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'It does add up': Farmers rally in support of carbon tax exemption bill

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A rally Monday afternoon outside the office of Calgary Liberal MP George Chahal is part of intensifying lobbying efforts to pass a private member’s bill exempting propane and natural gas used in farming operations from the carbon tax.

Proponents of the bill attending the rally said carbon pricing imposes a disproportionate burden on farmers.

“It does add up,” said Mossleigh-area farmer Bernie McWilliams. “Natural gas, when they put a tax on that – a greenhouse, heating a building, a hog barn, a chicken barn – it all adds up to the cost.”

Foothills MP John Barlow is among the strongest advocates of the bill and seconded it during its initial introduction into Parliament.

“We just can't afford those types of prices,” said Barlow, who is also the Conservative Agriculture and Agri-Food critic.

“This isn't nickel-and-diming. This is punishing numbers that, in many cases, the farmers are paying more for the carbon tax than they are for the actual natural gas and propane they're using.”

Bill C-234 was introduced to Parliament in February 2022 and passed through a third reading in March 2023.

The vote breakdown at that time was 176 in favour of the bill and 146 against. Three Liberal MPs from the Maritimes voted in favour of the bill, as did every member of the Conservative, NDP, Bloc Québécois and Green parties.

“Every opposition party understands the importance of farming and the importance of Canadian farming and keeping the family farms going,” said Barlow.

Since then, the bill has been making its way through the Canadian Senate. The bill passed a second reading in the Senate on June 13. Then, on Oct. 26, Prime Minster Justin Trudeau announced home heating oil would be exempt from the carbon tax for three years.

“That's really where this frustration comes from, as the Prime Minister clearly has a political agenda with his carbon tax. It's not an environmental plan,” said Barlow.

Farmers are already exempt from the price on pollution for gasoline and diesel to run their farm vehicles and machinery but must pay it for natural gas and propane used to heat their buildings and operate devices like grain dryers.

“The carbon tax is a significant burden. It affects pretty much everything that we do,” said Mossleigh-area farmer Tanya Clemens.

“When our costs go up a whole bunch for our inputs, that gets passed on to the consumer eventually, too, because we're businesses trying to make some kind of profit to continue. Then, the affordability of food and everything goes through the roof.”

Alberta Sen. Paula Simons said the effort to convince senators of how to vote on this bill is extreme from both sides of the debate.

She said she's concerned that rhetoric is outpacing reality in every direction.

"I've never been lobbied like this on private member's bill," Simons said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

"This bill has become symbolic and it's being used as a wedge issue."

Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault has reached out to some senators himself, seeking to push the government's reasons for not wanting the legislation to pass.

"First and foremost, people should remember … we've already excluded 97 per cent of fuels used on farms," the minister said last week.

"Because at the time, when we put in place carbon pricing in Canada … we realized that there was no alternatives for these applications."

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, who has already made eliminating the carbon price the centrepiece of his political messaging ahead of the next federal election, has launched a full-on campaign to get the bill passed.

The premiers of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario all wrote letters to senators asking them to vote in favour of the bill.

Simons said senators are receiving hundreds, if not thousands, of emails about it, most of them sent by bots.

Simons said she thinks the bill may still pass.

With files from The Canadian Press and CTV News’ Spencer Van Dyk

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