislation aimed at taking the carbon tax off natural gas and propane used by farmers for running grain dryers or for heating barns and greenhouses.

The amendments in the bill sent back to the House of Commons eliminate any reference to heating barns or greenhouses and tighten the timeline for the legislation from eight years to three.

“It’s very disappointing that the unelected Senate took the liberty that they did to change the bill that was passed by a majority of MPs in the House of Commons,” said Calkins.

He wants to see the amendments reversed and the original bill passed in its original form.

“I have seen the invoices from many central Alberta farmers. This tax is thousands, tens of thousands of dollars in some cases, for these farmers. That’s money right out of the bottom line of that farming operation.”

The federal government exempted agriculture diesel and gasoline, but did not include propane and natural gas.

Farmers have no alternative but to use the taxed fuel, Calkins said.

“They cannot store wet grain. They cannot leave animals in a situation where they are under-performing because of cold temperatures.

“There’s no alternative to switch to yet the government continues to punish farmers and we all know that these costs get passed on.”

Calkins said carbon taxes are due to increase by 23 per cent on April 1 and will eventually quadruple.

The bill was debated in the House of Commons on Feb. 6 but a final vote has not yet been taken.

“It’s not over yet, but it’s not looking good,” he said.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) weighed in on Tuesday, calling on MPs to pass the bill in its original form.

The Parliamentary Budget Officer reported that the Senate’s amendments could cost farmers $910 million by 2030, said the federation. A previous report from the budget officer estimated the carbon tax on natural gas and propane will cost farmers $1 billion by 2030, says the CTF.

“Farmers have been waiting too long for much-needed relief,” said CTF Prairie director Gage Haubrich. “The House of Commons already passed this bill twice, now it’s time for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to ensure the original C-234 becomes law.”

Lethbridge MP Rachael Thomas said during the House of Commons debate last week that the carbon tax was “extremely punitive in nature.

“It goes after those individuals working hard to produce food. It does that by applying this tax to the very necessities of production,” she said.

Thomas accused the prime minister and environment minister of putting pressure on Senators to change a bill that initially appeared to have solid support.

“The bill ended up being gutted to the point of being meaningless, and that is what we are now debating in this place.”

Julie Dabrusin, parliamentary secretary to the ministers of environment and climate and energy and natural resources, defended the tax, saying it is necessary to take action on climate change to protect farmers and agriculture.

Dabrusin pointed out farmers’ diesel and gasoline are exempt and eligible greenhouses can get exemptions relieving them of 80 per cent of natural gas and propane costs.

Refundable tax credits are available that are generally equal to the estimated propane and natural gas fuel charges, she said. That provides support to farmers without undermining the effectiveness of pollution pricing by maintaining the “price signal” to reduce emissions, she said.

Bill C-234 would completely remove the price signal necessary for carbon pricing to work, she said.

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