The path forward for proposed legislation exempting grain drying and barn heating from the federal carbon price

Proponents of a new private member’s bill that would remove natural gas and propane used on farms for grain drying and barn heating from the federal carbon pricing system are hoping it will proceed on an accelerated timeline, given the fact the bill is very similar in wording and intent to a previous bill that was approved by the House of Commons last summer.

Ontario MP Ben Lobb introduced Bill C-234 in the House of Commons on Monday, which, if passed, would exempt natural gas and propane used for on-farm grain drying and barn heating from the federal carbon tax, which applies in provinces that don’t have their own federally-approved carbon pricing system, including Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Ontario. Fuels used for steam flaking — a process used for making feed — and irrigation could also be exempt.

Lobb’s bill is a revised version of Bill C-206, which was approved by Conservative, NDP, Bloc and Green MPs, as well as one Liberal MP, in June 2021. However, it fell just short of the legislative finish line in the Senate when the federal election was called last summer.

“The average private member’s bill, if successful, takes approximately 554 days, from beginning to end,” explains Dave Carey, co-chair of the Agriculture Carbon Alliance and vice-president of government & industry relations with the Canadian Canola Growers Association, in the interview below.

The Agriculture Carbon Alliance includes over a dozen national commodity associations — from grains and oilseeds to dairy, lamb, and pork, and is supporting the private member’s bill.

“Our hope…is that given that we went through this very recently, this was just months ago in terms of timing in the House of Commons, that there isn’t a need to re-litigate this in great detail, and that hopefully this can be expedited through the committee process. We don’t need to have 30 meetings on this,” Carey notes.

He anticipates the bill could potentially go through second reading and be referred to the agriculture committee by sometime in April.

“Again, this depends on maintaining the support of opposition parties, how all of that goes, and how busy the House of Commons agriculture committee gets,” he explains. The committee would then have to decide whether it wants to conduct a full review or fast-track the new bill after reviewing its predecessor less than a year ago. After the committee stage, it would go back to the House for third reading and a final vote, which if in favour, would send it to the Senate for approval.

There was some disagreement around the wording of C-206 at the committee stage last spring, as several Liberal MPs questioned whether it would accomplish its intended goal of exempting grain drying, based on their interpretation of the language. That’s why the text in the new C-234 specifically refers to grain drying and barn heating.

Both MP Lobb and Conservative shadow minister for agriculture, John Barlow, who seconded the bill, “certainly were well aware of this discussion and discourse around committee stage last time and the testimony of groups like mine and others,” notes Carey. “So I think their direction to the law clerk would have said, ‘we want to make sure this is explicit. Our intention is explicit to grain drying and including livestock barns.’ So it was drafted in a way that there’s no ambiguity around grain drying and heating/cooling of livestock barns.”

Any exemption under C-234 would only apply to on-farm uses of propane and natural gas. As an example, it would not exempt grain drying by a commercial grain company, notes Carey.

Listen to the interview with Dave Carey on Bill C-234 and the path forward for the private member’s bill, as well as a summary of other ag policy issues on the docket in Ottawa:

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