House of Commons Hansard #87 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was tax.

Topics

Bill C-445—Speaker's Ruling
Points of Order

10 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I am now prepared to rule on the point of order raised by the government House leader and minister for democratic reform on April 8, 2008 concerning the requirement for a royal recommendation for Bill C-445, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (tax credit for loss of retirement income) standing in the name of the member for Richmond-Arthabaska.

I would like to thank the hon. government House leader as well as the hon. member for Richmond--Arthabaska for their contributions on this issue.

In his intervention, the hon. government House leader stated that refundable tax credits are direct benefits paid to individuals regardless of whether tax is owed or not and are paid out of the consolidated revenue fund. He argued that a legislative proposal creating such a tax credit therefore needed to be accompanied by a royal recommendation.

In support of his argument, he pointed to a Speaker's ruling of June 4, 2007, which did not select a report stage amendment to Bill C-52, the Budget Implementation Act, 2007, that sought to create a refundable tax credit because it required a royal recommendation. He also referred to a ruling of May 11, 2006 from the Speaker of the Senate that ruled out of order Bill S-212, an Act to amend the Income Tax Act (tax relief) on the basis that it increased a refundable tax credit.

In response, the hon. member for Richmond--Arthabaska argued that legislation proposing a reduction in taxes has always been permitted under our parliamentary rules, even if this leads to reimbursements being made to taxpayers.

To support his arguments, he pointed to a ruling by Mr. Speaker Parent of October 16, 1995 regarding Bill S-9, An Act to amend the Canada-United States Tax Convention Act, 1984.

The Chair has carefully reviewed Bill C-445, the previous rulings that were cited as well as the comments from the hon. members and believes that the central issue in the present case is whether the creation of the tax credit found in Bill C-445 is strictly an alleviation of taxation or an authorization to spend for a new and distinct purpose. If it is the latter, the bill would need to be accompanied by a royal recommendation before the third reading motion can be proposed to the House.

The bill standing in the name of the hon. member of Richmond--Arthabaska seeks to amend the Income Tax Act by providing for a tax credit to a taxpayer in respect of whom an employer and the employees failed to make required registered pension plan contributions. Whether or not the tax credit is refundable or non-refundable is the key issue in determining the need for a royal recommendation.

Non-refundable credits are deducted from a person's tax payable rather than being calculated separately: they simply reduce the amount of tax payable by an individual. The amount of the credit is limited to the amount of the tax payable.

This is not the case for refundable tax credits, which are unique in the Income Tax Act: they provide for a taxpayer to receive an amount from the government due to a low amount of taxable income and tax payable. Such credits are calculated separately on an income tax return because they are not simply alleviations of taxes otherwise payable.

Bill C-445 is proposing a refundable tax credit. The Chair is of the opinion that the bill would not only alleviate taxation but also potentially allow monies to be disbursed from the consolidated revenue fund, in the event the taxpayer had taxable income for the year that yielded taxes less than the amount of the credit.

The circumstances of Bill C-445 are quite different from those referred by the hon. member for Richmond--Arthabaska in the ruling concerning Bill S-9. There, reimbursements were limited to tax payable. By making a tax credit refundable, Bill C-445 could lead to refunds that are greater than taxes paid. Such spending, for a new and distinct purpose, would need to be accompanied by a royal recommendation.

Accordingly, the Chair will decline to put the question on third reading of this bill in its present form unless a royal recommendation is received.

The debate, later today or on Monday, is currently on the motion for second reading and, as usual, this motion will be put to a vote at the close of the second reading debate.

I thank the hon. government House leader and the member for Richmond—Arthabaska for their comments on this matter.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999
Government Orders

10:05 a.m.

Battlefords—Lloydminster
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Gerry Ritz Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and Minister for the Canadian Wheat Board

moved that Bill C-33, An Act to amend the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, be read the third time and passed.

Mr. Speaker, I cannot tell the House what a pleasure and an honour it is to stand and speak to the third reading phase of Bill C-33.

As everyone knows, there has been quite a bit of controversy around this bill in the days leading up to this particular juncture in the passage of Bill C-33. And it will pass. I would like to thank my colleagues from the Liberal Party and the Bloc for taking this legislation under consideration and moving it ahead. It shows real leadership by a government that in the face of a lot of adverse media and so on moved ahead with the right thing at the right time. I give those members a lot of credit for that. Of course the fourth party is leading a different parade, and I welcome it to that, because that is what it does best.

This is a tremendous opportunity. It has been a long road to get here. No one thought when we brought it in that this type of bill would face this kind of adversity, because all of us aggressively campaigned on this issue throughout past elections. Elections come around more quickly in minority situations, but in 2004 and 2006 every party campaigned aggressively on a biofuel strategy. Since we are in government now, Canadians obviously judged our strategy to be the most practical.

The other parties, including the NDP, said they wanted 10% ethanol. We are at 5% ethanol and 2% biodiesel, and I think that in this time and place that is the right quantity. We are moving ahead fairly aggressively on this. Ethanol and biodiesel plants have come into being across the country. This is a great opportunity for farmers to move ahead and to have a different warehouse door to deliver to. More than that, this is great for rural communities that are looking for some sort of renewal after many years of seeing urbanization across this country, whatever was driving it. However, I will not get into that today.

Addressing the environment is at the forefront of everybody's mind. As I said, all parties called for a renewable fuel mandate and based it on two things: ethanol is a clean-burning fuel and fossil fuels are not going to last forever. It is time to get serious, especially here in Canada, where we have the capacity to make these changes. It is time to get serious about moving to greener technology. It is all part of what is best for the environment as well.

