Portage-Lisgar MP Branden Leslie has been battling for local farmers and producers at Parliament Hill with Bill C-234, after having participated in its creation. He gave us an update of the effort, with his unique perspective.

He explains Bill C-234 is a Private Members Bill and was sponsored by MP Ben Lobb from Huron-Bruce, Ontario. Leslie was heavily involved in drafting the legislation as it originated in previous private members Bill C-206 from a different Ontario MP. He convinced Ben Lobb that the Bill was expected to have the support of all opposition parties.

Leslie notes he spoke with Lobb while he worked for the Grain Growers of Canada which advocated for farmers. He says he informed him that the Bill had a great chance to pass. 

"It's a good and important policy change to lower the cost of production for our farmers and, in turn, make food prices cheaper for Canadians," says Leslie. "It's a very narrow carve-out of the carbon tax on propane and natural gas that is used to heat or cool a livestock barn, and to dry grain. It doesn't make substantial changes to the overall carbon tax. Of course, we plan on fully axing the carbon tax for everybody. But this is a very good place to start, and would work out to about a billion dollars of savings for farmers over the next seven years."

He explains grain drying uses a tremendous amount of propane and natural gas, and it's more sensible to leave the money in the farmer's pockets than taxing it away from them, to enable them to reinvest in their operations. 

"It wasn't really supposed to be political," continues Leslie. "When I was working on this in a previous role, we were working across party lines and did get support from the Conservatives, the NDP, the Green Party, the Bloc Quebecois, and even a few liberal members of Parliament in the House of Commons. When it went off to the Senate, we expected that the Senate would do what the Senate is expected to do, which is to respect the will of the elected Members of Parliament. Coming full circle, I did not expect to be spending time as a Member of Parliament speaking in the House of Commons on a motion that we brought forward, demanding that the Senate follow the will of the elected Chamber and pass Bill C-234."

Leslie says it's extremely disappointing to see what he terms "political gamesmanship" that has taken place in the Senate by Liberal-appointed Senators that have been playing procedural games with the intention of delaying, or potentially even killing, this legislation from moving forward. 

He notes this began when Trudeau announced that 3 per cent of Canadians would get a break on the carbon tax on their home heating oil. It was something that didn't affect Manitoba, but was in reference to Atlantic Canada.

"That first carve-out, that first climb down, from such a marquee environmental policy for this government, that has been shown to just drive up the cost of everything, became a political hot potato. And that really led to this Liberal government -- the Prime Minister himself and the Environment Minister -- calling up senators, and basically begging them to not pass this legislation because it was going to make them look bad politically."

The Committee stage of the Senate saw several amendments put forward, and one passed. It would change the period in which this would be in place from eight years down to three years.

"When it went to the broader entire Senate, Senators rightfully voted that amendment down and said, 'No, we believe it should be the way it'," notes Leslie. "At that point, I was fairly confident that that we were going to be able to get this Bill across the finish line and, hopefully, start saving farmers this fall, that might still be out harvesting corn at some point this winter or next spring, and are going to be able to take advantage of this reduction of the carbon tax when they go to dry their grain."

Leslie says it became apparent that a wholesale plan to destroy the Bill was in place when random Liberal senators, with no real connection to agriculture, started tabling motions to amend the Bill at third reading, which is procedurally very rare, especially when it comes to Private Members Bills.

"It all comes down to the political pressure that was being put on these Liberal Senators to have the elected House of Commons legislation denied and, therefore, save this current Liberal government from looking bad, that it was creating another carve-out on the carbon tax," says Leslie. "Ultimately, after a final vote on a Second Amendment -- a different amendment that was already voted down at committee and in the House by a margin of 40 to 39 -- the Senate voted to amend Bill C-234."

He says the reason this is an issue is not due to details that it amended, which included the removal of heating and cooling of livestock barns -- thereby gutting half of the purpose of the bill -- but it also creates, procedurally, a process that can and likely will take a very long time in which the legislation has to come back to the House of Commons for further debate.

Leslie says this second approval from Senate is stretching out the time to deal with it, making it extremely difficult to pass the Bill before the next election comes, whenever that may be. 

"It's been very frustrating," notes Leslie. "The Bill is not dead, but it certainly seems to be on life support. I've certainly been getting a lot of calls from farmers angry to see what they thought was pretty much a done-deal just to be to have political gamesmanship from the so-called Chamber of sober, second thought. They really, ultimately, decided to take a billion dollars out of the pockets of our farmers. And so it's been a frustrating couple of weeks here. This, obviously, elevated the entirety of the issue of the carbon tax quite a lot, so much so that we've voted, heading into the weekend, for 30 hours straight in opposition to the government and in favour of axing the carbon tax for all farmers, families, and First Nations across this country."

He explains this has highlighted a clear distinction in what the next election is going to be.

"It's going to be a carbon tax election where you'll have a choice between the quadrupling of the carbon tax, or axing of the carbon tax," adds Leslie. "So, Bill C-234 has stirred up a lot of interest around here. Unfortunately, political games by the Liberals are placing on the backs of farmers a significant cost burden. At a time with thin margins and growing input costs, it's really quite damaging to farmers and, in turn, our rural communities."

Leslie sums it up by saying that his task in part will now be to wade through efforts of the Senate to not improve the legislation, but to attempt to delay and, hopefully from their perspective, kill this legislation.

"I sit on the Environment Committee, and I have twice now, since the Liberals and Bloc Quebecois voted down our motion in the House of Commons, directed the Senate to follow the will of Parliament. I've tabled two motions, both of which have been voted down by the Liberals," continues Leslie. "At every turn, we are raising this issue. As we hear more across the country from the usage of food banks increasing dramatically, obviously, unsurprisingly, the number of calls that I get into my office and emails about the cost of living, the price of groceries going up, the inability to afford reasonably-priced rent, or the waning hope of ever being able to buy that first home, it's having a real impact on people."

He says Portagers know that the carbon tax has increased the price of everything.  

"Between the high interest rates driven by the inflationary government spending that we've seen out of this government, as well as the the carbon tax, we're just punishing Canadians at this point," adds Leslie. "And I think that's why it's so vital that that we axe the tax for everybody."


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