Third reading of Bill C-234—Motion in amendment from Senator Moncion

By: The Hon. Pierre Dalphond

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Hon. Pierre J. Dalphond: Honourable senators, I would like to thank Senator Moncion for her amendment, which gives me the opportunity to point out one of the many flaws in Bill C-234. As the critic for the bill, I will have the opportunity to tell you all about its other flaws and shortcomings in a future speech.

First, let me tell you about Bill C-234’s journey so far. Second reading of the bill began on May 9 with a speech by Senator Wells. We wrapped up second reading stage with my speech as critic on June 13, 2023. In short, that is just 12 sitting days for a bill introduced by the Conservatives in the other place, which was passed despite the government’s opposition and which amends the government’s primary tool for fighting greenhouse gas emissions: incremental carbon pricing. The bill also peripherally affects provisions of the Income Tax Act.

I would invite you to compare this process with the second reading of Bill C-226 on environmental racism, where the critic, Senator Plett, had to wait six months after Senator McCallum to speak to the bill. We could also look at Bill C-282 on the protection of supply management, a bill that was endorsed by all party leaders in the House of Commons. That same critic still has not had a chance to speak to this bill, two months after Senator Gerba gave her speech.

The reason this bill is moving so exceptionally fast is that an agreement was reached among the groups to refer it to two committees.

The adopted motion reads:

. . . if Bill C-234, An Act to amend the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act, is adopted at second reading:

1. it stand referred to the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry;

2. the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance be authorized to examine and report on the subject matter of the bill; and

3. the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry be authorized to take into account, during its consideration of the bill, any public documents and public evidence received by the committee authorized to study the subject matter of the bill —

— finance —

— as well as any report from that committee to the Senate on the subject matter of the bill.

That decision to have the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance involved rather than the Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources was due to the fact that the finance committee studied the carbon pricing legislation at the time of the 2018 budget, as well as amendments to the Income Tax Act, at the time of the 2022 budget, that gave credits to farmers that enabled them to divvy up the carbon tax they paid.

On September 20, before the Agriculture Committee started its study of Bill C-234, which was planned to be short, I emailed the chair a list of potential witnesses who had expressed concerns and even opposition to the bill.

Eleven minutes later, the chair replied:

Thank you, colleague, for your email. The Steering Committee has approved a witness list earlier this month, for at least three upcoming committee meetings and we will begin witness testimony tomorrow. Should we decide we need additional witnesses or information we will certainly look at your suggestions.

The same day, I wrote to the Agriculture Committee’s steering committee to stress the need to avoid a truncated process designed to achieve a certain result. I thanked steering for adding two meetings to hear some of my proposed witnesses.

At the third meeting, the chair said that at the end of the following meeting, we might proceed to clause-by-clause consideration and that it would be helpful to circulate amendments or observations in advance. Some senators then inquired about the input of the National Finance Committee. The chair responded that the committee will not be providing any insight on the bill and that amendments could be moved at third reading.

Surprised, Senator Woo suggested to invite the chair of the National Finance Committee to attend the Agriculture Committee’s next meeting.

On October 3, Senator Mockler, as the Chair of the National Finance Committee, attended the Agriculture Committee and said:

When we looked at the order of reference, it says that the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry was referred the entire bill, and then the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance being authorized to examine and report on the subject matter of the bill, so the subject matter of the bill versus the entire bill being referred to the committee.

Because of our responsibilities in the Finance Committee, the steering committee — and we have met twice on this matter — opted to say that the Agriculture and Forestry Committee was well equipped to do the proper report and table that report in the Senate. We have decided that we would respect what will be put forward by the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry.

In other words, the Chair of the National Finance Committee confirmed a refusal to study the subject matter of Bill C-234, making it clear that the agreement between the groups was reneged upon.

In the terms of Senator Wells, was that a fix?

On October 17, the Agriculture Committee was scheduled to sit, but the Conservatives denied consent. On October 19, the Agriculture Committee moved to clause-by-clause consideration. Attendance surged to 14, compared to 6 to 10 at all the previous five meetings. This included Senator Plett, who exercised his privilege as Leader of the Opposition to attend ex officio. The practice is then to notify the Government Representative Office, or GRO. As a result, Senator LaBoucane-Benson also attended.

