Third reading of Bill C-234, An Act to amend the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act—Motion in amendment

By: The Hon. Pierre Dalphond

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Hon. Pierre J. Dalphond: Honourable senators, I rise as the critic of the private member’s bill, Bill C-234, in our third-reading debate. For those who are new, that means that I can speak for up to 45 minutes, so bear with me.

As you know, this bill proposes to amend the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act to grant to farmers an eight-year exemption — not three years — in connection with the use of natural gas and propane for grain drying and heating or cooling of farm buildings used for raising livestock or growing crops.

The Conservative Party, its leader and some Conservative premiers have positioned this bill as a vanguard to axe the carbon tax. Today, in the House of Commons — on opposition day — the Conservatives moved the motion urging the Senate to adopt this bill. If this motion is adopted, I understand that Senator Plett will resist it, as he did with previous similar motions that were adopted, such as the motion concerning the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, or UNDRIP, bill that was sponsored by MP Saganash, or when MP Ambrose sponsored the bill about judges’ training — where he made a speech about the fact that it was unacceptable for the House to be trying to tell us what to do. The vote will be tomorrow afternoon after Question Period, and we will know the day after what Senator Plett thinks of it.

Clearly, they are of the view that the price on carbon should not be part of the Canadian framework for climate action. This is a policy decision that I respect, but do not share.

An increasing price on carbon is a strong incentive to reduce emissions by using more efficient equipment or switching to greener sources of energy.

From a recent piece published in The Economist on October 1, 2023, it says:

If global warming is to be limited, the world must forget fossil fuels as fast as possible—that much almost everyone agrees upon.

I’d say almost everyone. How we do this is the complicated part. The article continues:

Economists have long favoured putting a price on carbon, a mechanism Europe introduced in 2005. Doing so allows the market to identify the cheapest unit of greenhouse gas to cut, and . . . to fight climate change at the lowest cost. . . .

Another fact is that Canada is not on its way to meet its undertakings under the Paris Agreement. Moreover, last week, scientists released data showing that the world briefly crossed the 2-degree warming red line on November 17.

As stated in Senator Harder’s closing speech on Bill C-12, the Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act, in 2021, which was two years ago — and I think these words are still full of meaning:

With the challenge of climate change, we live at the most consequential time in human history. We must not be the broken link in the chain. If we do not cooperate toward the shared and necessary objectives of saving the environment, we will fail ourselves, our children, our grandchildren and all generations. We will fail the miraculous creatures with whom we share this planet. We are now their only hope, and their only threat. We must choose to do better.

In the Senate, we should contribute to this goal in the critical years ahead and, for the sake of our grandchildren, we should and must be bold.

I will now move to Bill C-234. Colleagues, unfortunately, the case for Bill C-234 is sustained by the repetition of falsehoods and the repetition of talking points, such as farmers are stewards of the land and, therefore, do not need to endure policies to ensure a greener economy, because they will go for a greener economy by themselves. Contrary to what economists state, they will — by themselves — go for different ways of doing things that might be more expensive.

Today, I will address eight false arguments repeated by well-financed lobbies:

The first is that Bill C-234 aims to correct an inadvertent omission in the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act from 2018 by not exempting natural gas and propane after having exempted gasoline and fuel used on farms.

The second is that carbon pricing drives inflation and makes food produced by farmers unaffordable.

The third is that carbon pricing has made the overall costs of natural gas and propane an unbearable burden for farmers.

The fourth is that significant efficiencies are unavailable in grain drying with the current technology.

The fifth is that alternatives and efficiencies are unavailable for barn heating or cooling with the existing technology, contrary to the heating of other types of buildings.

The sixth is that a Senate amendment to the bill will automatically kill the bill.

The seventh is that this bill will not weaken Canada’s carbon pricing framework and our plan for climate action.

The eighth is that removing the price on carbon will incentivize farmers to invest these savings to reduce emissions.

Based on the evidence made before the committee, I will conclude by proposing an amendment to the bill to remove the exemptions for barn heating and cooling. As a matter of fact, even the House of Commons sponsor of the bill, MP Lobb, confirms that more efficiencies and alternatives are readily available for the heating and cooling of farm buildings.