This legislation is probably one of the best policies to come forward in the last decade. It is actually a bedrock principle: it is good for the Canadian economy, good for Canadian farmers, and of course it is great news for the environment.

There are a lot of studies at cross purposes out there. Most of them are based on a global model, which we are not talking about here today. We are talking about Canadian production and Canadian policy and that is what this government has to answer to. We cannot begin to analyze and ascertain the directions other countries are taking, but we have to speak to the Canadian electorate, the Canadian people, about why we are doing what we are doing.

There is good news out there. Due to the innovation and industriousness of Canadian agriculture and Canadian forestry, we have the capacity to do this and in no way affect our food lines.

A lot of people say that we cannot do both. They say we cannot grow food for energy and for consumption. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Anyone who has analyzed food production in this country knows that we are growing more, that it is better quality, and that it is safer. It is time that we started using that great renewable resource to create energy that is great for the environment and also starts to backstop a lot of what farmers were not able to get out of the food line fully to address their bank lines. This legislation is going to do that. We have already seen some effect of that positive side. Again, as I said, it is due to the innovation and so on that is out there.

Things are changing as we speak. Going to our 5% mandate, which is three billion litres of ethanol over the next few years, is the equivalent of taking a million cars off the road, which is a fantastic story in and of itself, but it also takes less than 5% of our capacity to grow these products.

Anyone who is familiar with farm production will tell us that in any given year the weather is a far bigger factor than 5%. There have been instances of floods or droughts, or it just plain does not rain at the right time, and that can cut a crop in half. That is 50%. That is another zero in there.

We are talking about 5% of our land mass being used for this production. With the industry and the innovation that we have out there, we can probably go further than the three billion litres on that type of land mass. We have new types and new varieties coming in with higher starch values in corn and wheat.

We are also spending a lot of money on moving ahead to the next generation of biofuels. For that next generation, the common phrase is cellulosic. What this entails is that we slip into the forestry side. We start to make use of logs and lumber not suitable for building. We start putting them into the ethanol system using a catalyst and using the innovation that is out there now.

A company called Iogen is actually using this. The member for Ottawa South is making muscles here, not very big ones, but he says that Iogen is in his riding and he is quite proud of it. I would imagine that he has had some great discussions with Jeff Passmore, the president of Iogen. Jeff is actually getting the final go-ahead to build a huge facility that will produce in the neighbourhood of 400 to 500 million litres of ethanol in my home province of Saskatchewan. The member for Ottawa South and I will have something in common, finally, and it will be Iogen.

We are looking forward to that. Iogen is going to use straw, wood chips from the Prince Albert pulp mill and different things like that to create that quantity of ethanol. That is a good news story. In the days to come, we will develop that technology, get it to a commercial status and move forward.

I had a discussion with Jeff Passmore a couple of weeks ago now. I ran into him at a function and we talked about it. He is very excited about the move to Saskatchewan. He is very excited about the potential and the capacity of Saskatchewan farmers to deliver the feedstocks to his plant.

So am I, because the majority of Canadians, some 74% or 75% in the latest poll, are very much behind this government in moving ahead on ethanol and biodiesel. Those are big numbers. What they are asking for, and there is no pun intended, is a homegrown solution to our energy situation, to our preponderance of fossil fuels, and they are asking for our exciting new developments to get hold of the environment and start turning things around. That is what they are driving for.

As I said, our mandate is 5% ethanol and 2% biodiesel, which is coming in the next years. The auto sector has taken up the challenge. That sector is now building vehicles that will burn up to 85% ethanol. That little conversion on the assembly lines means a one hundred dollar bill: that can almost be made back in the first month of driving that an average Canadian does. It will actually pay for that $100 plus take charge of the environment.

For the life of me I cannot understand why certain parties and certain groups would not recognize the overall benefit this is going to create for Canadians and of course around the globe. They seem to be stuck in their ideology and cannot get past it. What is required in times like these, when there is adversity and almost media hysteria, as we see in the headlines, is leadership. Leadership is what is required, from people who will forge ahead, who will continue to do the right thing at the right time for the right reasons and who will not bend to that kind of pressure coming from the ignorant masses and the people out there who do not understand the benefit of what this can do. I see a lot of head-shaking and nodding over there from the Liberal side, and they totally agree with me on that statement.

As a government we are concerned about poverty. We are concerned about hunger in the world. We had some great announcements the other day from my colleague, the minister in charge of CIDA. She made a great announcement that Canada continues to be number two in the world on getting those foodstuffs out globally to the poor and the hungry. We have tremendous domestic programs here that address this type of thing.

People from the United Nations are spearheading a lot of this. A lot of what they say I do not agree with, because it is not based on anything that I would call sound thinking, but they also say that there is enough food produced in the world to feed everybody. The problem is that we cannot get it to where we need it in a timely way, because it is all “best before” products. There is not the processing on the ground in some of these communities to make use of and keep fresh the wheat or meat that is delivered.

We have to be more thoughtful in our approach. I think the minister really batted it out of the park by untying our food aid. It has been talked about for a number of years. She finally got the job done. I am proud to stand with her in moving ahead on that issue.

