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House of Commons Hansard #40 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was ethanol.

Topics

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Bramalea—Gore—Malton, Citizenship and Immigration; the hon. member for Thunder Bay—Rainy River, Forest Industry; the hon. member for Davenport, Infrastructure.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

David McGuinty Liberal Ottawa South, ON

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-33 sets out to amend the Canadian Environmental Protection Act in an important way.

The bill, for Canadians who are watching or who will read the transcripts of this debate, is really about expanding the scope that the Minister of the Environment has to regulate fuels in Canada. In fact, the brief summary of the bill says that the entire bill is merely to provide for what they say is the efficient regulation of fuels and the new measures that it puts forward are administrative in nature and give the government more control on regulations.

For example, the government enhances its ability to regulate fuel produced in Canada that is to be exported. Regulations can be made regarding the blending of fuels, how we mix them and in what percentages, an obvious nod as we have heard to the expanding biofuel industry. It also expands the basis upon which a government can distinguish between different kinds of fuels. It is fundamentally a housekeeping bill. There is really nothing in the bill that will immediately affect any commercial interest or immediately require any fuel producer or vendor to do anything. It is a very preliminary step that will allow the government to regulate all kinds of fuel within the same regulatory regime.

From that perspective, it is an improvement over the current wording of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. The official opposition supports the bill in principle and we look forward to discussing the merits and the parameters of any new regulations that will come from the bill when it gets to committee.

That being said, I would like to continue with my remarks in three separate ways. First, I would like to talk about the government's setting of a 5% ethanol standard in Canada. I would like to talk about the incoherence of that new target that is forthcoming with the changes the government is bringing about to the excise tax exemption. Finally, I would like to talk about how this fits, or does not fit, into a climate change plan which frankly has been completely discredited by all third party observers in Canada.

This morning we saw news reports that four major Canadian provinces, British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec, have decided to no longer wait for the federal government in terms of coming up with a coherent climate change plan. They are going to go it alone. They are looking at designing their own cap and trade system. They are looking at the potential of fungible trading, trading that can happen between Canada and Canadian provinces and American states, for example.

This is happening at a time when the government is bringing in a minor technical adjustment bill to allow for the regulation of new fuels, which is only a very small part of what should be a coherent national climate change response.

Let us talk about Bill C-33 and what it actually will do if the government is going to follow through, as the environment minister and the agriculture minister have both said, with a 5% national ethanol mandate by 2010.

First, the official opposition has been calling for a 10% ethanol position since last January when the Leader of the Opposition challenged the government in a speech to Saskatchewan farmers in Regina to increase to 10% what had already been put forward in our election documentation of 2006 calling for a 5% ethanol content.

It is important for Canadians to know that all car manuals, in every car sold in Canada today, tells car owners that today they can in fact use a 10% ethanol content in their engines as they run their cars.

We know that if we had a 10% mandate in Canada as opposed to the weaker 5% put forward by the government, it would double the amount required to some four billion litres a year, a figure already surpassed in terms of those plants that are presently operating, under construction and being financed. When the Minister of Agriculture and his parliamentary secretary speak about supporting our farming community, one has to ask the question, why is the government pursuing such an unambitious target of 5%?

In fact, in late June the former minister of agriculture labelled the official opposition leader's call for 10% as “overly aggressive”, which the Canadian Report on Ruel Ethanol says is in itself an excessive term given that Ontario, the country's largest gasoline market, is already moving from an existing annual average E5 requirement to 10% starting in 2010. Why is the federal government lagging behind the province that consumes the largest amount of gasoline in the country? There is no explanation so far.

It is interesting to note as well that the Renewable Fuels Association that was quoted just moments ago by the parliamentary secretary is in fact driving for a 10% ethanol content. It says that since today all car manuals allow for 10% ethanol, this means that the government's legislation will allow for two years of the use of sub-environmental quality gasoline, that is, 5% ethanol, but two years later such blends have to be increased to at least match the level allowed for in 100% of all car manuals.

Thus, even the Renewable Fuels Association and its president Gord Quaiattini, who was just quoted by the parliamentary secretary, are opposed to the government's standard. Some consultation. Some leadership. All of this, of course, is in the context of the climate change plan.

Let us talk for a few minutes about the science behind ethanol and greenhouse gas reductions. Three or four colleagues have raised questions about the merits of one form of ethanol derived from one plant substance over another form of ethanol derived from yet another plant substance. Let us talk a bit about that.

I was quite astounded, in fact, to hear the Minister of Agriculture tell the House that this is his bill but he is unable to speak about the environmental considerations that ought to be paramount with respect to what he is trying to accomplish here.

We know that the environmental impact of ethanol depends very much on the raw materials and the production process used to make it. Studies of corn based ethanol, which is the most common form in North America, vary in how much greenhouse gases can actually be reduced. Some studies say there can be a net positive effect, while other studies say there can be a net negative effect. It depends on how it is measured.

Berkeley University found that corn ethanol reduces greenhouse gas emissions by about 13%, whereas another form of ethanol called cellulosic ethanol would produce about 85% fewer greenhouse gases than gasoline. That is 13% for corn and 85% for cellulosic ethanol. In terms of greenhouse gas emissions per mile driven, gas with 10% ethanol lowers emissions by 2% and E85 lowers emissions by 23% for corn based ethanol and 64% for cellulosic.

