House passes bill creating carve-outs for farmers in Canada’s carbon pricing scheme
A field of wheat is pictured near Cremona, Alta., Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
By David Fraser in Ottawa
A private member’s bill that would create specific carve-outs for farmers in Canada’s carbon pricing scheme has passed in the House of Commons.
The bill would exempt farmers from paying for emissions from natural gas and propane they use for certain activities performed on their farms, such as drying grain, preparing feed, irrigating and heating barns.
It passed with the support of Conservative, NDP, Bloc Québécois and Green Party MPs, with a few Liberals, including agriculture committee chair Kody Blois, joining the opposition parties to vote in favour.
The private member’s bill introduced by Conservative MP Ben Lobb in February 2022, which would not exempt farmers from the carbon price for activities performed off-site, will now be debated in the Senate.
Farmer groups have said they are facing rising production costs, and the proposed law would give them critical financial relief from rising costs.
The Agriculture Carbon Alliance, which was created by industry groups in 2021 in response to the federal Liberals’ climate policies and advocates for sustainable farming, celebrated the bill’s progress on Thursday.
“This legislation will provide farmers with the resources to invest in innovative and sustainable on-farm practices, while ensuring the stability of our food supply,” said Dave Carey, the group’s co-chair, in a statement.
The executive director of one of its members, the Grain Growers of Canada, said the law will offer significant relief if it is passed.
“As long as we don’t have an alternative to fossil fuels, then there is no sense in punishing Canadian farmers for growing food,” Erin Gowriluk said.
Not all are celebrating the law’s advancement, however.
Tim Gray, executive director of the advocacy group Environmental Defence, said the law would weaken the government’s response to climate change.
“Exempting these high-emission activities from carbon pricing for farmers will only further encourage other sectors to demand similar treatment,” he said in a statement.
“This is already a problem as many industries, especially the oil and gas sector, have successfully lobbied for, and achieved, favourable treatment, which allows them to pay a much lower carbon price than others, regardless of their lack of actual degree of being energy intensive and trade exposed.”
Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau maintains that the federal government is helping farmers reduce their carbon footprints and ease financial burdens through a $3.5-billion sustainable agricultural partnership with provinces.
The federal carbon price already features an exemption for gasoline and light fuel oil costs used in tractors and trailers.
But farm groups have long contended that further exemptions are needed, and have at times disputed the federal government’s characterization of how much the carbon price is costing producers, especially when it comes to drying grain. Grain must be dried before it can be stored and sold, particularly during wet harvests.
The bill that will now be debated in the Senate would only carve out exemptions for farmers who dry grain on their properties, and would not apply to off-farm activities. The law also includes a sunset clause that would allow a government to add, remove or renew the exemptions in eight years.
A previous bill introduced by a Conservative MP and widely supported by farm groups, which would have carved out similar exemptions, died on the order paper prior to the 2021 federal election.
Bibeau responded to farmers’ concerns at the time by announcing dollars to help producers make their own grain-drying operations more environmentally sustainable.
The federal government says it is now spending $37.1 million on 99 grain drying projects as part of its $495.7 million Agricultural Clean Technology program.
Gowriluk said that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has had an impact on the way that federal politicians discuss agricultural policy, arguing that the conversation to focus on what Canada can do to help internationally.
A significant part of that is to “grow as much as we possibly can,” she said.
“There’s an increasing recognition from Canadian politicians that this isn’t easy, and if there’s anything they can do to alleviate the burden, and help keep farmers in the green rather than the red, then they’re prepared to step up and do that.”
Though it is rare for private member’s bills to make it all the way through Parliament, minority government situations can create more collaboration between parties.
A second private member’s bill focused on the Liberals’ climate policy passed in the House of Commons during the same sitting this week, with support from Liberal MPs and ministers.
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May proposed the law, which would require the government to develop a national strategy to address environmental racism within two years of its passage.
A previous version of the bill, introduced by former Liberal MP Lenore Zann, also died on the order paper in 2021 prior to the election.
May acknowledged this week during debate about the bill that the law will require the government to play ball.
“It will then need to have the support from the government of the day and the support of the finance minister to fund the programs, so that communities of colour, Indigenous communities and poor communities are not left without access to environmental justice,” she told MPs.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 30, 2023.
ALBERTA WILDFIRE – FUNDING ANNOUNCEMENTS
We understand the significant impact that these wildfires have had on our agricultural communities, and we are committed to providing assistance where it is needed the most.