The first falsehood is that Bill C-234 aims to correct the inadvertent omission of natural gas and propane at the time of adoption of the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act in 2018, since the bill exempts gasoline and fuel used on farms, which represent about 97% of the carbon emissions of Canadian farmers. This claim has been repeated in this very chamber.

At the Agriculture Committee, officials from Finance Canada and Environment Canada explained that the federal carbon pricing system was based on B.C.’s carbon pricing, which was already in place at the time. To make it effective, the government’s suggestion was to apply carbon pricing as broadly as possible with targeted relief.

One example of this targeted relief was an exemption on the price of carbon for gasoline and diesel as long as it is used for eligible farming machinery, such as the huge tractors and combines we often see on the roads or in the middle of fields in the countryside. They were exempted because there was no real alternative to propel this type of engine — at least, not in 2018, and I am not aware of any combine powered by electricity now. Electric cars are becoming the trend, but there is so far no trend of electric combines or tractors.

Natural gas and propane are used mostly for heating buildings and are a different matter. They were excluded in B.C. as well, as with the government policy here.

So it’s not an omission. We’re not dealing with the same thing. We’re dealing either with machinery or the heating and cooling of buildings. They don’t use the same fuel. I don’t know of any farms using gasoline to heat up barns.

Furthermore, as we all know by now, the government has the power to exempt a fuel by regulation. This power has been used recently to exempt oil used to heat houses. Despite Bill C-234 and its predecessor, the government has refused to use that power to grant exemptions for natural gas and propane, even if limited to farmers, confirming that this was not an omission but a policy choice.

The second falsehood is the claim that carbon pricing drives inflation and makes food unaffordable. Canada’s inflation rate is currently 3.8%, while it is 3.7% in the U.S., 4.3% in the European Union, 4.9% in France specifically and 6.7% in the U.K. Thus, it seems that we are doing better than many other developed countries. Maybe our country is not broken after all.

On September 8, Tiff Macklem, the Governor of the Bank of Canada, indicated that about 0.15% of the Canadian inflation rate can be attributed to the carbon price. To put it differently, the increase in the price of carbon this year accounts for an extra $0.30 on a $200 grocery bill.

If you want to go back and measure from the introduction of the carbon pricing legislation in 2019, it now accounts for an extra $1.20 on a $200 grocery bill. For that very reason, Trevor Tombe, Professor of Economics at the University of Calgary, affirms that the carbon tax is responsible for less than 1% of grocery price increases. I’m not saying it; it is an economist who is saying it. It is also the Governor of the Bank of Canada who is saying it, though he may be fired for doing so if there’s a change of government.

Repeating ad nauseam that the carbon price is responsible for the sad inability of many Canadians to eat properly does not turn a falsehood into the truth. However, it may explain why the party that wants to axe the tax would like to axe the Governor of the Bank of Canada.

Responsible politicians should focus on the real causes of the rapidly increasing costs of food and life in Canada and not the carbon tax.

The third false claim is that carbon pricing has made the cost of using natural gas and propane in the care of their animals — especially poultry — unaffordable for farmers.

What are we talking about exactly? According to the numbers provided by Statistics Canada and the Parliamentary Budget Officer, for farmers, the share of expenditures devoted to heating fuel represents less than 1% of Canadian farms’ operating expenses. To be very specific, it represented 0.9% of the expenses in 2019, 0.8% in 2020, including the carbon tax, and the same in 2021.

It is true that there’s a disparity depending on the type of farm. We’re talking about 4% to 5% on average for greenhouse produce and 0.4% for Prince Edward Island potatoes or oilseeds and grains. That’s why the government provided for an exemption from the carbon tax on 80% of natural gas and propane, by volume, used by greenhouse operators to reduce their costs, which are from 4% to 5%, with the taxed portion being approximately 1% or less.

In short, farmers who use greenhouses pay the carbon tax on only 20% of their use to take into account their unique situation. Of course, we must not forget that those farmers get refundable tax credits under Bill C-8, which was passed two years ago.

It’s also important to bear in mind that the carbon price is not tied to fossil fuel prices. The price on pollution is based solely on the amount of dioxin produced. Whether gas costs 10 cents or 90 cents per cubic metre, the per-tonne pollution price associated with using it in a given fiscal year will remain the same.

