House of Commons Hansard #98 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was prices.


The House resumed from May 2 consideration of the motion that Bill C-33, An Act to amend the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, be read the third time and passed, and of the amendment.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

4 p.m.


Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I am quite pleased to speak to Bill C-33 and the amendment, and I offer my support for the bill but not for the amendment.

I might say that it is important in this debate, regarding the amendment, because everything relates to the bill, so I will be fairly broad in my remarks.

It is interesting to see the reactions of some of the party leaders in this House since this bill was first debated at first reading and at committee.

At one point in time, all parties seemed to be in favour of increasing biofuel production for several reasons: one, to develop greater economic opportunities for rural Canada; two, to offer alternative crop opportunities and better returns for farmers in rural Canada; and three, to provide for a move away from fossil fuels, which would mean reduced greenhouse gas impacts on Canadian society. This is at a time when the environment is a huge issue.

However, now, because of changing circumstances in the global food supply and a few other issues, in an almost knee-jerk reaction, we are getting some saying that ethanol is almost solely responsible for the global food shortage and therefore some party positions are switching.

I will put it to members this way. Whether we pass or reject Bill C-33, it will, in neither case, impact the global food shortage or surplus to any great extent. Let us be realistic here. Regarding ethanol in Canada, in terms of this bill, will we be in the modern world or will we stay behind the times? It is time we get up to speed.

However, I can say that if we reject this bill we will send a very negative message to those investors who took all parties' words and who based their investment decisions on plants that are already being built and on farmers who will put crops in the ground on the basis of those initial discussions at committee which had basically all parties supporting Bill C-33.

If this bill is defeated, somebody had better take responsibility for that lost investment opportunity and that lost investment out there for those people who actually took the word of the various representatives of the parties that this bill would actually go through Parliament. They took our word that we would implement regulations and increase the content of ethanol and biodiesels in fuel by regulations.

Simply put, investments have been made both on the farm in terms of the production of alternative crops and in plant capacity to build plants for the current feedstocks and, in their minds as well, for future feedstocks for ethanol production from more cellulosic feedstock, et cetera.

If we reject this bill, we will have killed an economic opportunity for great numbers of Canadian and international investors and we will have certainly killed an economic opportunity for a great number of Canadian farmers.

For those who say that we will be using good quality wheat and other crops for fuels, that is not necessarily so. Yes, sometimes they will be but not always.

Sometimes there is frost. There is always a frost in some area. Sometimes there is too much rain and the quality of the grain goes down. Sometimes there is drought, which affects the quality. Sometimes there are surpluses.

It is those products, which are not always top quality bread wheat or top quality cereal grade corn, that are going into the production of these particular fuels. There are these other lower quality crops that are often used as well.

I say, especially to the leader of the NDP, who seems to have a knee-jerk reaction against ethanol now although he had it in his policy platform for the last election, for heaven's sake, that he must not kill that gleam and that spark in the eyes of those farmers out there. I ask him to allow economic opportunities to develop in rural Canada. I ask him not to hamper this investment in economic opportunities by the farm community.

This 5% really will not take a whole lot of crop, but it will make a huge difference in terms of price returns for primary producers. The interesting thing about farm production is that if we have a 2% or 3% surplus, especially in the potato industry, it is not just that 2% or 3% surplus for which we get paid low returns: it kills the price of the whole 102% and 103%. This will assist in terms of that economic development and economic opportunity for the farm community as well.

The Canadian Renewable Fuels Association has some information on this, and I will quote the association a little later, but I can say that by being a player, by having the production base taking place right now with the current feedstock, it will encourage research and development in the newer feedstocks that are not so much food for our consumers as others. That is where we have to get to.

We cannot jump over this step. We are not ready to go there yet in terms of the cellulosic and the research and development required in that area. This step cannot be jumped over. We have to go to this step with that production and fuel stock base right now.

Oh yes, there is a number out there, and this debate is rather interesting, but there is quite a debate by some who would blame the world's food shortage on the production of ethanol. Nothing could be further from the truth. Is there some impact? Yes, there is a marginal impact, but ethanol is not the cause. The real cause, in my view, is the speculation in the commodities market, which has no relationship to costs or real crises on the ground.

As well, certainly, global trade has an impact on the food shortage. The food for which there is greatest shortage at the moment is rice. Rice is not used in the production of ethanol. However, some countries that have become dependent on rice imports have seen the exports from some other countries frozen. We are seeing speculation, hoarding and all these kinds of things.

That is the real reason there is a problem in terms of global food supply. It is due more to market exploitation, market manipulation and market speculation than it is to the production of ethanol itself.

I have what I think is a very good paper that certainly opens up a good debate. It is a policy brief by the Oakland Institute and I believe it was written in April although it does not have the date on it. It has this to say at one point:

In fact, it is the traders and middlemen who stand to gain most. Speculation in world commodities is driving prices upward, from global futures commodity trading to traders and hoarders in West Africa, Thailand and the Philippines.

The institute goes on to say:

The payments made by the Canadian Wheat Board show--

And we know that the Canadian Wheat Board maximizes returns to primary producers.

--that the farmers were paid between $260-$284 a ton for various qualities of non-durum wheat, while the global price for wheat peaked to over $520 a ton. In India, farmers were paid Rs.850 [their currency] a quintal while wheat was imported at Rs.1,650 [their currency] a quintal.