There are major concerns, realistic concerns, that heretofore we have not seen even mentioned by the government and we hope to see these debated in committee.

As we heard from the minister recently, the new demand for corn to produce ethanol is inflating corn prices, raising the price of both corn based products and other commodities that use corn as feed, such as beef, pork, and milk, for example. It raises the price of substitute crops, particularly as farmers switch to corn and produce less of the other crops. Some argue it could harm our exports of corn based or corn fed products. The proponents, those who favour corn based ethanol, say there is still a crop surplus carried over each year and that yields are growing.

Here is something else. We know that even small increases in grain costs harm poor people the most and could exacerbate world hunger. The often cited example is the price of tortillas in Mexico, which doubled in 2006, a year of record United States corn prices. Mexico gets 80% of its imported corn from the United States.

Here is another factor. Corn is energy and water intensive and is a highly polluting crop to grow. We have to be honest about this. It requires large amounts of fertilizer, pesticides and fuel to grow, harvest and dry, not to mention transport. It contributes to soil erosion and water pollution. It is a major cause of nitrogen runoff, which can create oxygen-starved dead zones in our water bodies, an extremely important issue for Canada.

Some people are concerned that the increased use of E85 as a motor fuel may lead to increased smog and health effects, but there I do not think the research is conclusive.

Sometimes when farmers rush to convert to or increase the production of corn or sugar cane or other crops for ethanol, there is a fear that the conversion of forests or wilderness to farmland will not only harm biodiversity but may negatively affect the net greenhouse gas reductions of ethanol use.

Even with major increases in ethanol production, ethanol is an expensive drop in the bucket in terms of reducing overall emissions. It is an expensive per tonne process to reduce our greenhouse gases. That is why cellulosic ethanol, which is often called second generation technology ethanol and uses waste material and switchgrass, et cetera, offers the real hope for significant reductions in GHG emissions.

Corn based ethanol has a net positive effect, I believe, but is not holding out the same promise. I think the government ought to be putting forward a policy where everything possible that can be done to direct the industry toward the next generation of ethanol development should happen if we really want the environmental benefits without as many drawbacks.

Yet there is another angle that deserves to be raised, and that is the incoherence between the government's purported 5% ethanol content regulation and what it is actually doing when it comes to taxation policy for these very fuels.

On April 1, just two months from now, the government will repeal the excise tax exemption for biodiesel and ethanol fuels. We know the effect of the repeal on low level blends is small, and maybe even minimal, but we know the additional taxes are substantial for higher blends. The price of what they call B50, for example, will increase by 2¢ a litre. The price of E85 will increase dramatically, by 8.5¢ a litre, hardly making the fuel competitive.

The tax increases come at a time when this early stage industry needs traction to establish a foothold in Canada's refueling market. There are 31 vehicle models today on the road in the Canadian market, 31 different kinds of vehicles that can use E85, but there are only two full-fledged E85 retail stations in the country compared to 1,200 in the United States.

Higher level blends are better for the environment than lower level blends. So what does the government do? It removes the tax subsidy, thereby driving up the cost of the substitute so that it is not competitive in the market at the retail stations and in fact pricing it over the $120 oil, as we have seen through analysis.

On this side of the House, we are really having a hard time reconciling how these two actually connect. In fact, we do not think they do at all. We think that the Minister of Finance took a decision on this particular excise tax exemption without talking to his colleague, the Minister of the Environment, who obviously did not talk to his colleague, the Minister of Agriculture, all of this in a government that purports to have a special cabinet committee where energy, environment and the economy come together. We are trying to figure out how they do come together.

My colleague, the member for Newton—North Delta, who is the official opposition critic for competitiveness and the new economy, has been raising this issue now for some months. It is falling on deaf ears with the government. He is trying to reconcile, for example, how a major company in his own riding or close to it, Cascadia Biofuels, has cancelled its plans to become the first retailer of E85 ethanol in B.C. because it is now going to be unaffordable to sell. What kind of market incentive are we creating?

In my own riding of Ottawa South, the largest single manufacturer of enzymes to produce cellulosic ethanol, Iogen Corporation, located just 30 or 40 blocks from here, is now getting very worried about the production processes and the ultimate costing of ethanol in Canada, more particularly in my home province of Ontario, where the provincial government in its wisdom set a 10% standard there as opposed to a meeker and less ambitious 5%.

For Canadians, all of this has to be seen in the context of climate change policy. Let us take a look, as the parliamentary secretary suggested, at the climate change policy of the government. Let us see where it is actually at today.

First of all, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change told the government, all parliamentarians and all Canadians that we need to contain temperature increases to between 2° and 2.4° if possible. We will only be able to do that, it says, if we stabilize emissions within 15 years and cut them in half by 2050. We have to stabilize in 15 years and cut emissions in half by 2050 or we play Russian roulette with the atmosphere. That is the choice. The IPCC has told us.

It reminds me of the old advertisement on television for FRAM oil filters. The first shot was of a mechanic standing at the window who was saying “you can pay me now for your oil filter”, while the next shot was the car being wheeled in, obviously broken down, with the mechanic saying “or you can pay me later”. This is what we are talking about when we talk about a functioning atmosphere: pay now or pay later.

The Stern review, conducted by the former chief economist at the World Bank on the economics of climate change, said that the costs of ignoring climate change would be 5% to 20% of GDP, more than the cost of two world wars and the Great Depression combined. In contrast, the cost of tackling the problem now can be limited to 1% of global GDP, if we act now.