We’ve heard a lot about poultry producers, the biggest consumers of natural gas for barn heating. As it happens, the majority of poultry producers are in Ontario. Moreover, all the poultry producers in both Quebec and Ontario operate under supply management that allows or guarantees them a certain income regardless of their costs and expenses. All the lobbyists you’ve seen didn’t mention that either. Some lobbyists told us that all Canadian farmers support Bill C-234, but I met with representatives of the National Farmers Union who told me they’re against Bill C-234. Nobody talks about that, though. They’re even included in the numbers that Agriculture Carbon Alliance uses to tell you how many farmers support the bill. That’s another lie, by the way.

I met with representatives from about 20 associations and asked them questions. I am sharing the case of this Ontario turkey farmer who was good enough to send me his figures, including his production figures, volume of natural gas used per kilogram of meat and the pollution price paid since 2020.

Although this producer’s pollution price rose from $15,000 to $27,000 between 2020 and 2023, this year, he paid $37,000 less than the previous year for his natural gas.

In fact, the price of gas dropped from 32 cents per cubic metre in October 2022 to 15 cents in October 2023. Have you seen the price of chicken go down in your grocery store?

To summarize, this large producer and many others have seen the cost of natural gas decrease substantially in 2023, and they end up saving over $10,000 to $20,000 before any refundable tax credit that will further improve their position.

The cost of energy for poultry producers cannot justify an increase in the price of chicken that we consume.

If the price of chicken and other supply-managed products, such as milk and eggs, went up this year, it is not because of the cost of natural gas, with or without carbon pricing.

Of the 20 or more organizations I met with, either with or without their lobbyists — although many are very powerful, resourceful and have money to do research — none were able to provide me with figures on the rebates received by their members in 2022, just last year. They didn’t know. I was told, “Well, the numbers we have are not enough to meet the price of carbon.”

However, when I asked about the price of gas, they couldn’t answer. When I asked them, “Well, you can deduct the carbon tax from your expenses, can’t you?” They said, “Oh, yes.” But when I asked, “How much does it cost after the rebate and after the deduction for taxes?” none were able to provide an answer. Yet they are all paid lobbyists, earning hundreds of thousands of dollars and sending you all these flyers and leaflets with pictures and nice colours. Try to find the numbers in these leaflets. You won’t find any.

The only thing they say is it’s going to cost farmers $1 billion — and that’s in small print at the bottom of the page — between now and 2030. Not this year, though, because this year it’s costing the farmers $73 million, not $1 billion. They prefer to hide that.

The current rebate mechanism enables the return of the proceeds of the tax on carbon collected in the province to the farmers of that province. As you know by now, maybe, this means that $100 million was returned to farmers in 2021-22 and $120 million was returned to farmers in 2022-23. It’s even more than what was collected because, at the time, taxes were collected before the rebate came into play so there was some money accumulated; this year is a good year.

If these rebates need to be more precisely targeted, as was suggested at the Agriculture Committee in its carefully drafted observations — which some people thought it was wise to scrap — this could be done in a better way and we could return more to those that are using more energy than some that have converted and are no longer using energy.

The fourth false premise of Bill C-234 is that significant efficiencies are not available in grain drying with current technology. We know this premise is untrue from the Agriculture Committee’s study. Even MP Ben Lobb, the sponsor of the bill in the House of Commons, said before our committee, “Yes, there are more efficient dryers.”

Professor Chandra Singh from Lethbridge College indicated the reduction of 30% on average is achievable in grain drying with more efficient equipment. Ian Boxall — to whom our friends on the other side refer all the time — President of the Board of Directors of the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan, indicated that he bought a new grain dryer last year to replace his 1974 model, achieving substantial savings in energy costs. When I asked him about 30%, he said a bit less.

The website of a company called Flaman Agriculture — with 11 locations in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba — advertised the NECO grain dryer:

The AGI NECO Mixed Flow Grain Dryer is one of the most efficient dryers on the market, maximizing the test weight of dried grain and lowering your energy bill. . . . NECO Grain Dryers . . . have unequalled energy efficiency—saving up to 20–30% on fuel costs.