What this is showing is that prices on the ground are one thing, but it is the market speculation and the middlemen that are really causing those prices to go through the roof. The farmers are not feeling the benefit of those prices on the ground to anywhere near the extent of what prices are in the marketplace.

The Oakland Institute paper goes on. I do not necessarily agree with everything that is said, but I think they are interesting points. It states:

Various causes for the current food price crisis are being cited by policy makers and the media--most common among them being the increased demand from China, India, and other emerging economies, whose increasing per capita growth has whetted appetites, as well as the oft-cited rising fuel and fertilizer costs, climate change, and impact of biofuels production. What is missing in the discourse is analysis of the failure of the free market, which made countries vulnerable in the first place; ironically, it is being promoted as a solution to the current crisis.

The Oakland Institute is saying that there are a lot of causes of the food crisis, and it is certainly not just the production of ethanol and biodiesel causing it, as some would portray.

I want to turn to a comment that I think is right on the mark. Larry Hill, now chair of the Canadian Wheat Board, stated in an article:

Commodity prices have risen dramatically in the last two years. There are many factors that have contributed to these increases. Supply-side issues have been the most dramatic, with...production problems plaguing all five of the world's top wheat-producing exporting regions over the past two years.

This ranged from drought in Australia to the heavy rains at harvest in Europe, poor winter wheat conditions in Kansas, frost in Argentina, and heat damage in western Canada.

He continued:

On the demand side, the world population continues to grow. In some of the world's most populous nations, improvements to living standards have created more demand for a wheat-based diet and for livestock fed with grain.

He went on to say:

Until this year, grain prices in real dollars were so low that they were on par with what farmers received in the Dirty Thirties. Not surprisingly, these values caused many farmers to rethink their future in agriculture. Some walked away, others tried to diversify into other types of enterprises, while still others were forced to subsidize their farms with one if not two off-farm jobs.

The fact of the matter is that if we bring it into real terms the price of the wheat in a loaf of bread now is about 16¢ for a 16-ounce loaf of bread. That is not a great deal when the price of a loaf of bread is $2 or thereabouts.

My point is that the farmer's share is still not really any more than what it should be. When we hear Mr. Hill's comments, we have to recognize, as I am certain this House does, the kinds of difficulties that producers have faced over the last eight years in Canada, when farm incomes were at record lows in this country.

This ethanol and biodiesel industry is creating a spark in the eye for many. It is creating economic opportunity.

Yes, we know there is price pressure on the livestock and hog industries, but we have to find a way of making one agricultural commodity complementary to the other. We cannot have one industry such as the hog and beef industry built on cheap feed grains, because those producers have to survive too. We must have policy done in a complementary fashion such that farmers can make a living off the land in this country regardless of the commodity produced.

If I may turn to the bill for a moment, I want to come to the fact that the protection is already in the bill in terms of what I think is being asked by the amendment. The bill allows the government to regulate renewable content in fuels. It allows the federal government to implement regulations requiring 5% average renewable content in gasoline by 2010.

Subsequent regulations will also require 2% average renewable content in diesel and heating oil by 2012 on successful demonstration of renewable diesel fuel use under the range of Canadian environmental conditions, meaning fuels made from renewable sources such as agriculture crops and other organic matter.

This gives the government the authority to make regulations. I believe that the government will be sensible in that. Perhaps the government will be sensible on this particular issue and make reasonable regulations. We cannot say the same for the government on all issues.

New subclause 2(8) amends the bill to add a provision for periodic and comprehensive reviews by a parliamentary committee of the environmental and economic aspects of biofuel production in Canada. That is important. The committee put that in there. Parliament is not going to be hamstrung, but this is sensible.

The amendment that we are talking about now is not sensible. It basically stops the ethanol and biodiesel proposal in its tracks.

This review allows us to monitor the situation, to determine the environmental and economic impacts of biofuel production in Canada, and to do it in a sensible way. It is extremely important.

I think the amendment that the members are calling for is already covered by the work of the committee itself.

I would encourage Parliament to pass this bill. Investments are already being made. Primary producers are looking to the future with the current crop regime, yes, but they are also looking for and hoping that the government will put in place the research and development.

I know that research and development is taking place south of the border into other alternative crops such as wheat and barley, straw, stalks and cobs from corn in Ontario and Quebec, and vegetable and fruit residues from across Canada. In Prince Edward Island, there is a very small cold press biodiesel operation in place using canola.

There is the possibility of using forest and wood waste and also municipal solid waste. There are other alternatives down the road, but we have to get there. In order to get there, I ask Parliament to support this bill and let this economic opportunity succeed.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

4:20 p.m.


Carol Skelton Conservative Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Mr. Speaker, knowing my hon. colleague over many years, I know his heart and soul are with Canadian farmers, and I agree with him totally.

The whole perception of biofuels being bad and causing a world of food shortage has been blown out of proportion. I really think it is essential for Canadian farmers to have the bill passed, that it be carried by all members in the House of Commons.

We have to look at the shortage of food in the world for many different reasons. There have been drought and frost. Western Canada has gone through years of drought. There have been storms, and we only need to look at China and Burma lately. There are many factors.

I would like to give the hon. member a few more minutes to state his case because he has done it very well so far.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

4:20 p.m.


Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, it is nice to be in agreement with the member opposite. We not always are, but I think our objective is to have policies to benefit the farm community and society in general. We may not agree on the road to get there, but we do want to get to the same place.

