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

By: The Hon. Pierre Dalphond

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Hon. Pierre J. Dalphond: Colleagues, I rise to speak briefly in support of Senator Woo’s amendment. He expressed arguments in favour of this amendment in a very clear manner and I thank him. I would like to add that, in my view, his proposal makes even more sense today than at committee where it was defeated by a tie vote.

Why? Because, since the end of our committee study, many important developments have occurred that call for this amendment in addition to the valid arguments that Senator Woo raised at committee and earlier tonight. I recognize I’m not an expert in agricultural finance. He is the expert. I defer to him. But I thought the arguments were quite convincing.

First, on October 26, the Prime Minister announced a three‑year exemption on the price on carbon for home heating oil. Though it is often described as “the Atlantic exemption,” we know now, thanks to Senator Ringuette, that it will affect more households in Ontario and elsewhere in Canada than the Atlantic provinces overall. Like I said in my third reading speech, I was rather puzzled by this announcement when it was made. After some research, I now understand that at current prices, it can cost four times more to generate the same amount of heat with oil compared with natural gas, and that the price of oil has increased significantly over the last few years — contrary to the price of natural gas, which went down. Finally, this expensive source of energy is mostly used by low-income households.

As Senator Ringuette previously illustrated, this exemption is not targeted at one region — it’s targeted at a group of people who are using a product where the price went through the roof over the years and who are financially unable to adopt an alternative without some assistance.

It is also very important to remember that it is a three-year exemption and not an eight-year one, and without the easy extensions we find in Bill C-234.

As to the second development, since our committee study, the government has repeatedly said they’re not open to further exemptions to the price on carbon. The government 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. We also know that the Bloc Québécois and the NDP share a commitment to Canada’s climate plan and reject an “axe-the-tax” approach. This position does not exclude some exemptions to deal with dire situations, if proven.

Third, on November 6, the House of Commons defeated a Conservative motion calling for an exemption for all home heating fuel. Senator Woo referred to it briefly. Why should we have a bill that provides an exemption for heating all kinds of barns and farm buildings, including for those farmers operating in supply management systems that guarantee them a good income, while refusing a similar exemption for all home heating? I think it’s a good question. As I asked at third reading, are cows and hogs more valuable than humans?

Furthermore, it would be illogical to adopt a bill that proposes exemptions for heating all kinds of farm buildings for a minimum of eight years while there is only one exemption currently, which is for homes using heating oil and limited to three years. I don’t see the logic behind eight years for farm buildings but three years for the poorest people in the country using that type of heating system.

Fourth, last week the House of Commons defeated another Conservative motion. That one more or less ordered us to pass Bill C-234 without amendments in the midst of our review. Conservative MP Adam Chambers stated to the media, just before entering the Conservative caucus, that senators should go back to “. . . what they’re good at, which is being invisible . . .” Obviously, he ignores the new reality of this place. We don’t intend to be invisible, sir, and we are ready to do our constitutional duty of providing sober second thought in connection with all kinds of bills, whether from the Conservative Party or the government.

But we are also mindful of our role to propose amendments when we consider it appropriate, while leaving the final say to the elected MPs. This is the proper functioning of Canada’s Parliament. To quote the late Senator Shugart, “We are very familiar with the fact that our role calls for some restraint.”

In the end, the return of Bill C-234 to the other place will invite all MPs, including Liberals and ministers, to revisit the issue of exemptions and put in place a coherent approach in matters related to them.

Incidentally, this is also the goal of the motion tabled two days ago by our colleague Senator Bellemare. In her speech on Bill C-234, she urged all of us — including the provinces, the federal government and all stakeholders — to act together in the pursuit of solutions to the climate crisis. We can only get through that crisis, which is linked to our own survival, by acting together — not by threatening to not implement laws that have been federally adopted by this Parliament, or having states that are becoming rogue provinces and provinces that are becoming rogue states by refusing to implement laws that were constitutionally adopted.

If we have the will and can work together, as she suggested in her motion, then we can expect to meet our undertakings under the Paris Agreement. We will have a coherent policy and a strict price on carbon, with exemptions designed to give relief to those who are in absolute need of it, with a multiplicity of programs put forward by the federal government and the provinces to assist everybody in a green turnaround. That’s the only way we can do it.

I know some farmers need assistance. I know they are oversubscribing to all of the programs that have been put forward so far by Agriculture Canada. I know they are willing to embrace changes because, as Senator Cotter said, they are the stewards of the land. They want the land to survive, they want to survive and they want to help keep us properly fed. But we all have to work together and not try to seek out how to escape the burden carried by others. We should all be sharing the burden and working together to achieve these goals. Thank you very much. Marsee.

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