Finally, even the website of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs for the Province of Ontario also refers to new dryers as representing a reduction of 30% of volume of natural gas required, with even higher savings possible by reclaiming heat from dryer exhaust air — reducing costs up to 40%.

Honourable senators, the premise that efficiencies are unavailable for farmers for grain drying — and thus that the price signal to incentivize emissions reduction is therefore pointless and punitive — is plainly false. I repeat, plainly false.

It is true that the purchase price of a dryer can be expensive, for example, $150,000 — that was quoted by Senator Batters — plus installation costs. I will concede that. But Senator Batters did not say that it is an amortized cost. It’s equipment that can be depreciated over years, for example, 10 years. That allows the price to be deducted against your net income. And I’m not speaking here about the programs that exist in many provinces to finance and assist farmers that want to buy this equipment, including federal programs that are so popular that they are running out of money. One other observation of our committee was that the government should substantially increase these programs because the farmers want to have this equipment. They want to embrace the change, but they need a little push from these programs.

Moreover, if Bill C-234 were to be adopted, we have learned in committee that it will have a perverse outcome on grain drying markets in Ontario and elsewhere in other provinces. Since the carbon tax will continue to apply to commercial grain dryers, in Ontario, more than 60% of the producers of grains are using these commercial dryers to dry their grains. They will not have access to the bill, but the 30% or 40% who have their own on-farm dryers will have access to it.

Senator Wells said that’s fine. You should all buy on-farm dryers. That will be the answer. Then they will all get the rebate. Well, before the committee, it was said that the commercial dryers are more efficient than the individual, smaller on-farm dryers. What is being proposed as a climate change policy is that we have more dryers that are less efficient on farms than those used by commercial dryers, plus we are dislocating a business which is quite important in Ontario and in some Western provinces.

Let’s now speak of the heating of farm buildings. Senators, compared to grain drying, alternatives and efficiencies are already available. In fact, alternatives for efficiencies in barn heating and cooling include better insulation, in-floor heating, geothermal heat pumps, air source heat pumps, energy efficient ventilation fans, biomass heating, solar walls, LED lighting, more natural lighting, light-coloured heat-reflective paints and so forth. We’re familiar with some of those options for homes and other buildings located in Canada.

The House of Commons’ sponsor of Bill C-234, MP Lobb, who was present today to see our vote, confirmed this point in committee. He said:

. . . If you look at the heating of barns, it’s moving lockstep with the innovations that are heating a home, a commercial building or an industrial building — because it only makes financial sense.

Tom Green from the David Suzuki Foundation said:

There are ever more examples of farms that are reducing their fossil fuel consumption and improving energy efficiency. For instance, a poultry farm in Linden, Alberta, has a 175-kilowatt rooftop system. . . .

They sell energy, from time to time, to the electricity distributor.

Mr. Green continued:

. . . In another case, a poultry barn built with a high efficiency thermal envelope reduced energy consumption by 83% per ton of eggs.

This situation is the reason why I moved an amendment at the committee to exclude barn heating and cooling from the exemptions of Bill C-234 rather than to legislate on a false premise. This amendment was declined at the House of Commons Agriculture and Agri-Food Committee with a vote of 6 to 5. However, the Senate Agriculture Committee adopted it with a vote of seven to six, with one abstention, who was the GRO representative.

I will again propose this amendment today.

This amendment will maintain the financial incentive to reduce emissions from raising livestock in barns by investing in alternative or efficient barn heating or cooling, an option available right now. In the bigger picture, this amendment will also discourage other sectors from seeking to exempt their economic activities that involve heating buildings, such as meat-processing plants, fruit warehouses, food distribution centres and so on, most likely through other private members’ bills. When it was said in committee that they were asking for an amendment to also cover the commercial dryer operations, some senators said, “No, no. Let’s wait. Let’s pass the bill without amendment. We will have another bill later to cover that.” So we know that if this exemption is granted, we will have people knocking on the door the week after.

Exemptions should be limited to very exceptional cases and not a way to “axe the tax” one step at a time.

I now turn to false argument number six about what will happen if senators dare to amend Bill C-234. On November 1, in the National Post, they quoted Senator Wells saying:

Because the government controls the pace and placement of bills, it would just die a slow, lonely death —

— I like the poetry —

— especially after the steps we saw late last week in carving out exemptions on home heating fuel.