That comes to grips with the timeliness of delivery. It comes to grips with the transportation costs to get that product there. In most instances, there is no port or infrastructure system capable of handling those boatloads of food aid when they arrive. A lot of it spoils on the dock, some of it because of infrastructure and some of it because of a governance system in the affected country that would trade that food for guns rather than distribute it to the people. People who are poor and hungry are much easier to lead when they are kept out there in the boondocks away from the real action where the changes can be made.

There is a lot work to be done to feed the poor, the hungry, and those in poverty situations in the world, but a lot of it comes as a result of good governance and infrastructure, as well as the delivery of that. I think that Canada has proven that we always punch above our weight on those issues.

When we did make the announcement of another $50 million into that food aid program, a lot of people stood up, screamed and hollered that it was not enough. The UN was calling for a 26% increase from all of the contributing nations and we actually came in at 28%, plus we are giving money to the non-governmental organizations like the Foodgrains Bank. It does a tremendous amount of work around the world with donations from farmers. We pay the transportation as the government. There is some processing involved and they get it to where it should go.

We have the Mennonite system working around the world with their different relief programs, whether it is flood, famine, plague or pestilence, whatever happens. The Mennonites are there helping out.

Our tax system also builds in aid that is not considered under the UN envelope in the same way. We want a homegrown solution and we are a resource rich country. Nobody can deny that, whether we are talking about fresh water stocks, oil and gas or the tar sands in Alberta that are taking a bad rap right now, some of it justified, a lot of it not, but at the same time we have to start moving away from our dependence on fossil fuels. Even the big petroleum companies say that.

One of the largest ethanol producers in western Canada at this point is a company called Husky Oil. It is basically owned by a gentleman from Hong Kong, but he has a facility tied to the upgrader in my riding at Lloydminster that is producing several hundred million litres of ethanol. Husky Oil is having trouble getting product because farmers are growing what they can but the weather last year around the Lloydminster area did not let us get those crops off like we should have. That was more of a problem than it should have been. With technology and innovation we are starting to move to crops that are a little more easy to farm and will give farmers better results.

I know the Minister of Natural Resources was out to make an announcement in Minnedosa the other day, talking about our regulations and how that would help to start the blending of that product. Husky has bought a company called Mohawk. I remember as a young guy when gas was two bits, 30¢ and 40¢ a gallon, not a litre. That was before the former prime minister decided to make things metric. At those kind of prices per gallon it sounds really cheap but at the time I was making 90¢ an hour, so it is all relative.

They used to put an ethanol blend into their products some 25 or 30 years ago and I am giving away my age when I say that but that is the reality. This type of product has been around for a long time. It is finally coming to the fore, that with these regulations passed in Bill C-33 we will see, mixed right at the refinery and brought to the pump, that minimum 5% blend.

I have seen pumps, Mr. Speaker, in your home town when I was coming back the other day. I stopped in Kingston to have a great meal downtown on the waterfront. I asked how well you were doing. They all said they loved the guy but he should come home more. We also stopped for fuel. I note that the Liberals over there are saying, “Mr. Speaker, you should not go home because you might not get elected”, but I am not sure about that one.

We fuelled up. I cannot remember the name of the station but it was a 10% blend. That is good news. Kingston is on the leading edge of ethanol and I praise you for that, Mr. Speaker. I know you have made that issue one of your own.

When we see the price of oil over that same timeframe jump from $20 a barrel to approaching $120 a barrel, it makes this type of economic activity more viable. We have a lot of work being done on new ways to produce ethanol. We have lots of work being done on biodiesel which is another huge success story. We as a government have taken on pilot projects to use rendered products from animals, the byproducts from restaurants, the leftover oils and greases and so on that of course we do not want in our food anymore. We are running them back through biodiesel. It is a tremendous opportunity to build environmental products around that.

There are a number of situations that have arisen that have driven up the cost in the food chain and a lot of those can be based strictly on transportation because our product does not move from the farm right to the processor. It goes through middlemen. There are a lot of different things that go on and when we seen increases in transportation costs that are doubling, tripling and so forth, because of fossil fuel and our addiction to it, the problems begin to arise where everyone takes a chunk of the pie. I will use round numbers.

When we see a $3.00 loaf of bread, and I hear the bread processors saying they have to raise the price again because the cost of wheat is going up, it is ridiculous to the extreme because the farmer on that $3.00 loaf of bread is getting 15¢. That is the cheapest part of that loaf of bread. The damn wrapper with the labelling on it is worth more; or the darn wrapper, sorry.

That is the reality. That is the situation that farmers have always faced. So, if the price of bread went to 20%, that is a 33% increase, if my math is still good. That is a huge increase for farmers. Is that nickel going to affect that $3.00 loaf of bread? It should not. I would think it should not, but the costs of transportation of course are exaggerating the reality of what is going on out there. This is another good reason to move ahead with biofuels where we can start to have a renewable resource that is friendly to the environment and of course much easier to maintain the costs.

We should be looking at ways to make our agricultural processes even more innovative. We are doing that with a little thing called the removal of KVD in western Canada. Saskatchewan alone has 47 million acres of arable land. That is a big number. We run big operations and run big equipment to do it, and of course the overhead costs are all commensurate with the price, so we have seen the price of wheat going up.

We have also seen huge increases in fossil-based fertilizer fuel chemicals. All those types of things are also ramping up as well, so we are pushing a bubble where farmers are starting to make a little more money, but it is also costing a lot more money to make that, so we have to start addressing that and I think biofuels are a great way to do that.

