Bill C-234 could be in trouble if Senate doesn't reject its own ag committee's amendments

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The proposed legislation aimed at removing the federal carbon tax from propane and natural gas used on farms is only a few steps away from becoming law, but the actions of a few senators last week have created a high stakes political scenario that will determine whether Bill C-234 lives — or ends up on life support.

Passage of the bill will likely require the majority of senators to take an unusual position of rejecting amendments approved by the Senate’s own agriculture and forestry committee, according to multiple stakeholders in political and farm group circles that RealAgriculture has spoken with over the past few days.

The Senate committee somewhat unexpectedly passed an amendment brought forward last week by the bill’s critic, Senator Pierre Dalphond, that would remove the carbon tax exemption for heating and cooling of farm buildings, including barns. Dalphond and others opposed to the bill on the Senate committee are expected to push for additional amendments at the group’s next meeting scheduled for Tuesday evening.

Looking ahead, if the Senate ag committee’s amendments are not rejected, and are accepted by the Senate as a whole at the report stage, the revised bill will have to be sent back to the House of Commons.

At first glance, that might look like a delay tactic on the part of the bill’s critics, given that C-234 has received majority support in the House of Commons from all Conservative, Bloc, New Democrat, and Green MPs, as well as three Liberals, but there are major concerns from farm groups that the return to the House of Commons would strand the bill and guarantee a slow, drawn-out death. That would mean the exemption on grain drying would die, too.

That’s because unlike a government bill where a minister can move to end debate in the House of Commons, C-234 is a private member’s bill, which means that without unanimous consent from the House of Commons, the government could delay it indefinitely until it dies on the Order Paper when an election is called or Parliament is prorogued.

As a result, farm groups and proponents of C-234 will be lobbying senators in the coming days to reject the amendments when ag committee chair Senator Rob Black, who is a proponent of the bill, shares the committee’s recommendations with the broader Senate at a yet-to-be-determined date in the near future.

It’s not clear why Senator Dalphond and Senator Woo — both appointed by Prime Minister Trudeau — are putting up such a fight against the bill at the committee stage. It’s possible the Liberals’ braintrust sees the bill as undercutting its carbon pricing regime, but there are other exemptions, including for marked gasoline and diesel used on farms.

There’s also some speculation the Treasury Board’s recent focus on finding savings is a factor, as the Parliamentary Budget Office estimated C-234 would result in nearly a billion dollars in forgone carbon tax revenues collected from farmers by 2030. The critics of the bill may also be seeking commitments from their counterparts, as horse-trading to advance legislation is a reality in the so-called independent Senate.

That being said, House of Commons agriculture committee chair Kody Blois, one of the three Liberal MPs to vote in favour of the bill, was highly critical of Dalphond’s amendment while discussing the events in the Senate on RealAg Radio on Friday.

“I don’t want to play the urban-rural bit, but you have two senators in Senator Woo from downtown Vancouver and Senator Dalphond from downtown Montreal. This is the most popular private member’s bill in rural Canada, and it matters. I would agree it’s not going to solve food price inflation. It’s not going to solve all the challenges on farm, but it is a step I think in the right direction,” said Blois, also highlighting the eight-year sunset clause in the bill.

“I will be doing everything I can, if it does come back to the House, to make sure that the majority of MPs that voted for this would also not accept the Senate amendments,” he continued.

Looking back, C-234 — first introduced by Ontario MP Ben Lobb in February 2022 — is the second piece of legislation aimed at removing the federal carbon price from on-farm propane and natural gas to nearly reach Royal Assent, as Bill C-206 also cleared the House of Commons with multi-party support. It died in the Senate in August 2021 when Trudeau called a federal election.

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