We have two grants that we can apply for in order to secure funding for wildfires. The application deadline for both grants is June 15th.
If your organization has incurred expenses related to aiding your community during this crisis, we encourage you to apply for funding.
Applications for funding must be submitted no later than June 15th, 2023.
We’re proud to offer support for agricultural producers affected by recent wildfires,
provided by TELUS Agriculture & Consumer Goods.
CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION
Applications for relief must be submitted by JUNE 15, 2023.
Nature Conservancy of Canada releases action plan to protect Prairie grasslands
Grasslands are shown in a Nature Conservancy of Canada handout photo. The Nature Conservancy of Canada has announced a plan to protect Prairie grasslands, considered one of the most endangered and least protected ecosystems in the country. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Nature Conservancy of Canada
By Colette Derworiz in Calgary
The Nature Conservancy of Canada has announced a plan to protect iconic Prairie grasslands, considered one of the most endangered and least protected ecosystems in the country.
The plan aims to raise $500 million by 2030 to conserve more than 5,000 square kilometres — about six times the size of Calgary — in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
“What we’re trying to do is accelerate the rate of conservation in the Prairie Provinces, specifically in the grasslands,” Jeremy Hogan, the non-profit organization’s director of prairie grassland conservation, said in an interview.
“They are Canada’s most endangered ecosystem. There’s only about 18 per cent left of the Great Plains Prairie grasslands in Canada and we continue to lose about (600 square kilometres) a year.”
Grasslands, he said, are often converted to fields for growing crops or taken over by expanding cities and towns.
But he calls them an “unsung hero” for the environment.
“They provide a lot of what we call ecosystem services,” he said. “So, they provide a lot of benefit to everyday Canadians’ lives, even if you don’t live or work in the grasslands.”
They store and filter water, preventing both floods and droughts. They improve water quality. They keep soil in place, because of extensive root networks, so there’s less erosion along lakes and rivers.
Hogan said grasslands also are important for reducing the effects of climate change.
“The carbon storage in grasslands is incredible and it’s all stored securely underground,” he said. “So, when you get these kinds of fires like the ones that are happening in Alberta right now, carbon stored in the grasslands isn’t threatened by those fires like carbon stored in forests.”
Across Alberta, wildfires have already scorched more than 10,000 square kilometres of forest this year.
Horgan said grasslands can also be an economic benefit for local communities and are essential to food security.
“A lot of the grasslands that are intact today are working ranches,” he said. “So, the grasslands are operated as cattle operations. As long as the cattle are grazed sustainably, it’s actually a mutually beneficial relationship.
“It requires a little bit of disturbance from grazing animals to maintain range health … and then on the flip side of that is a healthy sustainable grazing operation leads to more nutritious forage for cattle. So, it’s actually a win-win for ranchers and the environment.”
Duane Thompson, chairman of the environment committee with the Canadian Cattle Association, said in a statement that farmers and ranchers are proud of their role in managing and protecting the at-risk ecosystems. They are often involved in nature conservancy projects to protect grasslands.
Outside of Waterton Lakes National Park in southern Alberta, a 16.5 square kilometre property known as The Yarrow has been conserved after a $6.9-million fundraising campaign. It features grasslands, wetlands, creeks, mixed forests and includes 27 wildlife species.
The organization now wants to protect grasslands in the Cypress Uplands Natural Area in southwestern Saskatchewan. They rise more than 600 metres, the highest elevation east of the Canadian Rockies, and are home to pronghorn, deer, elk and cougars. The area also has the highest diversity of birds, including burrowing owl, common nighthawk and ferruginous hawk, in that province.
East of Brandon, the nature conservancy has also secured its largest-ever conservation agreement in Manitoba. The 21 Farms project, which is 4.5 square kilometres, boasts mixed-grass prairie, as well as sandhill prairie and sandhill forest, and is home to the Sprague’s pipit and a large Sharp-tail grouse lek.
“That’s one of the cool points about the Prairie grasslands,” said Hogan. “It’s not just this one block of grass. It’s very, very diverse west to east and changes with different topography and soil type.”
The action plan, he said, hopes to raise money to continue protecting those types of areas across all three provinces before they disappear.
“It’s not too late to act, but we’re getting there,” said Hogan. “The fact that there is only 18 per cent left is a very real and dangerous thing to grasslands. Once you reach a certain point, there’s no going back.
“What is left is worth protecting and it’s worth protecting urgently.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 5, 2023.
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