There are opportunities out there now where people can buy a unit that they can actually put on their farms and make their own biodiesel. I talked to a neighbour of mine the other day and he was getting ready to start seeding, and then of course global warming kicked in and we got another 15 inches of snow. That slowed him down a little, but he had gone to town to fuel up his tractor because the roads were too muddy to have the truck come out, so he drove his tractor and it cost him $1,000 to fill it up. The way we farm out there, that lasted about 12 hours, less than a day's shift.

When we look at the young fellow who seeds my ground now, who farms 24,000 acres, he will run 14 or 15 hard days like that with four and five outfits, so he has $5,000 in fuel per day, plus the seed, plus the chemical, plus the fertilizer, plus the manpower, plus the overhead of the equipment and taxes on the land, and all that kind of stuff. Those are the economies of scale we are looking at.

Farmers start to look at the skid units that will actually produce biofuel out of their own canola. There are models like that out there now and it is a great opportunity for these guys to take some canola from their own production, run it through and create their own biofuel, but it does make more sense to do it on economies of scale at larger facilities.

I have always been a proponent of a number of smaller capacity units scattered throughout a province as opposed to one or two big ones. The problem with one or two big ones is the product has to move. The trucking beats up the road and it starts to defeat the whole process, so smaller and locally owned is the right way to go.

I am very fortunate to have in my riding, almost in the centre of my riding, a little town called Unity. There is a North West Terminal there that is owned by farmers. It is a huge success story. It is relatively new on the scene, but in the time that it has been around, some 10 or 15 years since the drawing board, it has doubled in capacity in the grain it has handled. It is now building a 25 million litre ethanol facility next door to the terminal, so as the grain is delivered in, it can slide some of it off to make ethanol right there.

As well there is another innovation. A fellow named Mervin Slater has been the push behind this, and I give a lot of credit to Jason Skinner and the crew out there at North West Terminal for their foresight and their vision, and the guys that were on that committee. Merv dropped in to see me when he was in Ottawa. He was on his way to Germany to look at technology that brings about 10% or 15% chaff in with the wheat.

Chaff cannot be hauled. It is like hauling potato chips or ping-pong balls. There is no weight and one cannot get enough on a truck, but when 10% or 15% chaff is brought in with the grain product, it virtually costs nothing. They are using that as the feed stock to fire the turbines to create the ethanol, then they recapture the heat and use it. It is a tremendously integrated system and I give them a lot of credit for that.

They have not put out a litre of ethanol. They are already looking at the potential and saying it is time to think about expanding the plant already, and that is great news for the farmers of Unity, great news for Canadians, and great news for the environment.

However, we have so many other potentials out there to make great quality ethanol. We have just a tremendous opportunity to show the world this can be done and not affect the food line. There are just any number of ways to point to this and say this is the right thing as we advance forward.

As I said in my speech, it is basic economics. There are so many things that we will gain from these different lines that will be created. There are offshoots from ethanol: the distiller's grain that goes back into livestock feed, the slurry, and the water. Everything that is used is captured and used as protein base for livestock feed.

It is not a zero sum gain. There are benefits from all the differing aspects of ethanol and biodiesel as it goes back into livestock feed. There is a loss of 20% or so but we will make that up. It will be good for the communities, good for the farmers, and good for the environment.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Mario Silva Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to start by saying that I am not opposed to biofuel. I understood his remarks but there has been a growing concern, which maybe the minister could address. The concern raised by the public, both in relation to the higher food costs around the world that many have argued has to do with the demand for biofuels but also the incredible cost that it takes to make biofuel and diesel, deals in particular with the fact that biofuel needs fossil fuels in order to be produced. There is also a cost to the environment.

Like I said to the minister, I am not opposed to it and I certainly am in favour of the fact that we are proposing this amendment to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, but there are inefficiencies as well in our society that we have to deal with. The bigger issue may have to do with our high demand for energy consumption. Nothing is being put forward to address these concerns.

We have many products in our homes that are not very efficient. We have to look at other mechanisms to deal with the issues of energy within our homes, our society and our workplace. These things also need to be addressed so that consumption can be lowered. If we continue with the high demand for energy consumption, there is going to be more and more demand for energy and it will all have an impact on the environment and our lives.

I am not opposed to the issue of biofuel and I see that there is a need for it. I understand the increase to the 5% blend, but at the same time I have serious concerns and reservations which have been raised by a number of people and I would like to have the minister address those concerns.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Gerry Ritz Battlefords—Lloydminster, SK

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Davenport for his intervention and for seeking knowledge as to why this is the right thing at the right time. I give him credit for that. I will cover off a couple of things.

He talked about energy and our addiction to it, which I guess is the best way to describe it. I do not think we can push people away from having a light switch that flips on rather than lighting a coal oil lamp. We have lived through that and moved ahead, but there are new and innovative ways coming to the marketplace. There are new light bulbs available that will address energy consumption. Even turning our TVs off still takes power. There are new ways to do that and those will be driven by a different way.

We cannot combine all of our energy needs and the misuse of energy under the biofuels banner. A lot of people are using that as the lightning rod and we have to disconnect some of it. There is good news with biofuels but there are costs as well. He mentioned the point that it takes energy to create energy but that is typical of anything. Even if we go back to hydro, it still takes energy to build the dam, so we have to look at the downstream costs in a lot of cases.

I see comparisons now that say, “The cost of fossil fuel is $1.20 at the pump for gas“, and then, “Here is ethanol”, but we still have to combine it and plant it. The downstream costs of that gas at the pump are not taken into consideration but they are for biofuels. That is not a true comparison. When comparing apples to apples in the studies that have been done, the real ones, there is a huge benefit to ethanol and a bigger benefit to biodiesel.