The IPCC report also says there are already many effective low-cost options available to developed countries like Canada to reduce greenhouse gases: financial incentives, and we have just talked about one, the excise fuel tax; deploying existing technologies; tradeable permits and carbon credits, something missing from the government's climate change plan; renewable power investments, cut since the government came to power; and voluntary programs.

Here is another study. Just four months ago, McKinsey & Company, the largest and most respected management consulting firm in the world, showed that a great deal could be achieved in the fight against climate change without placing an undue burden on the economy if governments were to provide incentives for the development and deployment of green technologies. The study concludes that the annual worldwide costs for making the needed emissions reductions to avoid worse climate change is only 0.6% of that year's projected GDP in 2030.

I could go on. The litany of failure on the government's climate change plan has now been well detailed by the C.D. Howe Institute, Deutsche Bank, the Pembina Institute and the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, the Conservative government's own board, have told the government its plan is baseless and will not achieve their targets in any way. In fact, not a single third party observer has put forward a shred of evidence to substantiate that its plan will work.

Once again, we see the government's incoherence. The Environment Minister , the Finance Minister and the Agriculture Minister do not speak to each other because they could not even get a basic policy straight as a subset of the climate change plan, a plan which has now been widely discredited throughout Canadian society.

Those are my remarks. I welcome any questions and comments from my colleagues.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Kevin Sorenson Conservative Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-33 is one of those bills which, for some of us members of Parliament who have sat in opposition in the past for far too long, we are now very happy to be on the government side to see brought forward. This is one of those bills about which I, together with other rural caucus members, talked to the Prime Minister, the Finance Minister , the Environment Minister and the Agriculture Minister.

I know that all members of the government, including the Prime Minister and the cabinet, are committed to working on ways to lower carbon dioxide emissions, but also to give a new market to our agricultural producers in this country. Certainly, Bill C-33 would do that. The bill would take some massive steps in reducing carbon emissions.

I listened to my Liberal colleague across the way. He actually started out pretty good. He recognized some of the positive things that the bill would do. I hope that he will support the bill. Then he started talking about the negative. He spoke about what they should have done and what we should have done. It just comes back to, why did the Liberals not move in this direction when they were on this side of the House?

The hon. member has been all over the map. First, he said that we have said we will regulate 5% biodiesel or 5% renewable fuel by 2010. However, he challenged us to accept the Liberals' benchmark of 10%. Then he said that this regulatory decision to make it 5% has caused other crops to skyrocket in price. He then said that the increased cost in food is a huge cost to the poorest in the world, but he wanted to go to 10%.

It is not just that the Liberals did nothing when they were on this side, even in the member's speech the member said that we went to 5%, but we should have gone to 10%. However, going to 5% will raise the cost of the other crops.

I am from a rural constituency and I am very pleased to see that other crops are starting to have more value. I am pleased to see that canola is now $12 or $13 a bushel and that wheat is finally taking off again.

I have a question for the hon. member. Is he opposed to the increase in commodity prices for the other grains?

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

David McGuinty Liberal Ottawa South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I suppose all I can say to begin is that the member was not listening. I tried to set out for Canadians the merits of some of the tough choices we will have to make as a country: choosing one form of ethanol over another form of ethanol.

I said that this government is meek in its understanding of making intelligent choices for the 21st century to drive our investments into the field of cellulosic ethanol as opposed to corn ethanol. I said to the member that this is an incoherent announcement that does not connect to the climate change plan, which has been widely discredited. I am waiting for a shred of evidence to suggest otherwise.

Let us talk a little bit about what we did and what we did not do. While the Prime Minister was denying even the existence of climate change for nine years, on record, four increasingly aggressive climate change plans were brought into place by two governments on this side of the House, culminating in project green launched in 2005 less than eight months after our leader became the environment minister.

The Pembina Institute has said that project green was over six times more effective than what the government has so far offered to date. We put in large scale funding for alternative energy. We invested in biofuels. We conducted a highly successful public awareness campaign to teach Canadians about the dangers of global warming while our Prime Minister was fundraising to block the ratification of the Kyoto protocol, describing it as a socialist, money-sucking scheme.

It is very rich for a government member to stand here and defend a climate change plan which so far meets with no success, none whatsoever, so I am finding it a little bit difficult to rise to the question.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, I want to go back to some of the comments that the hon. made about cellulosic ethanol and it being the panacea. Do we not really need to have some principles attached to these very large subsidy programs that may allow development of one or the other technology that focuses the subsidy in a direction that would lead people in the future to produce cellulosic ethanol or grain that can be used for protein as well?

There are a variety of better options within the biofuel industry that should be promoted. When we have a subsidy that is set out for simply the production of ethanol, we need to have these kinds of differentiations within the programs that we support to make people move in the right directions. Is this what the hon. member across the way is getting at?

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

5 p.m.

Liberal

David McGuinty Liberal Ottawa South, ON

Mr. Speaker, that is precisely what I am getting at and precisely what I think we need to do. What we need from the government is a proper evaluation of what choices we are making and why. Let me illustrate in practical terms for Canadians.

The government brought in a tax deductible transit pass. Here is what we know about a tax deductible transit pass. We know that the Minister of Finance was told by his own officials not to do it. We know that the economic analysis backstopping the measure said the cost was too expensive per tonne of greenhouse gases reduced. It was about $1,800 per tonne of greenhouse gases reduced using the tax deductible transit pass.