In answer to the member's question, I would turn to what the president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture had to say recently because it hits the mark with respect to food prices and ethanol. I will quote what the president of the CFA said in a recent press release. He said:

Biofuels have been unfairly implicated as a primary cause of dwindling food stocks and high grain prices. Other market forces have a strong influence on grain prices, such as market speculation, changing dietary trends in emerging economies, and recent global weather patterns. Furthermore, it should be noted that only a small amount of Canadian grain is produced for biofuels, about 5 percent.

Growing for the biofuel industry has been an excellent option for farmers looking to diversify, and they shouldn’t be disparaged for making a smart move. These farmers have been lauded by the public and politicians alike for being leaders in the development of alternatives to fossil fuels.

Many farmers invested heavily to meet surging demand. What is often left out of discussion is the risk that a large-scale disaster (such as drought or a major hail storm) could leave them on-the-hook for escalating expenses.

Looking at the international scope of this issue, we've long known that inadequate food distribution and accessibility is hurting the world’s poor. This problem is not new. As an active member of the International Federation of Agricultural Producers, CFA is joining the call for governments to develop policies that address food insecurity.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

4:25 p.m.


Christian Ouellet Bloc Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague has a lot of experience in this House in terms of agriculture. But, I am taken aback to hear him say that Canadian farmers have already invested heavily to meet the demand. I do not believe that the plants are ready yet.

However, I will ask him a question, a question that very capable people in the field have also asked. Why would we not sell the surplus corn to the United States, given that they have ethanol projects that require much more corn than they are able to produce? That is my first question.

Next, many people who are very knowledgeable about these matters have come to Ottawa and said that it may be true that ethanol is no longer the main cause of rising prices. Rather, it is more our past reserves that drove up prices.

Darrin Qualman, from the National Farmer's Union in Saskatoon, told us that five years ago there were 115 million tonnes of various grain reserves around the world, but now there are 54 million tonnes, and that it was industry that lowered this quantity in order to be able to force prices to go up.

My second question is this: why could we not sell the corn produced here in Canada to rebuild the food stocks around the world?

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

4:25 p.m.


Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, the reason why I do not think we would want to grow corn here and ship it to the United States is we need that plant capacity in Canada. We need those jobs created in Canada. The part that people do not often relate to is the need for R and D in this area. The byproduct that comes out after the corn goes through ethanol production, is feed for livestock there. As of yet it is not a good feed for hogs, but it is, under the right characteristics, a decent feed for beef. Therefore, more R and D needs to be done into that feedstock development. However, the bottom line is we need that plant capacity and that investment in this country, not south of the border. We want to create jobs and opportunities for Canadians, not for Americans.

Regarding the second part of the question, it is true that ethanol has not had a huge impact on prices, but it has had some. It is true with the feedstock we use, there is not a tremendous positive benefit in terms of reduction in greenhouse gases. It is nothing near where it is in Brazil, where one unit of input and maybe seven units of production out. We are about 1 unit to 1.2 units. There is greater greenhouse gas reductions with sugar cane in Brazil.

However, as we move to new feedstocks, we may be able to get those better productions and we have to go through this step. The Canadian Renewable Fuels Association has said that the passage of Bill C-33 is critical to the development of the next generation biofuels in Canada. Its members would know because they are at the pinnacle of the industry.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

4:30 p.m.


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

Mr. Speaker, I heard my colleague say that he agreed with the member opposite. That means he will not agree with me; I will tell him that right off the bat.

The cost of basic foods has gone up 48% since the end of 2006. I am not the one saying this. According to the director of the World Food Programme, a “silent tsunami” is threatening to plunge 100 million people into hunger. The IMF estimates that the use of biofuels and the rather considerable subsidies granted to producers account for 70% of the increase in corn prices.

What does the bill we are debating today do? It requires gasoline to contain 5% ethanol. Where is the logic in setting this requirement, when we consider the international assistance that needs to be provided, the fact that people should feed themselves, the fact that we should respect our environment, and the fact that this bill would require a 5% biofuel content?

In fact, I do not agree with this term. It could perhaps be called “agro” but it is far from being “bio”.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

4:30 p.m.


Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, if the member goes back to my remarks, she will note that for one to believe ethanol is responsible for the food shortage is absolutely wrong. It may have a marginal impact, no question about that, but the land base is there to feed a hungry world.

The problem in terms of the hungry world, as I said earlier in my remarks, is more so markets commodity speculation where there is huge profit taking in some of the trade relationships and the power of some of the multinational corporations around the world. Some countries that were exporting rice, for instance, have frozen those exports in order to hoard supplies in their own countries. Is it market speculation or food security for their own people? I do not know, but it is other factors more than ethanol in the food difficulties around the world.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

May 26th, 2008 / 4:30 p.m.


Claude DeBellefeuille Bloc Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to speak today on Bill C-33, An Act to amend the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999.

Let us make it clear right at the start that the purpose of this government bill, which in itself contains no standards whatsoever, is to authorize the government to enact regulations governing the Canadian production of biofuels. In other words, the bill would allow the federal government to regulate renewable content in fuels in order to require, for example, a certain percentage of biofuel in gasoline.

In order to have a better understanding of legislative developments in the biofuels file, let us begin by reminding hon. members that the proposed measures, except for a few key details, were included in Bill C-30 from the previous session. I would remind the House that this bill, known as the clean air act, was amended by the opposition parties in committee and that the measures concerning biofuels still appeared in the amended version of the bill.