We have to start building better technology, there is no doubt about it. There is innovation out there that will let us grow the crop in a more fulsome and cheaper way with zero till, less fertilizer and all those types of things. As we develop new innovative varieties, we will get 80 bushels an acre on dryland farming, which is unheard of now, but we have not been able to do that because of kernel visual distinguishability in western Canada. That is gone. We will move ahead on that front as well. It is a major gain. There are several thrusts, not just biofuel. It becomes the lightning rod and the whipping boy.

When he talks about food costs, yes, we are all looking at that. In the latest study in Canada, Statistics Canada said the food basket in Canada actually dropped .2% in February. Our higher dollar is letting us buy better but it is also hurting our trade capacity.

We are also seeing emerging countries, and I will list a couple, China, India, Brazil, Mexico, where there is a huge middle class starting to grow. They are moving away from a rice-based diet and saying, “We want meat and potatoes”. We are seeing fast food chains moving there and so on. Whether it is good or bad, they are doing that because this middle class with money is asking for new and innovative foodstuffs. They are tired of a bland rice diet and they need protein, not starch.

I was in Cuba last week on a trade mission. People there are bemoaning the fact that rice has gone from $400 a tonne to $800 a tonne. Now it is approaching $1,200 a tonne and it is still over in the Pacific Rim and has to be transported. I asked why they are not thinking outside the box. I said there are beans, potatoes and meat available in Canada for half those quantity prices and they should start re-jigging their diet to be more healthy. Therefore, there are a lot of changes in the food basket that just cannot be blamed on ethanol.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, it was interesting to hear the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food speak again to this subject. The last time he spoke I asked him a question about the relative merits of what he was saying about the greenhouse gas reductions that are engaged with biofuels. He was talking about four megatonnes of reduction that would come from his 5% program in fuel with the $2.2 billion investment.

A careful scientific analysis by the BIOCAP Canada Foundation shows that with corn ethanol we would get a 21% reduction in CO2 emissions, which is what we would normally get with gasoline if it were bought in Canada. If we buy it from U.S. producers we will have a negative greenhouse gas emissions reduction.

With the 21% Canadian, what would happen if we were to make all the corn in Canada and feed it into our ethanol system to produce the 5%? The vehicle fleet in Canada produces 100 megatonnes of CO2 emissions; 5% of 100 megatonnes is 5 megatonnes and 20% of 5 megatonnes is much less than 4 megatonnes.

Why does the minister keep using these figures when he obviously has the same kinds of studies that we are working from? If he has some study that shows that he is getting 4 megatonnes of reduction from his program, costing Canadian taxpayers $2.2 billion, he should put it on the line.

The minister keeps referring to the idealistic opposition to not simply blindly moving ahead but carefully considering what we are doing with biofuels, that includes such idealistic lefties as Terence Corcoran, Don Martin and Gwyn Morgan who are all part of the NDP and are idealistic soulmates. How does the minister see these people as our idealistic compatriots?

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

Gerry Ritz Battlefords—Lloydminster, SK

Mr. Speaker, for years I have listened to the NDP members rant on. They have two basic philosophies: the sky is falling or nobody moves, nobody gets hurt.

I really get tired of their intransigence on every issue. I guess that is why they always end up in the corner as the fourth party. They will never get any further than that. Provincially they are getting turfed out one by one because people are looking with an appetite to move forward and not to take the issues of the forties and fifties and try to somehow apply them to the future. It does not work.

I invite the member to join the 75% of Canadians who say that this is the right thing at the right time. I invite him to get on board with producers in rural Canada who say that this is the right thing for them to do. I invite him to get on board with up to date scientific studies from Environment Canada and Natural Resources Canada that show that biofuels are the right thing for Canadians.

I also welcome him to the debate on biofuels. Whether it is negative or not, it helps us prove our point.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Langley
B.C.

Conservative

Mark Warawa Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, I have a further question on why the NDP voted against Bill C-33 yesterday. It was the only party that voted against Bill C-33. It voted against Nahanni, against the Great Bear rain forest and against the $9 billion environmental dollars.

I would ask the minister why members of the NDP are opposed to good environmental practices but on the other side they talk like they are green but in fact are climate change deniers. Why is that?

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

Gerry Ritz Battlefords—Lloydminster, SK

Mr. Speaker, I think the parliamentary secretary raises a good point. I agree that there are times when the NDP members are green, green with envy that they will never get a chance to put any of their policies in place and we are moving ahead.

They voted against the cleanup of the Sydney tar ponds. We are getting the job done. They voted against the cleanup of Lake Simcoe. We are getting the job done. They voted against the cleanup of Lake Winnipeg in NDP central. We are getting the job done.

They have their agricultural propaganda arm, the NFU, going across Canada decrying biofuels and how terrible they are, which is absolutely ridiculous when we talk about a farm group basically dumping in their own nest. It is great for rural Canada. It is good producers. I wish they would get on board with the program.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

David McGuinty Ottawa South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened intently to the minister's remarks this morning and I thank him for speaking extemporaneously without notes, which is good to hear. I will try to imitate his style and respond directly to some of the issues that he raised.

I do not think the minister should take too much comfort in the support that he received from this party yesterday in allowing Bill C-33 to proceed because we treat this bill merely as a technical amendment to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act which would allow the existing minister or any future minister to regulate the content of ethanol in fuels for consumption in Canada and for fuels to be exported abroad.

