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.
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.