That is not intelligent hockey. That is not a proper allocation of scarce public resources. That is not good economic policy and it is not good environmental policy, but we see it right through this whole announcement in choices that are being made. Where was the evidence to support investing $1 billion-plus in this, over $1 billion-plus in that? It is not put forward. I am not even sure if the numbers have been crunched.

The member is precisely right and I would like to thank him for raising it. Those are the questions that I think have to be raised in committee.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

5 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Fitzpatrick Conservative Prince Albert, SK

Mr. Speaker, I heard the member's comment about cellulosic ethanol and it is my recollection in last year's budget that $180 million was targeted for the cellulosic ethanol operation that he mentioned in his riding, Iogen, to build the first commercial plant in Canada, fortunately in Saskatchewan, my home province.

However, the member referred to it as being an incoherent policy, that we are just emphasizing grain-based ethanol. Is the member suggesting today that the $180 million funding for the Iogen project to move ahead is a one-sided, incoherent strategy?

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

5 p.m.

Liberal

David McGuinty Liberal Ottawa South, ON

Mr. Speaker, absolutely not. I fought hard and supported the request for support for Iogen Corporation to pilot, to groundtruth, and to set up exactly the kind of plant that we should be setting up. What is incoherent is how any of these connect.

What about the plant in the riding of the member from Cornwall? How does that connect with this one? What about the actual removal of the excise fuel tax, the exemption, the exception? How is that going to have a bearing on pricing in the marketplace? These things are all connected, but unfortunately, I am still looking to see how it is coherent.

It certainly is not coherent, if I may share with the hon. member, with the climate change plan that absolutely no one believes. It was not believed domestically and it was completely rejected internationally.

In fact, it was so bad internationally, the Minister of the Environment, who was scheduled to give a speech to 100 international dignitaries and the media, skipped out three minutes before it was to take place. He did not come and present it at all. We do not know where he was. If he is that proud of it, maybe he should come to the House and defend it more regularly.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak this evening to Bill C-33, An Act to amend the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 to provide for the efficient regulation of fuels. It allows the minister to regulate the content of fuels. The Bloc Québécois is in favour of the principle of this bill. We obviously want to examine it in more detail in committee.

I am nonetheless surprised to hear the government this evening. It is as though it were presenting the seventh wonder of the world. This Conservative government thinks this bill represents a shiny new energy policy, agriculture policy, and greenhouse gas reduction policy, but it is nothing more than an administrative measure that addresses some of our concerns. That is why, as I was saying, we support the principle.

We want—and everyone agrees on this—to increasingly reduce our dependence on oil. Maybe some people do not want that, but we certainly do. We also want an effort to be made in the transportation sector in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote the use of agricultural and wood waste products. Some hon. members have mentioned certain pilot plants as far as cellulose ethanol is concerned. An increasing number of projects are being implemented. During this speech I will take the opportunity to talk about what is going on in my region in particular. You will understand why when I do.

The government has already announced that it will implement a regulation requiring fuel to contain an average of 5% renewable fuels by 2010. Regulations will also require diesel and fuel-oil to contain an average of 2% renewable fuels by 2012. We know that the Government of Quebec intends to have gasoline contain 5% ethanol by 2012. It has invested $6.5 million in building two demonstration plants for cellulose ethanol production in the Eastern Townships, not far from my riding.

The cellulose ethanol process promotes the use of agricultural residues, such as straw, and forestry residues, such as wood chips, trees and fast growing grasses. This could be an excellent opportunity for the agricultural and forestry sectors, which desperately need additional sources of revenue.

Such a project is underway in the Bromptonville area, in Sherbrooke. I know the area well. Indeed, during my first election campaign, the former municipality of Bromptonville, which amalgamated with Sherbrooke, was in the Richmond—Arthabaska riding. The pilot plant or pilot project involved the Kruger forestry company, located in the area. The second project is still in the Eastern Townships, in Westbury, where the residues from table making are turned into ethanol. It is still in the early stages, but it is a path worth exploring further in terms of these kinds of projects.

The Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food also had the opportunity to meet with the managers of an Ottawa-based business, Iogen Corporation. Some members have mentioned other plants elsewhere in Canada. These people built a pilot plant that has been producing cellulosic ethanol for a few years now. The process is not yet “profitable”, although I think it is a profitable venture anytime we do something to reduce our oil dependency. For now, this is very much still in the experimental stage, but this is a very promising new form of energy.

The biofuel industry is also becoming increasingly important. Moreover, under new regulations, some cattle farmers are left with specified risk materials, or SRMs, that are worth nothing at this time and they must pay to dispose of them. It would be beneficial for these farmers to be able to send these materials to biodiesel plants so they could be turned into fuel.

I know that the Fédération des producteurs de bovins du Québec is already asking the federal government for assistance to conduct a market study, at the very least, to determine whether constructing a biodiesel plant would be feasible. It would be a very good idea for the federal government to listen to the representations of the Fédération des producteurs de bovins du Québec regarding this issue. Indeed, a very profitable market could be developed. Of course, all animal oils, all animal product residues, could eventually be turned into biofuel.

