moved that bill be read the third time and passed.
Madam Speaker, it is always a privilege to be in this House. It is an even greater privilege to be here with respect to Bill C-206, which of course is my private member's bill. Although I misspeak when I say it is mine. It really belongs to the farmers. That is what this bill is all about.
Our agriculture workers are tremendous. They produce some of the best agriculture products in the entire world. They work so hard every day. They get up early, go to bed late, and in between, continue their fantastic work.
Of course, we have all been challenged by the pandemic, and farmers are the same. Farmers have pushed through, even through the pandemic. Through all the barriers and challenges of the pandemic, they continued to plant their fields, tend their crops and take care of their animals, so we could always have a full belly here in Canada. During the pandemic, and really at any time in the recent past, farmers and Canadians have never had to worry about their food supply, and that is because we have the best farmers in the entire world.
Talking about the importance of agriculture, it is more than 7% of our GDP. More than that, farmers are really the heart of our community. They are the engine of our economy. Nearly one in eight Canadians are employed in agriculture and agri-food. That is an important statistic. That is the type of impact this industry has. On the whole, it employs more than 2.3 million Canadians.
We are one of the world's largest producers of flax seed, canola, pulses and durham wheat. We have some of the best beef, poultry and pork in the entire world produced right here in Canada, the greatest country in the world.
However, farmers have done this not in easy circumstances. In fact, in 2019, they had to go through what was dubbed, and I excuse the language, the “harvest from hell” when their crops were incredibly difficult to harvest due to the moisture and rainfall of 2019. This was an absolute challenge. Farmers had to run their grain dryers for nearly 24 hours straight at some points to save as much of their agriculture product as they could.
In 2019, the rain out west was not the only weather condition that farmers faced. That year a hurricane flattened fields in Atlantic Canada. Fields in Quebec faced unprecedented rainfall during harvest and planting times. There were snow-covered fields out west earlier on. Manitoba was in a state of emergency. Alberta and Saskatchewan faced drought.
In my riding, the fabulous riding, and I might say, perhaps the best riding in the entire world, Northumberland—Peterborough South, we faced an almost unprecedented late frost. Generally, after May 24 is the frost-free zone, but we had frost in our riding, and in other parts of southern Ontario, and if farmers had planted, they had to deal with that as well. As we can see, farmers are not without their challenges.
It goes beyond weather. There are issues that farmers are facing such as global trade issues. Currently, there are various trade issues where farmers in Canada are not getting appropriate, equitable treatment. They are often at the short end of the stick and in a highly subsidized industry. It is subsidized nearly throughout the world, in the EU and the United States. During the pandemic, the EU and the United States of America stepped up for their farmers. They gave millions, if not billions, of dollars to farmers to help them get through the pandemic.
In Canada, I would love to say it was the same, but that is just not the case. Unfortunately, the current government went through its tried and true strategy of making an announcement, having that policy or platform item fail and then reannouncing it again. It recycles failed announcements over and over again, and our farmers got precious little compared to other farmers around the world.
That, in a nutshell, is why I am so passionate about Bill C-206. When we boil it down, it is about giving farmers a fair shake. They need to have the same opportunities as farmers around the world. The carbon tax here in Canada is not imposed internationally, and because of that, they face barriers that other farmers in other countries simply do not face.
Bill C-206 would give those farmers a fair shake, an opportunity to compete globally. What would it do?
Currently, the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act absolutely exempts certain types of fuel. It exempts gasoline and diesel, but it does not currently exempt natural gas and propane. In the spirit of team Canada and non-partisanship, I would like to give the government the benefit of the doubt that perhaps this was an oversight. This is the government's opportunity to correct that oversight. In fact, I would like to invite it to do so.
There is no logical reason why natural gas and propane would not be exempt when gasoline and diesel are. Natural gas and propane are cleaner fuels than diesel and gasoline. In fact, in my humble estimation, natural gas and propane are actually part of the solution.
For example, if we were to take all the coal-producing power plants in China and convert them to natural gas, the savings from that, the amount of carbon savings, the reduction in output, would be dramatically more than if we were to take Canada to net zero. If we were to convert China completely to natural gas from coal, that would be much more beneficial to the environment than even if Canada went to net zero tomorrow.
Natural gas and propane are a part of the problem and they are arguably cleaner than the exempt fossil fuel equivalents, which are diesel and gasoline.
When I look at natural gas and propane, who do we impact if it is not exempt? We are affecting a wide range of farmers, but particularly our grain farmers. As I said, we are among the leaders in grain farmers in the entire world. Those prices are set by international markets.
By having this bill in place, we will give those grain farmers a break. The Saskatchewan Association of Agricultural Societies and Exhibitions, the Manitoba Association of Agricultural Societies and the CFIB have various numbers, as does the PBO, but those numbers range anywhere from thousands to tens of thousands of dollars in costs for farmers. I saw them. I was emailed droves and droves receipts for the carbon tax, amounting to tens of thousands of dollars. Then to add insult to injury, they are charged GST on the carbon tax.