It would be a good thing to remind hon. members at this point that the government had already announced that an amended Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 would allow the government to implement regulations to require an average of 5% renewable content in gasoline by 2010. Subsequent regulations would also require an average of 2% renewable content in diesel and heating oil by 2012 upon successful demonstration of renewable diesel fuel use under the range of Canadian environmental conditions.

I would point out that the Bloc Québécois has been concerned since the beginning about the environmental and social consequences of the use of corn ethanol. It therefore submitted amendments in the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food specifically intended to better monitor biofuel regulation. These amendments would, for instance, have enabled committee members to keep abreast of technological advances in the field of renewable biofuels and also to evaluate the appropriateness of the measures proposed by the government.

Renewable fuels are one way for us to reduce greenhouse gases, but not the only way. Such fuels can also help us reduce our dependence on oil. However, not all renewable fuels are equal. That is very important to realize. A study by the committee of the federal government's regulations could have looked further into biofuels, their sources and their potential consequences. Unfortunately, the amendments proposed by the Bloc Québécois were all rejected by the Liberals and the Conservatives.

In light of this, the Bloc Québécois then moved, in the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, a motion that asked:

That the Committee recommend that the government ensure that the implementation of regulations resulting from the eventual adoption of Bill C-33, An Act to amend the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, not result in an increase in the proportion of Canadian corn production currently used to produce ethanol and that it be reported to the House at the earliest opportunity.

The adoption of this motion would have kept the current proportion of land seeded with corn for use in ethanol production. For example, if 15% of Canadian corn production is currently being used to produce ethanol, the motion would have ensured that 15% of that production continued to be used to produce ethanol.

Unfortunately, by rejecting the motion, the Conservatives have sent a clear message: they have no intention of developing the biofuel industry in a balanced manner. The regulation that will result from Bill C-33 may be conducive to excess. I cannot stress that enough.

We are in favour of renewable fuels but, in our opinion, this bill, which allows the federal government to regulate the level of biofuel in gasoline, diesel and fuel oil, must be passed in order to ensure sustainable development.

The federal government cannot try to find a measure that reduces both greenhouse gas emissions and our dependency on oil while at the same time it risks bringing about social and environmental consequences by increasing the proportion of corn production currently dedicated to ethanol production. If it adopts this contradictory approach, it risks completely eliminating any of the benefits it is trying to create through this bill. The Bloc Québécois cannot endorse such action.

This is one of the reasons that we are in favour of the amendment we are debating today, which asks that Bill C-33 be sent back to committee to be further studied in the context of the most recent scientific, environmental, agricultural and international developments.

For us, in terms of a biofuel substitute for oil, the most interesting prospect at present is ethanol made from cellulose. This technique, still in its experimental stage, uses an inexpensive raw material and, more importantly, would recycle vegetable matter that is currently unusable. It would also provide new markets for the forestry and agriculture industries.

Given the environmental and economic problems posed by the production of ethanol from certain crops, support for raw materials that could be produced more readily is gaining ground.

Research is being increasingly focused on the production of ethanol from non-food crops and materials rich in cellulose, that is, fibres. The development of an efficient process for converting cellulose to ethanol could promote the use of raw materials such as agricultural residues and straw as well as forestry residues, primarily wood chips, and even trees and fast-growing grasses.

Iogen Corporation has built a pilot plant and has been producing ethanol from cellulosic materials for a few years.

A pilot plant in Sweden, for example, is producing ethanol from wood chips. The process produces three co-products that can be burned directly or dried and sold as fuel, carbon dioxide gas and ethanol.

The Fédération des producteurs de bovins du Québec has already asked the federal government for assistance to conduct a market study to determine whether constructing a biodiesel plant would be feasible. A very profitable market could be developed in which animal oils and animal product residues could eventually be turned into biofuel.

We think that ethanol made from cellulosic materials such as agricultural and wood waste, and other types of fuels still in the experimental stage look like a very interesting possibility.

In addition, the Government of Quebec has announced that it will not promote corn ethanol further because of the environmental impact of intensive corn production. It seems that the Varennes corn-based ethanol plant will be the only such plant in Quebec. In fact, during my tour of the Varennes facilities over six months ago, the CEO, a particularly visionary leader, told me that future development of his plant would be based on second generation ethanol production using household waste.

Before the regulations are implemented, the Bloc Québécois wants to see some thoughtful deliberation concerning the environmental record of the alternative fuels the federal government will propose. We must not lose sight of the fact that the original intention of this bill was to try to decrease greenhouse gas emissions and reduce our oil dependency.

If the Conservative government really wanted to make a difference in this area, it would choose the path proposed by the Bloc Québécois, including a plan to reduce dependency on oil, among other things, rather than trying to go against the current and scuttling Quebec's efforts with its inaction in the fight against greenhouse gases.

It could also, as proposed by the Bloc Québécois, require automakers to substantially reduce the fuel consumption of all road vehicles sold in Quebec and Canada, like the reduction proposed by California, which has been adopted by 19 other American states and the Government of Quebec.

However, we know the Conservative government's position on this matter: rather than adopting a standard supported by those who have shown leadership in the fight against greenhouse gases, it chose to go with that of the Bush administration, which is less stringent and seems to be designed specifically to spare American auto manufacturers.

However, although there is no consensus on the environmental record of an alternate fuel, it is definitely responsible to have some reservations about it. Thus, in a letter last May about Bill C-33, the Fédération des producteurs de bovins du Québec wrote:

The federation agrees with the objective of the bill. However, this objective cannot be attained unless certain conditions are fulfilled. On the one hand, the industry cannot develop fully without adequate government support in terms of human and financial resources. On the other hand, we have to ensure that the life cycle of the renewable fuels chosen offers true environmental and energy benefits compared to oil products.