However, let me assure the minister and the government that there are very profound questions that they have not even begun to answer.

Chief among those questions is why, in the first instance, was this bill put to the House by the Minister of Agriculture when it is an Environment Canada bill? It is the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, separated and driven by the Minister of the Environment. I understand the government's intention here, which is to strategically place this as a farm receipts issue, which it, of course, partly is, but overarching the farm receipts issue, in fact overarching so many issues in Canadian society, are more profound issues and concerns about where we are going with our environmental policy. My remarks today will be cast with that chiefly in mind. How is the government proceeding here with this bill? How is it proceeding in the ethanol field when it comes to environmental perspectives?

However, I first want to talk about the very recent about-face taken by the NDP, which I will not descend to in terms of the remarks made by the Minister of Agriculture, but I do want to express my disappointment in the NDP in its attempts to politicize food prices, in its attempts to try to, in my view, frighten Canadians with its food for fuel campaign. It is much more constructive if we actually pursue a rational debate about the drivers, the factors that are at play not just in Canada but globally. Factors, for example, like oil prices have jumped by nearly 100% over the past year; that in 2007 food prices increased by about 4% overall; that 80% of the cost of food today are food marketing costs. The marketing costs are the difference between the farm value and consumer spending for food at grocery stores and restaurants.

The price of rice is now up 77% since October. Rice is not used in the production of biofuels. As a whole, fish prices are up, not just in Canada but worldwide. Why? In part it is because we are seeing five of the six major oceans fisheries in a state of collapse today. We hear nothing from the government about that. Why is this important? It is important because the government's ethanol policy appears to be completely disconnected from its environmental policy. That is a shame because the two are inextricably linked. They need to be presented as such and they need to be defended as such.

I will turn for a moment to two amendments put forward by the NDP that the Canadian public is not aware of and that were ruled out of order by this House. This speaks volumes to the tone and the approach the NDP members are taking to this debate, which is simply not helpful. Two other amendments they have put to this House include the prohibition of the use of genetically modified organisms for biofuel production.

My understanding of this sector is that if we were to rule out the use of GMO crops, we might as well shut down the entire industry as we speak. For that matter, as an agricultural graduate, I can assure Canadians that most of the foods and the grains that we are eating are and have been improved through the use of science over the past decades.

Second, the NDP wanted to establish restrictions on the use of arable land. I put to the environment critic of the NDP some time ago whether the leader of the NDP would soon announce his intention to nationalize Canadian farms. We have seen that around the world and, as a person who has had the privilege of working around the world, I do not think there are any remaining jurisdictions that seriously believe that such nationalization will help us with our food production patterns.

I will now turn to some of the key issues around the bill. First, as we have said repeatedly, we are in favour of ethanol as a part of our energy mix now and into the future.

There is an industry that exists today. Ethanol is a transition fuel, one of the transition fuels to our carbon constrained future. Why is it a choice transition fuel right now, in the right amounts? It is partly because the infrastructure for ethanol distribution already exists. We have all of the sunk capital costs spent in the way in which we dispense gasoline and other fuels, and ethanol fits into that distribution system.

For example, when we talk about the eventual quantum leap, perhaps to a hydrogen based economy, our challenge will be how we distribute the hydrogen and safely. However, right now, as a transition fuel, ethanol can be used and blended. Every car on the road today with an owner's manual can burn up to 10% ethanol, as we speak.

As I say, it is a technical amendment bill and, in that sense, it is important. We need to give a minister the powers necessary to regulate fuel content.

However, more important, there remains a plethora of questions that the government has not even begun to address. Having just heard the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, I was waiting with anticipation to hear him speak to the connection between the Conservatives' fiscal policies on this issue, their agricultural policies on this issue and their environmental policies on this issue. Lo and behold, I waited too long because he never addressed them. He did not address the environmental implications of this issue at all, which is unfortunate.

We think it is important, as we agreed in committee when the bill was debated, that one year after the bill comes into full force and effect and becomes a law, it will go back to a parliamentary committee and then and there it will be the subject of a major detailed analysis.

The ethanol industry should be examined much more fulsomely. We need to address questions like energy inputs, chemical inputs and meaningful greenhouse gas reductions and whether we are achieving these. We need to address the impacts on food pricing, trade considerations, agricultural land use patterns both here and abroad, freshwater impacts, agricultural run-offs, farm receipts and soil impacts. The most precious resource that most farmers possess is the top three inches of their soil. There are so many other issues.

One year after the bill becomes law, we will hold the government to account and we will be asking for a detailed analysis.

The government has not developed the metrics necessary. In that sense, I commend the NDP for raising this issue, as well as the Bloc. The government has not developed the metrics necessary to tell Canadians clearly why we are choosing ethanol over other transition fuels or, for that matter, why one form of ethanol is more beneficial than others.

It is true that cellulosic ethanol allows us to make a quantum leap, to take us to a second or even third generation form of ethanol, which burns more cleanly and, for that matter, puts more marginal lands into production.

Thirty years ago, as a young agricultural student I remember surveying all of eastern Ontario for a potential project to plant all kinds of new varieties and species of poplar. Poplar, which grows very quickly, could be grown on very marginal lands and can be put into cellulosic ethanol form over time.

Now that we do have the engineering and the chemistry to produce the enzymes required to convert such feed stocks into cellulosic ethanol, we can have a very meaningful debate in a year's time in terms of more details.

