By Connor Lynch
JASPER — The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) thought that farmers were going to be earning money from a provincial plan to curb carbon emissions. But when the province introduced its cap-and-trade scheme on Jan. 1, not only was there no benefit, they were slapped with a carbon tax on diesel. Farmers are now paying an extra 5 to 6 cents per litre for gasoline and diesel.
Although the carbon credits aren’t there, they are coming, said OFA president Keith Currie. “It’s not that they won’t be there. They just aren’t there yet.” The OFA met with the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change last month.
Farmers Forum asked Currie, given the amount of time the province has spent on this file, why carbon credits to offset the gas price hike aren’t already in place.
“That’s a valid question, and to be honest I haven’t had a valid answer,” he said. “The only one who could answer that question is the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change.”
Ontario’s environment critic, Lisa Thompson (PC-Huron-Bruce), agreed those credits are unequivocally going to be coming. But farmers won’t see any benefits for at least three years.
Back in 2015, OFA past-president Don McCabe wrote that “The cap and trade principle chosen by the Ontario government needs the addition of offsets to provide a strong, cost-effective, environmentally-proven solution for society” and that the program could even be “a new modest revenue stream for Ontario farmers in the carbon credit trading market.”
Ontario’s Climate Change Action Plan states that: “Due to their ability to remove carbon from the atmosphere, Ontario’s agriculture, forestry, lands, and resource recovery sectors will be able to supply carbon offsets” which could be sold as credits and purchased by carbon emitting companies.
OFA director Eleanor Renaud, a beef farmer who cash crops at Jasper, said the meeting with the ministry raised more questions than answers.
“Really, they didn’t say much,” Renaud told Farmers Forum. “ ‘We’re working on protocols for offsets which might be ready for 2018.’ My argument is, I’m spending all this money now. They said maybe the offsets could be retroactive.
“They’ve already been at this thing for three years. What’s taking so long?
“I don’t see how I can pencil it out with the vague promise that there will be offsets that may or may not give me more dollars. I know you’re not going to get rich on this and I don’t expect to. I would just like to not be at a disadvantage.”
Northumberland County OFA director Bruce Buttar said that after the OFA had been pushing for carbon offsets, not seeing them up front in the scheme has made the organization “a little bit skeptical, because we felt it should’ve been there right from the start.”
McCabe dismissed concerns about the absence of carbon offsets for farmers. But a cap-and-trade scheme with no carbon credits for farmers begs the question:
“Are they coming at all?” Farmers Forum asked.
“Stop looking for a conspiracy theory and start following the ball,” McCabe said. “The offsets are locked in law. The reality is the issue is getting things operational.”
The cap-and-trade bill makes mention of agriculture and carbon sequestering under its section on initiatives. But it says only that given initiatives “may be funded” and then only if it is “reasonably likely to reduce, or support the reduction of, greenhouse gas.”
Cap and trade was the best option given the situation, said McCabe. “The OFA never asked for carbon to be priced. The best way for it to be priced is through cap and trade, so now we need to get (carbon offsets) through the door as quickly as possible.
“The OFA has consistently been at the table to make sure those offsets are there. The timing is off, but the OFA is not responsible for the timing on these programs.”