Senate shenanigans leave Bill C-234’s future in jeopardy — again

Shenanigans in the Senate on Thursday have created a new cloud of uncertainty surrounding Bill C-234, the embattled private member’s bill that would remove the federal carbon tax from natural gas and propane used on farms for an eight-year period.

Farm groups and farmers celebrated the Senate’s rejection of an amended version of the bill on Tuesday, but before a vote on Third Reading on Thursday, the Senate speaker allowed another amendment to be introduced, after which debate was hastily adjourned.

The amendment itself, which would make it more difficult to extend the exemption beyond the eight-year sunset clause, is nearly identical to earlier proposals that were defeated at the House of Commons and Senate agriculture committees.

With the Senate not sitting next week, the soonest a vote on the amendment could happen is November 21, but if senators aligned with the government want to obstruct the bill indefinitely, they can.

Without getting too technical, there’s a 15-day rule that applies to amendments in the Senate. A proposed amendment dies if there’s no debate or movement on it for 15 days, however every time it gets debated or debate is adjourned, the 15-day clock starts back at zero.

Senators could also propose another amendment, and depending on who’s in the chamber when a vote is called, if an amendment is approved, the bill would have to go back to the House of Commons, where it could also be delayed indefinitely.

Senator David Wells, who has sponsored the bill in the Senate, said the speaker broke from normal procedure in allowing debate on the proposed amendment to be adjourned on Thursday.

“There were speakers ready to speak on the frivolous amendment and they were on their feet to speak and the Speaker deliberately did not recognize those ready to speak,” Wells tweeted. “In my eleven years in the Senate I have never seen a speaker shut down debate when speakers were ready and willing and asking to speak. A shameful day for our chamber and the practice of sober second thought.”

Tactics considered to be outside of convention were also used in an attempt to thwart the bill at the Senate ag committee, as Dave Carey, co-chair of the Agriculture Carbon Alliance highlighted in this interview two weeks ago.

In other words, the Prime Minister’s Office, cabinet and allied senators are spending major political capital to obstruct the bill in the Senate.

All of this drama involving so-called “independent” senators comes after the majority of elected MPs in the House of Commons approved Bill C-234 in March of 2022. All Conservative, NDP, Bloc, and Green MPs, as well as a handful of Liberals, voted in favour of it. A similar bill with the same intended outcome was also approved by the House of Commons in 2021.

While the announcement of the three-year exemption on home heating oil from the federal carbon tax several weeks ago shattered the illusion that the carbon price was untouchable for the Liberals, it appears Bill C-234 has been caught in the backdraft.

So far, Prime Minister Trudeau has been adamant that there will be no more exemptions, even though C-234 was already approved by the House of Commons and well on its way through the Senate. His environment minister, Steven Guilbeault, has also said there will be no more carve-outs while he is minister, leading some to draw a link between Guilbeault and C-234’s future.

As it stands today, hopes for the removal of the federal carbon levy on grain drying and barn heating this season are quickly fading, as are expectations of the Senate to be non-partisan and to not blatantly interfere with the will of the House of Commons.

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