This is unfortunately inaccurate. If the Senate amends Bill C-234, a message will be sent to the other place to acquaint the MPs of this amendment. The message will enter automatically on the House of Commons’ order of precedence for private members’ business. This is a much more fair, timely and transparent system than we have in the Senate when dealing with private bills — especially when some people don’t like them — with regularly scheduled debates and votes on the list of a maximum of 30 items — private bills, motions or messages from the Senate. If this bill were to be returned to the other place tonight, it would become item 25 on the list of items that are waiting to be debated at the regular scheduled time.

Moreover, MPs can always trade an item off the list with somebody lower on the list to expedite debate. On the current order of precedence, eight Conservative items are between number 1 and number 25, including several Conservative Senate public bills, with no limit in the amount of trading that can be done. Maybe one of the private Senate bills could wait to have this ever-important bill to move ahead.

Accordingly, this bill, if sent back to the other place, will move, and the government will have nothing to say about it because it’s not a government bill. But they said at the same time, “Don’t do that” — why? They said that there is multi-party support in the other place for the bill, so if they have it back, they will react so swiftly and they will reaffirm their support for that bill, unless we fear that maybe the support is evaporating.

Maybe the senator lied. We have been told:

“Support that because it’s coming from the House of Commons. It’s the will of the elected people. They have done their job, so just put the rubber stamp on it.”

Of course, when such a debate will happen in the other place, amendments could be made. They could accept the amendment of the Senate. They could refuse it, and we will defer, as we do, when we get back the message, because this is the way it goes between unelected and elected houses.

To illustrate, in 2017, the Senate amended a private bill, Bill C-224, known as the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act. That bill was previously unanimously adopted by the other place. The bill was also especially urgent because it proposed measures designed to save lives in case of overdose. Indeed, it has saved lives since its adoption.

The Senate amended the bill to expand the scope of immunity if you call 9-1-1 in order to save more lives. The other place welcomed the Senate amendment and voted to support the amendment within one month. This chamber did not consider an amendment with lives at stake to be an undue risk. If we can do it when the lives of people are at stake, we can do it when we speak about exemptions on natural gas or propane to heat a barn.

Furthermore, I am intrigued by what we have been urged to do so fast because it was representing the overwhelming majority of the House. I know there is a motion pending before the House today, debated today and it will be voted upon tomorrow. Maybe we’ll find out that the kind of multi-party wide support is evaporating, or maybe not. We will deal with the bill if they are still supportive of it, and we will get it fast. And don’t worry: Nobody is drying grain anymore. The season is over.

Colleagues, the seventh false claim is that this bill will not weaken Canada’s carbon pricing framework and our plan for climate action. At the first meeting of the Agriculture Committee, Senator Wells, the sponsor, said:

I want to be clear: The essence of Bill C-234 is not to challenge the validity of the carbon tax as a whole. Climate change is an undeniable reality, and remedial measures are crucial in our fight against it, but it’s our duty to ensure that these measures are applied fairly. The proposed amendments to the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act, as encapsulated in Bill C-234, are not sweeping changes, and they don’t challenge the concept of the tax. They are targeted and they are narrow . . . .

By the way, the concept of the tax is a price on carbon.

Colleagues, I find that statement surprising. As said on the website of the Conservative Party, this bill is a vanguard effort to axe the tax. And it won’t have an impact on the price of food; that’s the agenda.

So let’s not sugar-coat the bill and say:

No, no. We are for climate change. Yes, we will do something, but not this. We’ll just remove that group.

The next group will be following, knocking on the door the week after, as I said.

Incidentally, even if that bill were to be adopted, which I don’t suggest to do now — but to return to the House of Commons — I’m anxious to see the impact on your grocery bill when you go for groceries next month.

The last falsity is about the need to leave more money with farmers to incentivize them to invest in a greener economy. According to that argument, the rising price from carbon is not a financial incentive, while the lack of one will be. Quite frankly, I fail to understand the point, unless all the economists in the world, or at least the majority of them, are wrong.