When I was at the public accounts committee, I asked the assistant deputy finance minister how the government could justify charging the GST on top of carbon tax, that the carbon tax was punitive enough. He said that it was not. He was wrong. The government does not even know how much damage it is inflicting on our farmers. To me, that is so damaging and so challenging.
When we look at this, we know farmers want to, and I definitely want to, fight climate change. Is there a more environmentally friendly way? Is there a better way than burning natural gas and propane?
We had session after session of expert witnesses. While they said that perhaps there were fledgling technologies and that there were opportunities for the future to perhaps burn biofuels or use other types of more environmentally friendly fuels and energy, right now there was not. The Grain Farmers of Ontario said, “there are no readily available grain drying technology replacement alternatives that are cost effective. Drying grain is essential for marketing grain.”
From these witnesses, we learned that farmers greatly care about the environment. For those folks who maybe are not in an agriculture setting, like I am, a one degree difference in temperature can make the difference for a season. An entire year, whether it is profitable or not, can be based on whether there is frost or not. That can be the difference of one degree.
There is no one more sensitive to environmental changes, to environmental concerns than our farmers. That testimony came out again and again. When I think about the environmental impact, and I will talk a little about that, it really affects them.
I was actually sleeping at six a.m. in my house. I rent out my property to a farmer. Of course, farmers, because they work immeasurably harder than politicians, were not asleep at six a.m. I heard a “rap, rap, rap,” and I came down to the door in my pyjamas, with the farmer knocking at my door. He rents the field from me. He said there was a tree down and asked if I have chainsaw. I asked him to give me five minutes so I could get changed and get my chainsaw. We went ahead and cut up that tree. In there, I started off a conversation with one of our local farmers, a great guy.
Members might wonder what we talked about. Did we talk about the fact that the Leafs are definitely going to win and that this was their year? No, we did not talk about that. Maybe we talked about Montreal and that maybe it would be their year. No, what we talked about was actually the GPS in his tractor and how he had two different GPS options, and he picked the one that was one inch as opposed to five inches. It was calibrated to one inch, and he said he had to do that, because it made his farms and fields more productive and because he did not want to use one extra ounce of chemical or fertilizer that he did not have to use. This is how much our farmers care about our environment. I think that is a bit of an undersold issue.
Of course, farmers are some of the first stewards of our lands. They protect so much. Other technology they have been involved in includes no-till technology, precision agriculture and satellite-driven agriculture. The farmers want to get this right. They want to do everything they can to preserve that land, because, quite frankly, their livelihood and the livelihood of the coming generations depend on it.
There is great news, too, with respect to farmers. They are actually ahead of the curve. What do we hear about from industries, even the oil industry and, of course, the government here? It is net-zero, and this is a fabulous concept and something we can all drive to, but most industries say “net-zero, 2050; net-zero 2060; net-zero 2040,” or, maybe if they are really ambitious, “net-zero, 2030”. How about, “net-zero, now”? That is what farmers are. They are net-zero now. They plant millions of these little devices, these terrific, amazing little carbon-capture devices. I like to call them “plants”. There are millions of them every single year, and they sequester this carbon. It is unbelievable. It is such an advance in science. They sequester this carbon in their fields, and yes they burn some fossil fuels in their tractors and in drying grain and keeping their barns heated, but overall they are net-zero and above, and farmers want to do even more.
I am so passionate here, I am happy to hopefully get through half of my speech here. I just could talk about this PMB all day.
When we look at the overall picture, we see farmers who want to do the right thing. We see Canadians who want to do the right thing and protect the environment, but we have to do it in a way that makes economic sense, as well. First, we have to make sure that farmers stay competitive in the global market and that we do not make our farmers pay an undue burden, as opposed to other industries and other countries around the world. The other part is that farmers want to do the right thing. The challenge is that agriculture has been, and is even more so now, an undercapitalized sector of our economy. In testimony at the agriculture committee, one of the the individuals said that if money was not an object, they would put in high-efficiency grain operation tomorrow, but they simply do not have the capital. Farmers are stretched out more thinly than they ever have been before, so that is why.
The idea of the carbon tax is that we are going to make less environmentally friendly solutions more expensive, so that we will naturally be pushed, in a free market system, to those that are more environmental. However, in this situation the reverse is true, because farmers want to do the more environmentally friendly thing. Members can trust me, as I was talking to my farmers on Saturday morning. They want to do that; they just do not have the money, so when we take more money from them, and it can literally be tens of thousands of dollars, they do not have the money to invest.
Farmers want to do the right thing. We want to do the right thing. Let us collaborate together. Let us vote together. Let us pass the PMB, Bill C-206.