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.