Furthermore, if it potentially worsens troubling social and environmental problems, elected members must make the responsible and appropriate decision, must refuse to continue in that direction and must attempt to propose alternative solutions.

That is exactly what the Bloc Québécois is doing. Although we initially supported the principle of the bill, we proposed significant amendments, which sought, among other things, to shed light on the environmental record and to ensure oversight of the potential negative effects of choosing one type of replacement fuel over another. I would remind members that these amendments and motions were defeated in two separate committees by the Conservative government with the support of the Liberal Party. This point is central to our position.

When the government commits more than $2 billion of Quebec and Canadian taxpayers' money to a bill of this scope, it is important to ensure that all the objectives of this bill will be reached and that the medium- and long-term negative effects are balanced and reasonable.

In closing, I would like to say that this is a complex bill. As an MP, I have had a number of calls and letters from producers urging my colleagues and I to vote in favour of this bill, while a number of citizens have called on us to vote against it. This bill concerns me ethically, personally and emotionally, since I represent an agricultural riding. I am very familiar with the situation facing many farmers who are trying to make ends meet, who are fighting to develop new markets, who are trying to build a better life and who want to keep doing their share to protect the environment.

After our discussions, a vast majority of the people I spoke with understand our position and admit that it is balanced, reasonable and responsible, and that it is important to make the right choices and reach one's objectives as well as possible. I will conclude by saying that it is important to pursue ethanol development from a variety of sources. In this sense, the Bloc Québécois motion, which was rejected by the Conservatives, and from which the Liberals abstained, was a step in the right direction. It is important to make informed decisions that take different parameters into account and that meet the environmental, social and economic objectives.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry Ontario


Guy Lauzon ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and for the Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for her comments, but I have to say that I am a little confused. I know that the Bloc has been powerless for 18 years here in the House, but I thought that the Bloc supported farmers.

My confusion stems from the fact that Bloc members all seem to have different ideas. The member and her colleague suggested sending our corn to be processed in the United States. I do not understand why we would want to give our jobs to the United States. I would like the member to comment on that suggestion.

I am confused about something else as well. Her two colleagues, who are members of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food, the members for Richmond—Arthabaska and Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, supported this bill while the committee was studying it. Now they have changed their minds.

I would like to ask the member why the Bloc has reversed its position and no longer supports Quebec producers.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

4:45 p.m.


Claude DeBellefeuille Bloc Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am sorry to hear that the member opposite is confused. I think my presentation was quite clear. I think the purpose was just as clear.

Decisions have been made in Quebec. Perhaps the member is not aware of the Government of Quebec's decision to build only one ethanol producing facility as part of its energy strategy. The Varennes plant uses surplus product from Quebec producers. It works very well and we are very proud of it.

However, taking into account all of the information available—from UN experts and even American states—questioning the United States' energy policy and the intensive production of corn to make ethanol, there is no reason to think that the Bloc Québécois is against ethanol production, as the member opposite suggested in his comments. On the contrary, the Bloc Québécois is in favour of ethanol from diversified sources. I believe that it would be more responsible to develop some of the other sources currently being used for ethanol production.

In closing, I want to point out that the Bloc tabled a motion indicating that we did not want the current proportion to increase, and that we did not want intensive corn production. I would like to remind my colleague that the Conservatives voted against the motion and that the Liberals abstained.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

4:50 p.m.


Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, there is no doubt that the previous speaker, the member for Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry, is naturally rather confused. I believe there would be a pretty strong consensus on that, although I will not ask for a show of hands.

My colleague gave a very clear presentation. I am going to ask her questions that will give her an opportunity to make some of the essential distinctions in this debate. The debate cannot be between those for and against the use of ethanol; that is not the debate. I would ask my colleague, who is also the Bloc Québécois natural resources critic—and I want to congratulate her on the great job she is doing—to explain why the Bloc Québécois takes a less rigid position and why we believe that ethanol should come from a variety of sources. Perhaps she could even make the connection with other issues.

This morning I saw that a number of our constituents had taken the time to write us. Some people may have written to my colleague to ask that we vote against Bill C-33. In fact, under the circumstances, there is no guarantee that this bill will not add to the food crisis and reduce corn supplies.

I would therefore ask her to explain the nuances of the Bloc's position.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

4:50 p.m.


Claude DeBellefeuille Bloc Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for Hochelaga. I have a great deal of admiration for his parliamentary experience.

It is important to remind everyone that the Bloc Québécois has never said it is against ethanol. Again, this is important to note because some people seem to be taking great delight in repeating this.

In Quebec, it is quite clear that our position is not to take the corn ethanol route, but to encourage other sources instead. We have heard a lot about using biomass and wood chips or biodiesel obtained from animal fat and agricultural waste. This could also be a very good prospect for other producers. For example, in the riding I represent, we are currently working very hard to reopen the only steer slaughterhouse in Quebec. If this slaughterhouse is reopened it could also stimulate the launch of a biodiesel plant that would use the carcasses and animal fat to make biofuel.

The Bloc Québécois is a rigorous party that examines the issue carefully at every stage of studying a bill. I can say that in this case, although this was not an easy situation, we believe our decision is respectful both to the environment and to our agricultural producers.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

4:50 p.m.