Earlier I said that I would provide examples from my riding. My hometown is known as the cradle of sustainable development. This is even written on the signs. In my area, the late Normand Maurice was known as the father of recycling. Recycling started in Victoriaville, in central Quebec. We are very proud of that. The city is the cradle of sustainable development. We fulfilled our desire to take sustainable development even further by converting the city's 35 trucks to run on biodiesel. In Victoriaville, the foremen are already driving around in hybrids. This example gives an idea of the philosophy of my region. All the other vehicles run on ethanol fuel. Biodiesel comes from vegetable oils, animal fats and used frying oils.

In Victoriaville, the Centre de formation en entreprise et récupération, or CFER, was responsible for an interesting partnership. Normand Maurice, whom I mentioned earlier, created the CFERs in Quebec. In the beginning, there was only the one centre in Victoriaville. There are now 17 throughout Quebec. Young people with learning difficulties learn to work as part of a team in a plant. Now, CFERs are specialized in recycling all kinds of materials, including cellular phones or anything Hydro-Québec no longer uses, from wires to lamp posts. A recycled paint plant was even opened in Victoriaville. It belonged to the CFER, but is now independent. They are still together, but thanks to them, a whole new industry was developed. The CFER is what started all of this. Pioneers like Normand Maurice and Yves Couture, the current director of the CFER in Victoriaville, have made it possible for these young people to learn job skills, and most of them to find jobs. Of course, all the projects aim to promote public awareness about the importance of recycling.

In addition to the CFER, this project accommodates the Centre de formation Vision 20-20, which is a school, and Peinture récupérée du Québec, about which I have already spoken. Together, they decided to set up a used vegetable oil recovery and treatment project to produce biodiesel. At present, about ten Victoriaville restaurants provide the vegetable oil. We already have a pharmacy delivery vehicle that uses the biodiesel. The vehicle was modified and has a biodiesel reservoir. This entire project is branching out.

That is not all. Victoriaville is also home to the Institut national de la recherche scientifique, INRS, which is interested in the sludge from Victoriaville's water treatment plant. Apparently we have good sludge. I do not know much about the different qualities of sludge but one thing is for sure: the INRS believes that Victoriaville's sludge could be useful in the future. One day, it could be processed into biofuel. That is a scientific possibility. It could also be turned into biopesticides, detergent for the agriculture sector or paper mills, and microbial additives for treating wastewater from the agri-food sector, among others.

To close, I would like to point out that the INRS plans to open in Quebec City, in the near future, an agricultural, industrial and urban waste bioconversion laboratory that will be a pilot project. A small idea has taken off and I have only talked about what is happening in my riding. Every MP who has spoken has been able to give a few interesting examples of the strides taken in developing alternatives to traditional fuels. Everything I have spoken about can be found in Victoriaville's newspapers. The local media have kept the citizens informed. In my opinion, these are projects that could be replicated in other regions.

There are some very interesting possibilities with regard to the production of biofuels, but we still do not have large-scale production. As I mentioned, in many cases, things are still at the experimental stage. Unfortunately, we are still dependent on oil.

The Bloc Québécois put forward a plan to reduce our oil dependency. The government would do well to go along with our plan rather than believe that introducing an administrative bill will fix everything. The government should go along with this plan instead of giving mind-boggling tax cuts to big oil companies. If I am not mistaken, this year alone, the government gave $922 million to big oil companies that certainly do not need the money. Everyone knows this, so I will leave it at that.

I want to emphasize that Quebec could reduce its dependency on oil by half within 10 years. One way to reach that goal is to reduce the amount of oil used in gasoline. That is one way to reduce our oil dependency. However, we will not be able to reach that goal if the Conservative government continues to shoot down Quebec's efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

As we all know, not long ago this government thought that the whole climate change issue was a socialist plot and that global warming was not really happening. Representatives of this government have been hard at work on the international scene sabotaging the efforts of countries that want to do what has to be done to reduce greenhouse gases.

Contrary to what we heard earlier, this bill will not solve the problem. We agree that we need much stricter solutions. For example, we could demand absolute targets, particularly for big oil companies. We could do the same for transportation. We could also set up a carbon exchange. There has been enough talk here and in the public arena to realize that while some countries are taking action, our government is, unfortunately, asleep at the wheel when it comes to environmental issues.

Among other things, the federal government should take action within its jurisdiction to table a bill requiring auto manufacturers to improve the fuel consumption of all road vehicles sold in Quebec by 20% within 10 years. That kind of bill would be interesting.

Unfortunately, Bill C-33, which is currently before us, does not go that far. All it does is allow the minister to regulate the content of fuels.

The committee will have to look at this very closely to figure out exactly what the government is trying to accomplish with this bill. For example, we want to know if the government intends to copy our American neighbours' energy system development strategy.

It is important to understand that Canada will never be able to copy the United States, which heavily subsidizes its grain producers through the Farm Bill. The U.S. also heavily subsidizes ethanol plants. The American government pays 50¢ of the cost of producing a gallon of ethanol. If we do the math, we see that the U.S. is currently producing 12 billion gallons of ethanol, which means $6 billion in subsidies. The Americans' goal is to produce 36 billion gallons of ethanol in the relatively short term. Subsidies in the U.S. are staggering.

Clearly, Canada will not be able to go that route. We would like to know what the Conservative government's policy is on this. The minister did not make any mention of it in his speech this evening.

We need to know the federal government's real strategy for developing the energy system, if it has a policy. That remains to be seen.