Ahead of the meeting, Senator Woo and I circulated four draft amendments, and some other members circulated draft observations. My sole amendment was a copycat of one defeated in the House committee by a vote of six to five. It was to limit the tax exemptions to grain drying and to exclude building heating.

After I summarized the evidence presented at the Agriculture Committee supporting my amendment, Senator Burey argued on a point of order that my amendment was not admissible, relying on excerpts from the Senate Procedure in Practice. Then Senator Plett, reading from a memo, argued in favour of the point of order.

Obviously, that day the Conservative Party of Canada, or CPC, and the Canadian Senators Group, or CSG, were acting jointly. Of course, neither the Progressive Senate Group, or PSG, nor the Independent Senators Group, or ISG, were told in advance to prepare.

In the terms of Senator Wells, was that a fix or, rather, a mega‑fix?

I had no choice but to ask the committee to reverse the ruling, which it did on a vote of seven to five with two abstentions. The five votes to sustain the chair were the three Conservative senators and the two CSG senators. The whole event took about an hour and forced a second meeting for clause‑by‑clause consideration.

We finally debated my amendment, which was adopted by a vote of seven to six with one abstention — the GRO representative, Senator LaBoucane-Benson.

Contrary to what was said on social media by Senator Plett and by the Agriculture Carbon Alliance in the National Post, the GRO did not make possible the adoption of the amendment — to the contrary.

After the vote on my amendment, the chair moved to clause 2. Senator Woo proceeded to his first amendment, proposing to reduce the exemption period from eight to three years. After a long debate, the amendment was negatived by a tie vote, seven to seven.

Then, forgetting that Senator Woo had another amendment to the clause, the chair said, “. . . shall clause 2 carry?” Some senators said, “Yes,” and the chair replied, “Thank you,” and then asked the committee if the title shall carry.

Senator Woo immediately mentioned that there was still an amendment to deal with and that he would like to move it. The chair replied, “Please.” Then he did move his amendment — identical to the one which is now before us.

Debate followed with Senator Plett arguing at one point that he wanted a commitment to finish the clause-by-clause before adjourning the meeting. The chair said that the committee had a hard stop at —

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: Order.

Senator Dalphond: The chair said that the committee had a hard stop at 11 a.m., and we adjourned.

At the following meeting, Senators Plett and Wells objected to continuing consideration of clause 2, arguing that it was out of order since the chair had stated at the previous meeting that clause 2 had carried.

Senator Woo, Senator Simons and I remarked that debate on that last amendment had already started. Furthermore, we referred to previous similar incidents in the chamber and to rule 10-5, which states:

At any time before a bill is passed, a Senator may move for the reconsideration of any clause already carried.

The chair rejected Senator Plett’s point of order. We then resumed consideration of the remaining amendments, completed the clause-by-clause consideration and unanimously appended many thoughtful observations.

Colleagues, if there were one or more fixes in this process, they were clearly not in this chamber but at the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry.

Now let’s look at Senator Moncion’s amendment. Yes, it is identical to the last one moved by Senator Woo at committee. Yes, it was defeated — but by a tied vote, seven to seven.

In such a context, reconsideration by the whole chamber is fully justified — even more so since Senator Moncion’s amendment deals with an exceptional legislative mechanism. It would allow for an extension of the eight-year exemption currently found in the bill — I repeat: eight years, not three — on a simple motion adopted in both houses within the limited time frame.

As clearly explained by Senator Woo on Tuesday, this provides an easy way to extend the exemption before it expires, without committee hearings and normal debates.

Why should we agree to a special procedure designed to prevent a thorough review of the facts and to stifle debates? Is that another attempt to have a fix?

Furthermore, why signal to farmers that it would be an easy process to extend the exemption and that there is no real need to transition to greener farm practices during the exemption period?

Alex Cool-Fergus, National Policy Manager at Climate Action Network Canada, said before the committee:

I am not arguing that there are no marketable solutions right now, but if there is no market signal pushing that kind of innovation, there won’t be any more innovation, whether that is in eight years if this bill comes into effect and is sunset or longer down the road.

Colleagues, if we want to encourage Canadians to continue to push the technological frontier to reduce emissions, then we should not signal that this exemption may be rubber-stamped again in eight years, regardless of the evidence.

In conclusion, with this bill, it seems that we are always pressured to have a truncated process. This suggests that the facts do not present a strong case. Therefore, I support Senator Moncion’s proposal. Thank you, marsee.

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