Michael Chong Conservative Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to put on the record that biofuels are not the only reason why world food prices are rising. I think it is important for people to understand that it is only one of a number of factors.

The World Food Programme, which is run by the United Nations, has recently said that food prices are rising, first, because of rising energy costs; second, because of growing demand from developing economies; and, third, because of increased climate and weather-related events. The fourth reason it gives is biofuels, yet, it is only one of four reasons.

It is important, if we are going to have this debate, to acknowledge that there are significant other reasons why food prices are rising around the world and to lay the blame exclusively at the feet of biofuels is not the entire picture.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

4:55 p.m.


Claude DeBellefeuille Bloc Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to reassure the member opposite. Obviously the production of ethanol from corn is not the only cause behind rising grain prices. I do not believe that I said that in my speech. There are many factors and speculation is one. However, we cannot forget, as he said so well, that it is one of the factors that also contributed to the rise in grain prices.

Perhaps I could add some information. In fact, let us take a look at what would happen if we met our goal of 5% fuel consumption in 2010. According to research by the Library of Parliament, producing 2.74 billion litres of ethanol and 36 billion litres of biodiesel would require 4.6 million tonnes of corn, 2.3 million tonnes of wheat and 0.56 tonnes of canola. If all of the raw materials were produced in Canada, these figures would represent, in current terms, 48% to 52% of corn acreage, approximately 12% of wheat acreage and approximately 8% of canola acreage in the country.

We can see that finding other raw materials will remain very important in order to meet our objectives. I believe that the current situation still needs to be studied. That explains why we have asked that the bill be sent back to committee to be re-examined in light of interesting new information.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

4:55 p.m.


Alex Atamanenko NDP British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to Bill C-33.

There has been some criticism that this bill is being held up for no reason, and let us get on with it and push it through. This is not the case.

We are debating a motion put forward by my hon. colleague from Western Arctic to refer it back to the agriculture committee to make sure that both economic and environmental effects of introducing these regulations do not cause a negative impact on the environment or unduly influence commodity markets. In other words, what we are saying is, if we are going to do this let us do it right.

We know worldwide that we have seen so far that there is a cycle that starts, for example, in the United States where more land is taken out of production. Soybeans are taken away, more corn is produced and then soybean production is expanded in Brazil, for example, which then forces ranchers off their land, which then forces them to cut down the rainforest to bring in more grazing pasture, and the net effect of all of this is very negative on the environment.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the rising demand for ethanol derived from corn is the main reason for the decline in world grain stocks during the first half of 2006. In Canada we know that to meet the 5% target by 2010 Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada estimates that 4.6 million tonnes of corn, 2.3 million tonnes of wheat and .56 million tonnes of canola will be required.

All of this is grown domestically which will equal roughly 48% to 52% of total corn seeded area, 11% to 12% wheat seeded area, and approximately 8% of the total canola seeded area in Canada, which in itself is not alarming. However, a danger exists that if the need for fuel stocks increases due to a demand for biofuels, there is concern about then allocating more farmland to energy production rather than food production.

We have already seen that food stocks are diminishing in the world and we have seen the rise in food prices. Therefore, I would submit that it would not be in our best interests.

This is not about making life more difficult for farmers. What we are asking for is that a biofuel strategy be well thought out that takes into account the potential impact on the environment.

When the bill goes back to the agriculture committee, and I sincerely hope that it does, what is to stop us from taking another look at the amendments that I initially proposed and were rejected? I would like to review them very briefly.

The first amendment was to prohibit the use of genetically modified grains, oilseeds or trees for biofuel production except for those genetically modified grains, oilseeds or trees that were used prior to 2008.

The second amendment that was rejected was prohibiting the use of lands protected by federal legislation and other sensitive biodiverse lands for biofuel production.

The third amendment was preserving the biodiversity of lands used in biofuel production.

The fourth amendment was establishing criteria in relation to the environmental sustainability of biofuel production to ensure compliance with internationally recognized best practices that promote the biodiversity and sustainability of land, air and water, and to establish restrictions on the use of arable land in Canada for biofuel production to ensure that biofuel production does not have a detrimental impact on the food supply in Canada and foreign countries.

I do not see why we cannot, as a Parliament, adopt a policy that takes this into account. These are very basic ideas that the world is talking about, that we should be looking at if we put forward a new policy, that has proven in other countries to have a devastating effect.

This government must not be given carte blanche as far as biofuels are concerned. Our goal should be to amend this bill so that it will have a sustainable and effective impact on the battle against climate change, while ensuring that this is done safely and kept out of the hands of big business, which benefits from increasing sales of genetically modified crops and pesticides.

A good biofuel strategy must be a responsible strategy.

Finally, biofuels can be part of the solution, but they can also be part of the problem, if not properly handled. Bill C-33 opens the door to a number of environmentally harmful consequences, particularly an increased dependency on big agribusiness that produces genetically modified crops by using enormous quantities of water and pesticides.

According to Darrin Qualman, director of research for the National Farmers Union, the headlong rush toward industrially produced biofuels must be stopped, because the world is faced with serious problems relating to the sustainable development of food systems: erosion of arable land, overuse of water for irrigation, excessive dependency on fossil fuels, deforestation, and lack of preparation for climate change. He feels that these problems must be solved before we try to use our food to fuel our vehicles.

As we debate Bill C-33, we often neglect to mention the effect of biofuels on greenhouse gas emissions. According to a report presented by Resource Efficient Agricultural Production Canada, REAP, entitled “Analysing Ontario Biofuel Options: Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Efficiency and Costs”, it is estimated that U.S. corn ethanol will double greenhouse gas emissions over the next 30 years by increasing the carbon debt from land conversion.