To date, the government has talked a good game. Some steps are being taken—and we agree with them, of course—to promote certain biofuel plants. But as I said earlier, we will not give this government a blank cheque based on its environmental record. That is out of the question. This government's responsibility for the sustainability of agriculture in Canada will not disappear with this bill, even though it does promote the use of biofuels.

As I said, we need to be increasingly aware of new fuels. It is important to study all the environmental impacts of introducing and using biofuels. That is why it will be very interesting to hear the explanations and testimony in committee about the actions the government wants to take.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I appreciated the member's speech. I have two questions for him.

At the end of his speech, he talked about the subsidies given to the agricultural industry in the United States and how they hurt Canadian farmers. Would the member comment on how effective the government has been in trying to convince the United States and Europe to stop harmful subsidies, which are hurting our farmers so much?

The second question I have is related to the types of ethanol and from what they are produced. At a Canadian Renewable Fuels Association reception last night, I talked to some of its major officials, and they are always very helpful. I commend that organization for the lobbying it has done over the years for renewable fuels. The officials explained how ethanol production was moving more and more away from using the actual food part of the corn and using only the rest of the product. The Liberals have made a great deal of mention today to the use of cellulose.

If the emphasis, motivation and incentive is toward producing a type of ethanol from fuels that will not hurt fuel production, how is this incorporated in the bill?

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I did not see that in the bill. However, the reason we are insisting on hearing about it in committee and inviting more and more witnesses is precisely in order to fully explore the matter, to determine the government's direction in terms of its policies concerning energy and the use of renewable fuels. As I was saying, we hear the government saying that this bill will revolutionize the planet, but, in reality, it is a much more administrative measure. There are some promising features, however. Of course, we must shed full light on the matter, as we do for each and every bill that comes before us.

As for subsidies, it must be understood that Canada, which is supposed to be a major player on the world stage when it comes to agriculture and agrifood, has been described—and I am not the one who said it—by many associations, federations and farmers' unions as a boy scout compared to other countries that constantly give huge subsidies to their farmers. This is definitely the case in the European Union and the Unites States.

WTO negotiations are currently underway in Geneva and it seems that none of those countries wants to make any concessions. Canada, on the other hand, must put its foot down and assert its rights.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for giving us his point of view, especially when he spoke to the larger issues of energy policy, where much of this has to fit into the design of a green energy future for Canada and for Quebec.

One of the largest debates in Quebec right now is about the importation liquefied natural gas to the province. It is my understanding the Bloc has not taken the position of opposing this. Natural gas is used for space heating. Biomass energy and biological fuels can be used as well for the same purpose.

Is there not a higher quality in developing green energy in Canada for the use by Quebeckers over the importation of a potentially very expensive form of energy from places like Russia and Qatar?

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thought it was rather clear in my speech that promoting the use of renewable energy is completely consistent with sustainable development. This is what Quebec has been wanting for a long time.

Earlier, I heard one of my colleagues give some examples of what Manitoba and other provinces with rather interesting renewable energy policies are doing.

It is always very important to keep developing these types of products instead of importing gas or other energies. That is obvious. However, as I said earlier, we must understand that biofuels and all the new technologies are still in the experimental stage. We cannot wake up one day and say that we are changing our production and that we are using only such-and-such a product to fulfill or meet our needs, in the industries, in the transportation sector, or elsewhere. If we do nothing, we will certainly remain dependent on oil and other expensive energies. However, if we are smart and keep investing the necessary money and implementing the necessary policies, while still respecting the importance of sustainable development, we will clearly be able to wean ourselves off these very expensive energies at some point.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, my esteemed colleague from the Bloc is the vice-chair of the agriculture committee and is very learned on this topic. We enjoy a great relationship while working on issues that are important to farmers across the country.

He talked about other types of biofuels and biomass. Outside of Montreal, Rothsay has a biodiesel plant that is based upon using animal byproducts, the fats from rendered product, to make biodiesel. It has proven to be extremely successful. I can see that business expanding across the country thanks to the good work at its plant outside of Montreal.

Iogen, just outside of Ottawa, has been working on developing cellulose ethanol and is getting further down the line to seeing that technology commercialized. This will also provide another marketplace for our agriculture producers, whether it is waste coming out of livestock yards, or the straw left out in the fields after harvest, or making use of things like wood chips from the pulp and paper industry or the lumber industry. There is an opportunity to take waste material and turn it into a valuable product.

I am glad my esteemed colleague has made the intervention outlining the fact that those benefits are there for agriculture as well, on top of this great new story for all farmers across the country.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, that is not really a question but rather a compliment for my speech. Many thanks to my colleague, whom I hold in high regard as well.

He is quite right. As the chair of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food, he is passionate about the evolution of agriculture; however, we do not always agree on everything. He feels the same way and therefore it is mutual.

There are definitely very interesting prospects for cellulose ethanol—as he just said—and all types of residue. This would benefit not only the agricultural sector but the forestry sector as well. What do we currently do with residue and animal waste? We throw them out. Often we even have to pay to dispose of them.

At some point, if it becomes possible to recycle this type of waste into biofuel, everyone will win.

The House resumed from January 29 consideration of the motion that Bill C-9, An Act to implement the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (ICSID Convention), be read the third time and passed.

Settlement of International Investment Disputes ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at the third reading stage of Bill C-9.

Call in the members.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Vote #31

Settlement of International Investment Disputes ActGovernment Orders

5:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I declare the motion carried.

(Bill read the third time and passed)

Settlement of International Investment Disputes ActGovernment Orders

5:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

It being 5:58 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Old Age Security ProgramPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.

