OTTAWA — A carbon-tax exemption bill for grain-drying and barn-heating still awaits a third and final vote in the House of Commons, but the bill remains on track to pass both the House and Senate and become law by summer. However, this means farmers won’t get relief in time to avoid the next scheduled April Fool’s Day carbon-tax increase.
Mark Choi, a policy advisor in the office of Official Opposition agriculture critic John Barlow (CON – Foothills) told Farmers Forum there’s a “good chance” MPs will cast their final vote on private member’s bill C-234 by March 31st — and possibly a day or two earlier. If those dates don’t pan out, the vote should then occur on April 17th.
As in previous votes, the opposition parties are expected to vote in favour of the bill, which is opposed by the minority Liberal government. The bill would then proceed to the Senate, and Choi says it’s expected that Senator Rob Black will shepherd the legislation through the upper chamber.
“It could take a few months,” Choi said. “In a perfect world,” he added, the bill should win Senate approval and receive Royal Assent before parliament breaks for summer on June 23.
Once passed into law, the bill — spearheaded by MP Ben Lobb (CON – Huron-Bruce) — would immediately exempt fuel used to dry grain and heat barns from the carbon tax. The exemption would last eight years, under a sunset clause put into the bill at the committee stage late last year. However, the clause allows MPs to extend the exemption with a simple, single vote in the future.
The grain sector in particular has been lobbying hard for relief from the Trudeau government’s carbon tax ever since it was imposed in 2019. The tax raises the propane and natural gas bills of grain-drying operators by thousands of dollars each month.
The bill will also level the playing field for heated agricultural production structures. Currently, according to Choi, greenhouses and cannabis-growing facilities are charged only 20% of the usual carbon-tax rate, while heated mushroom production facilities and livestock barns must pay 100%. Choi said the presence of windows in a greenhouse defines its different treatment from a windowless mushroom facility — and yet cannabis facilities typically don’t have windows, either.
A similar bill nearly made it into law in 2021 but died in the Senate when Trudeau called an election that summer. Morrisburg cash cropper Warren Schneckenburger expressed concern that bill C-234 is at risk of the same fate. “I feel we’re coming into an election, but I would hate to see it fall a second time,” Schneckenburger said of the bill.
The carbon tax only worsens the competitive disadvantages of the Ontario grain grower, he observed. “We’re already disadvantaged geographically that we have to dry a significant portion of our grains. And that is only getting more expensive.”
Vankleek Hill cash-cropper and elevator operator Kevin Wilson also warned that the carbon tax — along with other federal climate policies — handicaps domestic producers and tilts the advantage to foreign food imports. “It’s sad that a country as vast as ours has to import resources from other countries, but we’ll see that (happen) … if the cost of production keeps going up and up and up,” Wilson said.
But he added that the “reality” of the carbon tax is that it buys urban votes, trumping the increased costs imposed on farmers and agribusinesses. “In fact, the carbon tax rebate will buy a bus pass in the GTA … It’s a straight expense to us (in agriculture), but to the city dweller, they see a different value to the carbon tax, and that is what our government is buying votes with.”