REAP, in another report, analyzed Ontario biofuel options. The report concluded that solid biofuels offer the least expensive biofuel strategy for government incentives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Ontario. The report's major discovery is that government incentives applied to large scale solid biofuels would surpass even the most effective existing subsidies, those for wind power, at reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. The findings suggest that a solid biofuels policy would be an effective and sustainable means to develop the Ontario and Canadian economies. Such a program would support market opportunities for the forest industry and for farmers with marginal farmland.

In volume 319 of the journal Science, dated February 29, there is a study entitled “Use of U.S. Croplands for Biofuels Increases Greenhouse Gases Through Emissions from Land-Use Change”. The article stated:

By using a worldwide agricultural model to estimate emissions from land-use change, we found that corn-based ethanol, instead of producing a 20% savings, nearly doubles greenhouse emissions over 30 years and increases greenhouse gases for 167 years. Biofuels from switchgrass, if grown on U.S. corn lands, increase emissions by 50%. This result raises concerns about large biofuel mandates and highlights the value of using waste products.

Another study in the same journal found that converting rainforests, peat lands, savannahs or grasslands to produce food crops-based biofuels in Brazil, Southeast Asia and the U.S. created a biofuel carbon debt by releasing from 17 to 420 times more CO2 than the annual greenhouse gas reductions that these biofuels would provide by displacing fossil fuels. The study goes on to say that biofuels made from waste biomass or from biomass grown on degraded and abandoned agricultural lands planted with perennials incur little or no carbon debt and can offer immediate and sustained greenhouse gas advantages.

The point I would like to make today is that we need to re-examine Bill C-33 at committee in light of the most recent research taking place throughout the world. Let us not cave into demands by big agribusiness to push this bill through.

I would like to say a few words as well about genetically modified trees. Unlike conventional reproduction and hybridization, the process of genetic engineering makes direct gene transfer possible between organisms in completely different species or kingdoms which do not cross in nature.

With respect to biofuels and genetic engineering, it is a matter of reducing lignin so that the trees can be converted to ethanol and paper more economically; increasing cellulose so that the trees can yield more ethanol and paper.

Given the explosion of the biofuel market and the desire to move on to a second generation of biofuels, the companies are calling for the use of genetically engineered trees as a potential source of cellulose from which to manufacture ethanol.

What, then, are the risks?

First of all, irreversible contamination. Contamination of forests by the pollen or seeds of genetically engineered trees could devastate ecosystems and biodiversity. Genetically engineered trees will contaminate the forests, which will themselves then become contaminants, in an endless cycle of living pollution.

Then there are other risks: toxic waste, invasive species, increased herbicide use, weakened trees, the contribution to climate change.

Bonn, Germany is the site of the major meeting of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. On May 20 of this year, representatives of Canadian civil society released an open letter signed by 47 Canadian groups to the Canadian Minister of the Environment demanding that Canada support the global moratorium on GE trees to be decided in negotiations during May 19 to 30.

As I mentioned, contamination from GE trees would be irreversible. Research scientists at Duke University have found in their models that pollen from trees in the southeast U.S. can travel for more than 1,200 kilometres into eastern Canada. Last Thursday at this convention, Canada intervened to directly eliminate an African request for a UN moratorium on GE trees.

It appears that Canada is not supporting a ban on GE trees and is in fact speaking out against this important concern. I might add as an aside that this is similar to what I have experienced in doing research on terminator seed technology, where Canada is saying it wants to proceed on a case by case basis not realizing the ramifications of this technology on agriculture and biodiversity.

As we move forward in this very necessary debate, I wish to emphasize that in spite of the fact that biofuels are one of the reasons for the rise in food prices, it is not farmers who are to blame. They are doing their very best to survive and are finally getting some good prices for their commodities.

I would like to close with a couple of other points in regard to the environment. The Gulf of Mexico dead zone, the destruction of the rainforest and other forest ecologies, increased pesticide and herbicide use from growing monocropped agrifuels, the depletion of water tables, genetically engineered monocrops and the host of negative impacts, the loss of biological diversity wherever monocropping has taken hold, invasive species of GM crops resistant to Roundup are some of the dangers. However, by going forward with a planned, measured approach, we can certainly ensure that these dangers do not face us here in Canada if we look at this bill once again in committee.

There are a couple of other points I would like to make. For example, World Bank president Robert Zoellick said:

While many are worrying about filling their gas tanks, many others around the world are struggling to fill their stomachs and it is getting more and more difficult every day. In just two months, rice prices have skyrocketed to near historical levels, rising by around 75% globally....

It is the same story for other grains. That is why the UN has called for a five year moratorium on biofuel production. I repeat that it is only one part of the reason for the increase in food prices and it is not our farmers who are struggling to make a living who are responsible for this.

In closing, we have a chance today, in the history of our country, to look at a policy that will give us direction in the future in regard to alternate energy. We have a chance to do this right, not to move along quickly under pressure from big agribusiness and those who would like us to institute this policy tomorrow, but to ensure that we have a sustainable policy, that the environment is protected, that we guarantee there will be no further genetically modified organisms in the environment, and that if we use crops grown in Canada, they should be crops grown in Canada.