Independent

Louise Thibault Independent Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

moved:

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should review the Old Age Security program with a view to: (a) reduce the program’s operational costs by ceasing to pay benefits that subsequently have to be repaid; (b) allocate these savings first to single, divorced and widowed Guaranteed Income Savings recipients, specifically to people who did not have an opportunity to prepare for their retirement; (c) improve the Guaranteed Income Savings benefits for elderly single, divorced and widowed individuals; and (d) increase the other income threshold so that Guaranteed Income Savings recipients may receive the equivalent of 15 hours per week of work at minimum wage in their province of residence without penalty.

Mr. Speaker, I am proud and moved to open the debate today on an issue that is very important to me, on behalf of thousands of seniors in my region, in my riding, in Quebec and in Canada. I am talking about having a decent guaranteed income supplement worthy of its name.

I would like to begin by thanking the hon. member for London North Centre for agreeing to second my motion. I chose this hon. colleague because he is fine man with a deep sense of common good and social justice. I am sorry I cannot speak his name.

This debate is necessary and urgent because it addresses the financial situation of low income seniors, which has been critical for far too long now and has had a serious impact on many aspects of their lives. A quarter of a million seniors live in poverty and the majority are single women. This deplorable situation includes seniors who are receiving the maximum guaranteed income supplement benefit and those who are eligible to receive it but are not aware of that fact.

I took the initiative to start a petition in support of this motion and I collected 7,000 signatures from people all across eastern Quebec, from La Pocatière to the Magdalen Islands and even from New Brunswick, who approved the timing of this motion. This shows that people, seniors or not, recognize the merits of this motion and, accordingly, the need for elected members of this House to make it clear to the government that something needs to be done about this right away.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Mr. Paquette from the Carrefour des 50 ans et plus in eastern Quebec, all the members of the affiliated clubs and all the people who signed the petition.

It is unacceptable and shameful of the government to allow thousands of seniors to live below the low-income cutoff, which is just a euphemism for poverty line. They are living in extreme poverty. These people are suffering greatly and it is time to do something about it.

The motion I am presenting calls on the government to review the old age security program to ensure that our seniors are getting adequate benefits. The motion is divided into four parts.

First, it involves reducing the program’s operational costs by ceasing to pay benefits that subsequently have to be repaid. In my view, this is only logical.

Second, the motion aims to allocate these savings first to single, divorced and widowed guaranteed income supplement recipients, specifically to people who did not have an opportunity to prepare for their retirement. Indeed, many of our seniors are in this position.

Third, it involves improving the guaranteed income supplement benefits for those same recipients, those I just mentioned above.

Fourth, the motion aims to increase the other income threshold so that guaranteed income supplement recipients may receive the equivalent of 15 hours per week of work at minimum wage in their province of residence without penalty.

I would now like to explain these four points one by one.

The first has to do with the fact that thousands of people aged 65 and older receive old age security benefits, which are often referred to as the “old age pension”, and pay it back in full when they file their income taxes. According to Statistics Canada 234,623 recipients had to repay a portion of their pension in 2006. Of that number, 47,334 had to pay it back in full or nearly in full. The reality is that seniors who have a gross annual revenue of $103,000 or more do not really need a taxable monthly pension of $500.

Although I know that some members of this House do not want this aspect of the old age security program to be called into question, I personally believe that the money saved should be used to increase guaranteed income supplement payments for people who are currently living below the poverty line—well below the poverty line.

The second point raised in my motion concerns the costs of running the old age security program. I am talking about the costs associated with managing overpayments, which cost the government and therefore taxpayers a great deal of money. In her 2006 report, the Auditor General indicated that old age security overpayments totalled $82 million as of March 31, 2005. She also stated that recipients who had not yet repaid their overpayments were continuing to receive benefits. These overpayments are sometimes the result of file processing errors. They are not necessarily due to fraud.

In the same report, the Auditor General said that the quality of application processing is not adequately monitored and that 9% of applications showed quality deficiencies. That created payment errors amounting to 0.6% of the total amount of benefits, which is $27.9 billion, as I am sure my colleagues know. If we do the math, we get $167 million, which is no small amount. I am asking that the money the government saves by putting an end to many of the overpayments be used to increase guaranteed income supplement payments for poor seniors.

The third part of my motion is crystal clear: “improve the guaranteed income supplement benefits for elderly single, divorced and widowed individuals”, meaning people who live alone. Why? Because essentials such as rent, heating, electricity, basic telephone service, cable, essential travel—I am not talking about vacation travel—and food cost as much for a person living alone as for a couple, and sometimes even more.

The situation of single seniors who receive the guaranteed income supplement, and mainly those who receive the maximum, is nothing short of disastrous. These individuals are thousands of dollars below the poverty line. For example, in my riding, recipients of combined benefits—old age security and the guaranteed income supplement—receive $14,000 whereas the poverty line is $18,000. They have a shortfall of $4,000. What about recipients who live in major centres where the poverty line may be $22,000, $24,000 or $27,000? The shortfall is greater. These individuals are living in extreme poverty and that has to change.

It also has to be said that although both men and women are caught in this deplorable situation, it is women—particularly the oldest— who are more often the victims of this poverty. Many of these women were unable to pay into pension plans because of their role as housewives, a very noble role indeed. All women who worked at home, often with their spouses—farm wives, for example—did not earn an income and thus could not contribute to a public pension plan.