Many factors are at play, and the minister has pointed to a few but has omitted others, to create this perfect global storm right now that is wreaking havoc in developing countries, emerging economies when it comes to food pricing and food access.

Yes, it is true that ethanol production in northern jurisdictions is having an impact. The question is, to what extent is it having an impact? So many other forces are at play, forces like decertification, climate change, weather patterns, energy costs, trade rules, subsidies. Forty per cent of the European Union's budget is the common agricultural policy to subsidize the production of agricultural products. This is a question that is affecting food prices.

Food distribution systems, corruption levels, the rule of law, the extent to which we are seeing rising Asian incomes and a propensity to consume more protein, the Australian drought, which is lingering as a result of climate change, all affect food prices.

I was quite shocked to hear the Minister of Agriculture make light of climate change, suggesting that cold weather recently in Saskatchewan clearly indicated that the planet was not warming, but must be cooling. This is tantamount to what we heard from the Minister of Public Safety, before he erased it from his website, when he made light of the fact that B.C.'s climate was warming so he was suggesting buying vast amounts of land in northern B.C. and flipping it for profit. That is not funny. It portrays the government's profound non-commitment to the climate change crisis facing Canada and the planet.

Many factors are at play, creating the perfect storm. Unfortunately now we are seeing nation states moving to nationalize and to hoard food stocks. This is very problematic. This is having a direct bearing on global food prices and global food distribution.

In short, when it comes to the question of where the government goes with its ethanol policy, we have a profound responsibility on this side of the House, as the official opposition, to hold the government to account, and we intend to do so. The government has announced it is spending $2.2 billion in this field. We will watch closely as to how it invests this $2.2 billion.

It is very strange also because the government's Minister of Finance stands up in public fora after public fora and announces to the world that he does not pick winners and losers. It is this neo-con, laissez-faire, “I don't care” voodoo economics that he professes to practice.

The government now is taking $2.2 billion and ploughing it into a sector. This really raises questions about the government's commitment to this post-post-Conservative approach to economics that I have not seen another country in the world practice.

There are a number of important questions to raise about the science around ethanol and greenhouse gas reductions.

What is the net environmental impact of ethanol use? It depends very much on the raw materials used and the production process used. Has the government spoken to this? Not at all. Is it in the bill? Not at all. Have any studies been tabled? Nothing. Has any evidence been put forward to suggest that the government is meaningfully going to take us to second, third and fourth generation technologies? We have not seen it, but we will be watching for it. In a year, when we perform a detailed analysis on this question, we will be looking for answers to this question.

We hear a lot about corn ethanol. There are mixed studies. Berkley's studies find that corn ethanol reduces GHG emissions by about 13%. We are hearing contrary studies. Has the government actually reconciled the competing science, peer reviewed it and put it to the Canadian people? We have not seen it.

We see other studies that show that cellulosic ethanol would produce about 85% fewer greenhouse gases than gasoline. There are now emerging studies and emerging science. How much is the government investing in science? How much of it is evidence based? How much of it is ideologically based? We remain to be convinced. We are looking for that evidence.

It is true that new demand for corn to produce ethanol is inflating corn prices. There are distributive impacts that we have to be aware of not just in Canada, but throughout the United States, Mexico, Central America and beyond. The government has to address this question, and we will look for that question to be answered in due course.

Yet again, we know that even marginal increases in grain costs harm poor people the most. They could exacerbate world hunger. Again, I am disappointed in some of the tone, maybe even some of the histrionics coming from the NDP recently on this question. It is important to look at the oft-cited example of the price of tortillas in Mexico, which doubled in 2006, a year of record U.S. corn prices. We know we need to get off corn, because it is such an energy and water intensive, highly polluting crop. Plus, the minister knows the impact of mono-cropping of corn on soil friability on organic matter content. He knows the destructive nature of corn production.

Some are concerned that, for example, the use of E85, 85% ethanol as a motor fuel may lead to increased smog and health effects. Has this been addressed? No. We are waiting to see the analysis put by the government, and we will be holding it to account as it begins to allocate the $2.2 billion into the field.

There is a fear that conversion of forests or wilderness to farmland will not only harm biodiversity, but may negatively affect the net greenhouse gas production because of the role that forests and wilderness play when it comes to sequestering carbon. The government, again, picked another winner. It does not pick winners and losers, but it picked another winner by investing over $200 million in carbon capture and sequestration recently in the home riding of one of the government members, to be able to try to pilot through an important and promising technology. However, is it speaking about the role of nature in sequestering carbon? Not a peep. I do not believe the Conservatives take climate change seriously. I do not think they have reconciled their economic, agricultural and environmental policies.

Those are some of the questions that we want to see answered.

Here is another question. At the environmental centre of why nations first began using ethanol, it was to deal with the replacement of lead, as well as reducing the use of benzene, which is the number one petro-carcinogen. The government says that it has a national cancer strategy. We know that the number petro-carcinogen is benzene. If we Google benzene, here is what pops up, “No known safe level”.

Then remember that some 400 million litres or 1% of gasoline is benzene. It is present with toluene and xylene, which are also dubious, according to Health Canada's anti-smoking group, and they are in there only for octane purposes. Ethanol has a 113 octane rating, the highest of any fuel. It could be used to replace at least the 1% benzene portion if oil refiners so desired. That is really important when the Canadian Cancer Society now predicts that one in two Canadians will get cancer. One in three Ontarians today will get cancer.

Is the government linking its three core policies together? We see no evidence of it, and we are looking for it.