It is not right to have a biofuel industry supported by, for example, Husky in Lloydminster or Minnedosa that will rely on American corn as feedstock. There is something not right there. All we are doing, then, with our government aid is supporting the industry at the expense of farmers and other programs that we could be doing.

I am pleased to have had the opportunity to speak on this subject. I am anxious to get to the questions.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

5:10 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Questions and comments. The hon. member for Western Arctic will not be sorry to hear that I am recognizing the hon. member for Wellington—Halton Hills.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

5:10 p.m.


Michael Chong Conservative Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to make two points. The first point is that I agree with the member from the New Democratic Party when he said in his speech that biofuels are not the only reason for the rise in world food prices. I think it is important to acknowledge that. There have been significant droughts around the world in the last number of years that have seriously curtailed some of major wheat exporting countries' ability to produce wheat.

The ever changing diets and ever growing populations in the developing world are causing a much increased demand for wheat, soybeans and corn. For example, every pound of meat requires seven pounds of input, such as corn, wheat or soybeans. As the diets in the third world and the developing world change and an ever increasing demand for meat takes place, the demand for these crops increases as well.

The third reason that needs to be taken into account is that energy prices have been increasing in general. Energy costs are a significant portion of the agricultural inputs.

It is commendable that the member mentioned these three other major factors which have contributed to the rising price of food.

The second point I want to make is to address the concern of many who say that biofuels require more energy than they produce. That may very well be the case, but so do solar power and wind energy. One can make the case that solar power and wind energy in past years required more energy than they produced.

The reason that incentives and subsidies have been put in place is to do two things: first of all, to ramp up the economies of scale, so that the cost per unit of production goes down; and second, to provide for greater research and development so that we can get cheaper products, cheaper energy out of these various sources of energy.

While today certain biofuels may in fact require more energy than they produce, the whole idea here is to provide the incentives and the subsidies so that at some future date research and development along with economies of scale will drive down the price and also the carbon footprints so that these in fact will become carbon positive.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

5:15 p.m.


Alex Atamanenko NDP British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure what the exact question is, but I will comment on the two points that my colleague raised.

The first point is self-explanatory and I certainly agree with his statements.

One of the criticisms many people make about biofuels is that they have more input than the actual energy output. We have to look at liquid biofuels and the devastation that they have caused, not here so much, but in poorer countries in the world. My hon. colleague from Western Arctic and I were at a meeting a few weeks ago here in Ottawa where people from Paraguay and Asia talked about the devastation by this industry on their land and the amount of energy that was required to produce the biofuels, while at the same time displacing farmers.

We have to look at input costs, the energy for inputs, for transportation, and the emissions of greenhouse gases from deforestation. I would submit that the comparison with wind energy and solar energy is not the same.

I would like to end my reply with some questions. Would the hon. member, if given a chance to answer, think that the amendments that I have proposed in my initial submission to the committee cover all of these concerns? Does he believe that we could still move forward, but not give the government a green light to do whatever it wants in the area of biofuels?

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

5:15 p.m.


Lloyd St. Amand Liberal Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have listened with interest to the speech by the member for British Columbia Southern Interior. I have come to know the hon. member because we sit on the agriculture and agri-food committee.

The comments by the member opposite are typically thoughtful and he is typically prepared, but like all of us, he is occasionally wrong. Let me say that this is one of those occasions.

It is commendable that the member recognizes that corn producers are now able to earn a living. After many years of record low prices, thankfully prices have rebounded and corn farmers are now able to earn a living. The member opposite has recognized that.

I have two questions for the member. First, he surely recognizes that farming practices in Canada are not commensurate to farming practices in some other countries. There is no suggestion, for instance, as I know it, that land in Canada is being ravaged as it is being described as being ravaged in some other countries. Second, would he also concede that it is only a small amount, a fraction of arable land in Canada, which in his phrasing is being used for purposes other than the consumption of food? Would the member comment on both of those questions?

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

5:20 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for British Columbia Southern Interior might take note that there are two other MPs who would like to ask him questions, including one from his own party, and there are four minutes left.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

5:20 p.m.


Alex Atamanenko NDP British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will not limit my answer to a no or a yes.

I would like to thank my hon. colleague across the way for his comments and his sympathy for me being wrong today. I would like to think I am on the right track, as, I guess, most of us do.

Once again I will refer back to the amendments that we had in committee which were debated and defeated. I believe those amendments would have covered us in a policy that would have taken into account the biodiversity and the environment and would have ensured that we did not devote large tracts of land to biofuel production.

Even though we have a very small portion of land devoted to this area now, there is a danger, because of increased pressure, of more good land being taken out of farming for food. That would be my concern.

However, I submit that by bringing this back to committee, discussing it and putting some of those assurances in, it could be a win-win situation for all of us.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

5:20 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

The member for Brome—Missisquoi for a brief question.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

5:20 p.m.


Christian Ouellet Bloc Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would just like my colleague to tell us—since he has an agriculture background and growers have apparently already been promised that they will have corn to grow—what the chances are that corn production for animal feed or ethanol will change to corn production for human consumption?

I said earlier that world dry food reserves have decreased by more than half in five years. I added that surpluses could be exported. The members opposite immediately said that we wanted to export Canadian jobs. I never said that.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

5:20 p.m.


Alex Atamanenko NDP British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question.

The price is already high. The issue is not that growers will suffer if there are no more biofuel policies. There is a possibility. Corn can be transferred, planted and grown for human consumption. There is an international shortage. In my opinion, it would make more sense to feed people, give a little money to our growers and, at the same time, help farming in our country.