Farm groups call for restoration of C-234, as Senate sends carved-out bill back to the House of Commons

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A majority of senators voted in favour of a twice-amended version of Bill C-234 at third reading on Tuesday night, sending the hollowed-out bill back to the House of Commons.

MPs in the Commons previously approved the private member’s bill, which would have removed the federal carbon tax from natural gas and propane used on farms for eight years, in March.

However, the Senate passed two last-minute amendments at third reading, sending it back to the House of Commons where the governing Liberals can delay it indefinitely.

The first amendment removed barns and farm buildings from the proposed carbon tax exemption and the second shortened the eight year sunset period to three years, significantly reducing any potential impact of the bill. If the amended bill would become law, the carbon tax exemption would be limited to grain drying, and for only three years.

Farm groups are calling on MPs to restore and approve the original version of the bill, which all Conservative, New Democrat, Bloc Quebecois, and Green MPs, as well as several Liberals, voted in favour of during its first trip through the House of Commons.

“Our ask of parliamentarians, our members of Parliament would be to reject the amendments. You’ve already duly passed this bill whole. We are now working to make sure  the support we had previously still remains,” explained Dave Carey, co-chair of the Agriculture Carbon Alliance, which includes more than a dozen national farm and commodity organizations.

The Conservatives remain vocal supporters, and New Democrats have not indicated any change in their position either, according to Carey.

“We had a very positive meeting [with NDP ag critic Alistair MacGregor],” noted Carey, joining the RealAg Radio Issues Panel on Friday. “From his opinion, nothing’s changed from their perspective.”

Farmers in Quebec are also asking Bloc Quebecois MPs to support the original version again, as it would provide leverage to lobby the provincial government to grant similar exemptions from Quebec’s carbon pricing system.

“There potentially could be a few more Liberals that support it too, because we’ve all seen the polls and if I was a rural MP from any party, I would certainly be concerned with not supporting this legitimate piece of legislation,” said Carey.

Dave Carey of the Agriculture Carbon Alliance and the Canadian Canola Growers Association discusses the future of Bill C-234 on the RealAg Radio Issues Panel:

Even if the majority of MPs support restoring the unamended version, the bill must still clear multiple procedural hurdles in the House of Commons, some of which depend on the Liberal brass changing their minds.

First, there’s a long list of private member’s bills and it can take months for a PMB to rise to the top of the docket for debate. The Conservatives are prioritizing the bill, so it’s expected there will be some trading between MPs to fast-track it to the top of that list, but we’re told it could take until the end of January, at the earliest.

If MPs get to debating it, there’s another major procedural roadblock that will need to be overcome if it’s going to move ahead. The governing Liberals can easily have a handful of members speak about the bill, using up the limited amount of time allotted to it each time it rises to the top of the docket. Since it’s not a government bill, the only way to force a vote on it is by gaining unanimous consent from all members — a move that will likely be attempted by the Conservatives, but is very unlikely to pass, given the amount of political capital the Liberal powers that be have used to obstruct C-234 over the past few months.

Looming over all of this is the prospect of a federal election, which must be held by fall 2025 at the latest. If it hasn’t passed by then, the bill would die, just like its predecessor Bill C-206 with the 2021 election.

In other words, the bill is not yet technically dead, but it is on a life support, facing a near-impossible recovery.

While not giving up, Carey sees at least one possible silver lining — the coming together of Canadian agriculture in support of the bill.

“We’ve never had a group like the ACA that brings every supply-managed commodity, every export-oriented commodity together around the same table to work constructively together. If you look at the members page of ACA, like Dairy Farmers of Canada, cattle, pork, chicken, canola, grain growers — what we’ve accomplished is something that should be noted,” he said.

Related:

Liberals’ disdain for agriculture showcased in senators’ “let them eat cake” actions on C-234

Flipped votes, new additions, and no-shows — how the Senate rejected, then approved the fateful amendment that crashed Bill C-234

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