Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-206, introduced by the hon. member for Northumberland—Peterborough South. I will not keep anyone in suspense, as my colleague has already announced that the Bloc Québécois will support Bill C-206.
However, people may be wondering why the Bloc Québécois is intervening on this bill, since Quebec actually already has its own carbon market and is not subject to the federal carbon tax program. Nevertheless, I think it is important that we speak to this issue, since there seems to be some question as to whether agriculture and environmental protection are compatible. It is a problem that we have noticed with regard to several topics on which the Bloc Québécois has been called upon to intervene in the past. We know that there are serious challenges for both agriculture and the environment, and there is often a delicate balance between the two.
Consider, for example, all the pressure on farmers, particularly regarding riparian buffer zones, a problem that is often raised. Riparian buffer zones help protect rivers that border farmland, but they sometimes hurt profit margins. However, it is important to understand that farmers want to do the right thing and help protect the environment. When we take the time to speak with farmers, we learn that buffer zones can be narrower in some places because of the nature of the soil. Some riparian buffer zones can protect the environment while also generating revenue. For instance, some farmers plant fruit trees along these buffer zones. Collaboration can lead to good solutions.
The same question has been raised about the use of certain pesticides. Again, farmers do not get up in the morning excited to generate pollution and put hazardous chemicals into the environment. Rather, they are forced to use certain pesticides because of a lack of resources or alternatives.
One-size-fits-all measures are not necessarily the best. For example, if the government were to ban a particular pesticide, farmers could just end up having to ask agronomists to prescribe even more dangerous pesticides. On certain issues, farmers need to be treated as collaborators.
As for the carbon pricing issue specifically, I would remind members that it was designed as a way for Canada to combat climate change by taxing pollution to discourage the use of fossil fuels. The problem is that farmers do not really have any other options for drying grain.
This reminds of an experience I had. In late October, after the 2019 election, I spent some time riding along with my father as he trucked grain from the fields to grain dryers for some local farmers. It was a wonderful day of father-daughter bonding. I remember that a huge snowstorm hit the region after November 1, making the grain very wet. On top of that, it had been an unusual season. Planting had been delayed for three weeks due to cold spring temperatures. Then, in early fall, September was very cold, so the grain did not have time to mature, and the harvest was quite late. The grain had to be harvested in the snow, so it had very high moisture levels.
Because it never rains but it pours, a propane shortage occurred right after that, on the heels of the CN strike. I started getting phone calls from many farmers who were devastated because they had no other way to dry their grain. Grain has to be dried before it is stored, or it will rot. Although the moisture level may seem all right, if it is not low enough, mould may be present without anyone realizing it. In some cases, animals that eat this grain can fall ill. Distraught farmers were calling me, and I was working with them to find solutions.
Climate change aside, they would like to move away from fossil fuels such as natural gas and propane. As I talked with them, I realized that there are very few alternatives. It is impossible to heat storage facilities sufficiently and dry grain with hydroelectricity alone. The demand for energy would be too great. The other problem is that the Hydro-Québec power grid cannot deliver so much energy.
Other alternatives do exist, such as freeze drying, where the grain is stored in large dryers. The problem is that this method cannot always be used because the weather has to be perfect for it to work. That was not at all the case in 2019, when planting was delayed, there was a snowstorm, and the harvest was late. Using fossil fuels is therefore an option.
Some farmers have also turned to biomass, but it is not yet suitable for large-scale farms. Those who have switched to biomass are mainly poultry farmers. They can use biomass to heat the barns where the animals are kept and to dry the quantity of grain needed to feed them. These tend to be small-scale farmers. For larger producers, fossil fuel energy is unfortunately still necessary. Given that there are no real alternatives, it is important to understand that increasing the price of propane and natural gas will not decrease the use of these energy sources, since farmers have no choice. The only thing this will accomplish is to continue eroding farmers' profit margins, which are often already razor thin, especially when the weather conditions are not good, as was the case in 2019.
Even if the government increases the price on pollution, farmers do not have any other consistent options available to them. In light of this, farmers are not the right target. If we maintain the tax on fossil fuels, there is a risk that even more farms will not be passed down from generation to generation, which will diminish our ability to have food sovereignty. That means we would have to rely more heavily on other countries to support us, although they do not have the same standards as Canada does. Ultimately, the quality of our food would suffer.
Farmers are already making great efforts to protect the environment. They want to help protect the environment, but they need the right kind of help. It is important to consider that they are not always the right target when it comes to addressing climate change.
I would like to draw a parallel with a news release that the Bloc Québécois recently published on tax havens. It reads, and I quote:
Canada is a world laggard when it comes to addressing tax avoidance by multinational enterprises. Before contributing to the global fight against tax havens, Canada first needs to stop making the problem worse by allowing these companies to legally use tax havens.
That is a rather interesting parallel because the government is not focusing on the right thing when it targets farmers. The first thing we need to do is to turn off the tap where the impact is greatest, for example, by refusing to continue to fund certain fossil fuels and, more importantly, by putting an end to projects like Trans Mountain. We need to go after these major players first, rather than attacking agriculture, which is already a collaborative partner. Farmers already want to do a better job of fighting climate change because it has a direct impact on their own culture.