Farm groups are calling on senators to reject any amendments to Bill C-234 coming from the Senate’s agriculture and forestry committee.
The private member’s bill, which was was originally designed to remove the federal carbon price or tax from natural gas and propane used on farms for activities such as drying grain and heating barns and greenhouses, is facing a critical vote when it returns from the committee to the Senate.
If the Senate as a whole accepts an amendment that was approved by the Senate ag committee last week to remove the carbon tax exemption for buildings, the entire bill would have to be sent back to the House of Commons where it could be delayed indefinitely. However, if senators take the unusual step of rejecting a committee’s amendment, the original bill could be presented for third and final reading in the Senate — the last step before receiving Royal Assent.
In an effort to get the bill across the finish line, the Agriculture Carbon Alliance, which represents 15* national farm and commodity organizations advocating for passage of the bill, is organizing a campaign to have farm groups and farmers contact senators and ask them to reject any amendments coming from the ag committee, explains alliance co-chair Dave Carey, who also leads government relations for the Canadian Canola Growers Association.
Having senators vote against a committee’s recommendations is somewhat rare, but the way the bill has been treated throughout the legislative process has also not been the norm, says Carey in the interview below, recorded prior to the Senate ag committee’s meeting scheduled for Tuesday evening.
There have been multiple unusual procedural maneuvers that appear to be coordinated in an effort to block or delay the bill at the Senate committee stage, he says.
For example, Carey says it was abnormal to have vocal opponents of the bill that are closely aligned with the Liberal government, such as Senator Pierre Dalphond and Senator Yuen Pau Woo, shuffled onto the ag committee when the bill was brought forward. The deputy representative for the government in the Senate, Senator Patti LaBoucane-Benson, also joined the ag committee only for the clause-by-clause stage, without having participated in earlier meetings where witnesses discussed the merits of the bill.
“It breaks convention and breaks the norm. This is not typical. So the only thing, without getting overly Machiavellian, that you can really read into it is that the Prime Minister’s Office or the powers that be are directly interfering in the Senate process,” he says.
There was also a break from convention last week when Senate committee chair Senator Rob Black ruled that proposed amendments were out of order for going against the spirit and intent of the bill that was approved in the House of Commons. His deputy chair, Alberta Senator Paula Simons, made the unusual move of abstaining from voting, which resulted in Black’s ruling being overturned. Simons, who was seen as an early supporter of the bill, then surprised Carey and other farm group representatives watching the meeting by voting in favour of the amendment to remove buildings from the exemption in C-234.
“I have significant concerns that the chair of the Senate Standing Committee on Agriculture ruled the amendments out of order and was defeated procedurally by a vote because the committee was stacked in a certain way that they were not ag committee members who had been there deliberating the merits of the bill. It was for procedural reasons,” says Carey.
He says the ACA and its members plan to meet with many senators to discuss the path forward for C-234 in the coming days, including as part of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture’s “Hill Day” on Tuesday and during the Canadian Canola Growers Association’s lobby day on November 7.
They expect to have a better understanding of where the Senate votes lie on rejecting the amendments after the committee finishes its clause-by-clause approval process. The wildcard will be the Progressive Senators Group — the senators that were members of the Liberal caucus before Prime Minister declared them to be independent in 2014 but who still work closely with the government.
“It would be concerning, but there’s a good chance that the Progressive Senators whip the vote, which would mean that the party leadership says you’re voting a certain way. Again, this doesn’t typically happen with the private member’s bill,” says Carey.
“I am quite confident that so long as senators understand how we got here with the amendments, through a number of communications we and our members will be doing over the course of this week and media interviews like this, that senators will see the validity of returning the bill to its original form,” he continues.
In the meantime, while the ACA is preparing resources to help farmers contact their senators, Carey urges producers to look up contact information for senators from their province online and then encourage them to support the original version of the bill.
C-234 was approved in the House of Commons earlier this year with support from all Conservative, NDP, Bloc, and Green MPs, as well as three Liberal members. An earlier version of the bill — C-206 — was also approved by the House of Commons, but died in the Senate when the 2021 federal election was called.
* The Agriculture Carbon Alliance’s members include the Canadian Canola Growers Association, Canadian Federation of Agriculture, Canadian Cattle Association, Grain Growers of Canada, Canadian Pork Council, Chicken Farmers of Canada, Turkey Farmers of Canada, Fruit and Vegetable Growers of Canada, Canadian Hatching Egg Producers, Canadian Forage and Grassland Association, National Sheep Network, National Cattle Feeders’ Association, Dairy Farmers of Canada, Canadian Seed Growers’ Association, and Mushrooms Canada.