Furthermore, speaking of women, we know that they have a greater life expectancy: 82.5 years for women compared to 77.7 for men. These women who live in poverty will be subjected to these conditions for a longer period of time. I believe that everyone in this House will acknowledge that this is shameful.

It is unacceptable and the government must take action to correct this situation.

I must point out that this situation still exists despite the improvements various successive governments have agreed to make over the years, mainly—let us face it—because of social pressures and the work of the opposition to increase the guaranteed income supplement and facilitate the process somewhat.

Our seniors are still living in poverty and are being kept in poverty because of unfair provisions. We must eradicate poverty among seniors—and the government has the means to do so—with a system that respects dignity and that everyone can get behind. This social value has been embraced out of respect for our seniors. The token amount they are being given right now does not reflect their contribution to society.

My fourth request asks the government to increase the level of other income permissible in order to allow recipients of the guaranteed income supplement, who so desire, to work 15 hours a week at the minimum wage of the province they live in, without penalty. We know that currently, a claimant's guaranteed income supplement is decreased for any earnings over and above $24. This is absolutely ridiculous.

Research has shown that people 65 and older who wish to continue working do so for far less than minimum wage. People 65 and older do want to keep working. They are often recruited during peak periods in sales sectors, agriculture, agri-food and tourism. Some of these people that I meet tell me that they are practically encouraged to work under the table. It is not right for a government to penalize honest people who are simply trying to have a decent life.

On the subject of the incomes of seniors, the framework prepared in 2005 by the Committee of Officials for Federal/Provincial/Territorial Ministers Responsible for Seniors is telling:

—income is one of the most important health determinants and the basis of an individual's ability to access appropriate housing and transportation required to maintain independence; nutritious and sufficient food to maintain health; and non-insured medical services and supports such as medication and home support.

Income is an important determinant when it comes to poverty. If we really want to help our seniors live better, this is where we must start.

In conclusion, through this motion, and this goes without saying, I am inviting all parliamentarians to join me in calling on the government to seriously and actively deal with the issue of poverty among seniors, particularly seniors living alone. The situation is critical. The government, and each elected member in this House, must be guided by values that focus on the common good, and the government is responsible for redistributing our collective wealth. All I ask is that our seniors be able to live with dignity. They helped build our society. We owe them this.

I have suggested realistic solutions. I will leave it up to the government to decide how to implement them. This is why I chose to move a motion instead of introducing a bill, knowing full well that it is rare for a member's bill to receive royal assent if it requires the government to incur expenses. For the sake of our seniors, I hope that each member in this House will think carefully and ethically about this, and that a majority will vote in favour of this motion.

Old Age Security ProgramPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I really appreciate that this motion is before the House because there are few issues that are more pressing than the income needs of seniors, particularly the most vulnerable seniors in our communities.

I know that the member spoke very eloquently about the needs in particular of senior women in our communities. When they are living alone, they do experience much higher rates of poverty than any other segment of the senior population. I know that is true in Hamilton. I certainly know it is true in my riding of Hamilton Mountain, yet there is a section in the motion that I find kind of awkward.

When we talk about elderly, single, divorced and widowed individuals, that section to me gives the impression that we are advocating that government benefits, as essential as the GIS, are being allocated based on marital status.

I would like to think that the wording is as it is in that motion simply because that is how the actual legislation deals with people who are single and living alone, and that we are not actually supporting this distinction based on marital status. I just wonder whether the member could elaborate as to what her intent is and whether she is indeed just copying the language of the bill.

Old Age Security ProgramPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Independent

Louise Thibault Independent Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for her question. Obviously, I hope she will support this motion. She is absolutely right. The only reason I used the language I did is that it is important to respect the administrative language, the language used in the legislation.

My goal in introducing this motion is to help single people. We all know that typically, this affects older women—much older women. I am not just saying this because I am a woman.

I am just using the existing language. The member can be sure that I did not intend to reveal or hide anything.

Old Age Security ProgramPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Bloc

Raymond Gravel Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques because the subject of seniors is very important to me. I, too, am here to work for seniors.

I would like my colleague to clarify two points. First, the motion specifies “single”, “widowed” and “divorced” people, but it should also include “separated” people. Perhaps these people have been forgotten because they constitute a different group.

My other question has to do with the program's operational costs mentioned in the motion:

(a) reduce the program’s operational costs by ceasing to pay benefits that subsequently have to be repaid;

How much are these operational costs estimated to be? If part (a) is rejected, then part (b) will automatically be dropped. I think it would be deplorable if funds were not redirected to the recipients of the guaranteed income supplement.

I would like some clarification on these points.

Old Age Security ProgramPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Independent

Louise Thibault Independent Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, to my knowledge, when we worked on the wording, we used the three terms that were there. Obviously, if “separated” needs to be added, I would be happy to do so. There was no moral dimension in the words used in the motion. I really meant people who live alone.

As for the operational costs, we are talking about several million dollars. This is why I would like to see that money redistributed, of course, as I said, so that those who really need it can benefit from it. In my view, it is completely unacceptable that people who do not need the pension at all receive it.

The question of overpayments and managing the program is a major issue. We are spending ridiculous amounts of money to manage incompetence. That must be corrected. Generally speaking, the government is very stingy. When it is spending money to help our seniors, it must ensure that this money goes to the right people.

I thank my hon. colleague for his question.