Finally, this brings me to the fairness argument that is in the mind of many of us, as it should be. As we all know, since the report of the AGFO committee, three important events have happened. First, on October 26, the Prime Minister announced a three-year exemption of the price on carbon for home heating oil. Like Senator Simons, I was rather puzzled by this announcement. After some research, I now do understand that at current prices, it can cost four times more to generate the same amount of heat with oil as with natural gas — that the price of oil has increased significantly over the last few years, contrary to the price of gas that went down. Finally, this expensive source of energy is mostly used by low-income households, not only in Atlantic Canada, but mostly in Ontario and Quebec, if you look at the numbers.

As Senator Ringuette exposed earlier today, this exemption is not targeted at one region; it’s not targeting a group of people that are using a product that went up through the roof over the years. It’s not efficient. It’s not generating enough power compared to gas, and the time has come to replace that with heat pumps and other sources of energy. The government is moving in that direction. Was it necessary to give a three-year exemption on top? To me, it looks like a faux pas, but it should not be an excuse to throw away the baby with the bathwater.

Second, since the report, the government has repeatedly said that since the announcement there would be no further exemptions to the price on carbon. It has also reaffirmed its strong commitment to the policy of a price on carbon and to doing whatever is necessary to meet Canada’s undertaking under the Paris Agreement. I know that many here, like me, believe that these are necessary steps in the fight against the climate crisis.

Third, on November 6, the House of Commons defeated a Conservative motion calling for an exemption for all home heating fuel. Why should we now adopt a bill that provides an exemption for heating all kinds of barns and farm buildings, including those farmers operating in supply management systems that guarantee them a good income, while refusing a similar exemption for all home heating? It’s a good question, I think. Maybe cows are more valuable than humans.

Furthermore, can we adopt a bill that proposes exemptions for heating all kinds of farm buildings for a minimum of eight years, while the exemption for home heating oil is limited to three years? Tell me: Where is the logic?

Considered in isolation or together with recent developments, Bill C-234 remains a bad bill resting on many false premises. In my view, Parliament should not legislate on a false premise or many false premises. Passing this bill in its current form will amount to us being scared to fulfill our constitutional role.

This private bill is not a case where we should abdicate our responsibility, especially toward a private bill, in the face of pressure campaigns and even threats. Senators, as always, we should do the right thing. In this case, it means returning this bill to the other place to let elected MPs from the three opposition parties that made its adoption possible, despite the contrary view of the government, to act together and to tell us exactly how they see it and how they want to manage the things to be coherent. Why should the grain farmers get eight years for their buildings and some people three years to heat their home?

Again, before I move the amendment, I will end by quoting MP Lobb when he spoke about the heating of barns. He said:

If you look at the heating of barns, it’s moving lockstep with the innovations that are heating a home, a commercial building or an industrial building — because it only makes financial sense.

There is no rationale for providing an exemption for heating farms and other farm buildings.

Therefore, with this amendment, let us legislate based on facts. Let us draw a line against axing the tax. We will improve Bill C-234 and invite all MPs, including Liberals and ministers, to put in place a coherent approach instead of poking holes in an important part of our climate plan.

Motion in Amendment

Hon. Pierre J. Dalphond: Therefore, honourable senators, in amendment, I move:

That Bill C-234 be not now read a third time, but that it be amended,

(a)in clause 1,

(i)on page 1, by replacing lines 4 to 15 with the following:

1 (1) Paragraph (c) of the definition eligible farming machinery in section 3 of the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act is replaced by the”,

(ii)on page 2, by deleting lines 1 to 10;

(b)in clause 2, on page 2, by replacing line 22 with the following:

2 (1) Subsections 1(2.1) and (5) come”.

It will be easier to read on a piece of paper but will look as technical as what I just said, but this is the translation in legislative terms of what I have said.

It means creating a carve-out in that bill to remove heating and cooling of barns and other farm buildings because it makes no sense and because human lives are not exempted, except in the very limited case of home heating oil, and therefore the logic is not there. If we are ready to legislate on false premises and in an illogical way because we fear the pressure from farmers, because we fear the threats from people, I say we will then abdicate our responsibility, and this Senate will not be the new Senate. It will be back to the old days, when nobody cared about the Senate.

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