Finally, I want to raise the question of the government's fiscal choice on April 1 of this year to repeal the excise tax exemption for biodiesel and ethanol fuels. This is at a time when the ethanol industry is just getting on its feet, and it is let down with the government deciding to remove the excise tax exemption for biodiesel and ethanol fuels. We know that on low level blends, the effect of the repeal on prices in the retail sector is minimum. It is about 0.5¢ per litre on E5 ethanol blends.

However, for higher blends, the additional burden is substantial, 2¢ a litre for E50 and 8.5¢ a litre for E85. How does this reconcile with the government's stated purpose to try to increase the ethanol industry in Canada? We have two or three stations in Canada against the 1,200 in the United States.

We will hold the government to account. I suggest the Minister of Agriculture, the Minister of Environment and the Minister of Finance sit down and share a cup of coffee and actually try to bring their policies together.

I cannot understand for the life of me why the government is not placing this and connecting this to a national climate change response. The only thing I conclude, along with the seven objective and third party groups that have looked at the government's climate change plan, is that no one believes it. Nobody believes it will achieve what it sets out to. As a result, I think they are incapable of actually linking these together.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

When debate resumes after question period, there will be 10 minutes for questions and comments to the hon. member for Ottawa South, but we will now move to statements by members.

The hon. member for Cariboo—Prince George.

Kodiak Impact
Statements By Members

10:55 a.m.

Conservative

Dick Harris Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Mr. Speaker, congratulations are in order for the Kodiak Impact, a 17 and under boys volleyball team from Prince George, B.C., a champion boys volleyball team. The team rose as victors in the B.C. provincial championships, claiming gold in the process.

The Kodiak Impact is in Ottawa this weekend to compete in the national volleyball championships. My colleagues in the House and I would like to wish the players every success in their playoff quest this morning.

World Press Freedom Day
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, tomorrow is World Press Freedom Day, reminding us of the profound importance of freedom of expression, the lifeblood of a democracy and consecrated as a core freedom in constitutional and international human rights law.

Regrettably, the rights and safety of those who espouse it are increasingly at risk in many parts of the globe where journalists are harassed, kidnapped and even murdered with impugnity. Some 95 have been killed in the last year alone.

Moreover, human rights defenders are having their free speech “criminalized”, as in the case of Bangladeshi journalist Shoaib Choudhury, who faces trumped up criminal charges carrying a death penalty for exercising this fundamental freedom.

Let us join together in marking World Press Freedom Day with the hope that freedom of expression will be a protected freedom and those who assault it will be held duly accountable.

On this day we recall the inspiring work of Spencer Moore, founder of the Canadian Committee for World Press Freedom, who, regrettably, passed away yesterday. On behalf of all parliamentarians, I offer our condolences to his family.

Art Exhibition in Quebec City
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

Bloc

Luc Malo Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Mr. Speaker, as part of Quebec City's 400th anniversary celebrations, an exhibition entitled “Le Louvre à Québec. Les arts et la vie” will be presented at the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec.

After years of planning, negotiation and preparation ably undertaken by the museum team, a dream has finally become reality, especially for John R. Porter, the driving force behind this Quebec institution and the man who spearheaded this colossal project.

This exhibition is a fabulous opportunity for Quebec. No other place in the world has been lent this many works from the Louvre. They come from eight departments of the Parisian museum, and they will be presented in a single exhibition. As for finding all of these works at the same time in the French capital, do not even try; only in Quebec City will this be possible.

I urge all Quebeckers to visit this exhibition. After all, it is not every day that we can admire works from the largest museum in the world.

Vietnamese Cultural Day
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, as part of Asian Heritage Month, Ottawa will celebrate “Vietnamese Cultural Day” on Saturday. This year's celebration will include the launch of a book on Project 4000 titled, Gift of Freedom: How Ottawa Welcomed the Vietnamese, Cambodian and Laotian Refugees.

In the spring of 1979, citizens led by the mayor of Ottawa, Marion Dewar, opened their doors to refugees fleeing persecution and chaos in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. Project 4000 was launched. The faith community, businesses and neighbours came together to resettle thousands of newcomers.

Gift of Freedom is a must read for those who take pride in the spirit of our community. It tells the stories of a vibrant community and its members who arrived in Ottawa as refugees and soon became fully participating members of Canadian society.

I congratulate Ottawa's Vietnamese community, those who assisted in editing and producing this book and everyone who contributed to Project 4000. I wish them all the best in building the Vietnamese Boat People Museum in Ottawa.

Hockey
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

Conservative

Guy Lauzon Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry, ON

Mr. Speaker, last year I stood in the House and told all Canadians how proud I was of the residents of Cornwall for their second place finish in the 2007 national Hockeyville contest.

Well, Cornwall is at it again. Our dynamic city is hosting a 2008 Royal Bank Cup. From May 3 to 11, the city of Cornwall and its exciting junior A hockey team, the Cornwall Colts, will be hosting the National Junior A Hockey Championship.

The city of Cornwall and the riding of Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry have a long, rich history of producing great hockey players and championship hockey teams. Members of team Cornwall and the Chamber of Commerce have asked me to personally invite each and every Canadian to visit the wonderful city of Cornwall and watch the most exciting junior A hockey players in Canada compete for the prestigious RBC Cup.

It just does not get any better than watching the best junior hockey players compete in Canada's national sport, while visiting the most beautiful, safest, friendliest, progressive city in all of Canada. Welcome to Cornwall, Canada.