Opinion: Bibeau missed boat on grain drying

Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Marie-Claude Bibeau had plenty of time to add grain drying as an eligible exemption under the federal carbon pricing plan, but ruled out doing so last year.

Her and her colleagues shouldn’t now be standing in the way of cross-partisan support to address the issue.

Let’s recap to see how we got here.

Producers and grower groups remember a wet harvest culminating in the 2019 “Harvest from Hell.”

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By winter of that year, opposition MPs were questioning when the federal government would offer relief for farmers drying grain.

Bibeau’s responses were to say she was working on the issue, and that she was gathering more information.

At the tail end of 2019, she said she still needed more evidence and openly questioned the impact of levies.

Asked at that time if seeing high grain-drying bills regularly posted to social media is enough evidence for her to advocate for an exemption on such costs, Bibeau could not.

“I don’t want to go on feelings… ” she said. “I just need more evidence to see the impact it’s had on a farm.”

February was targeted as the earliest date such evidence might be available for her.

Near the start of 2020, she said, “We want to find practical solutions… It is important to make good decisions based on data… ”

Throughout this time, there were rumblings the Liberals were working on providing an exemption for grain drying. Supporters of the exemption saw the idea gaining momentum, particularly as opposition parties expressed support.

But Bibeau and her federal colleagues never offered a real solution to the problem. Last June, the federal government decided it wasn’t much of a problem at all.

It concluded grain drying costs an average of $210 to $819 per farm. In all, the costs of carbon pricing on grain drying worked out to between 0.05 to 0.42 per cent of total on-farm operating expenses, according to the federal government.

“The analysis that has been made by the department does not show that the impact of the price on pollution has a significant impact on grain drying… ” Bibeau said in June 2020. “The impact is a very small percentage in the operating costs…”

By then, Conservative MP Philip Lawrence had introduced a private member’s bill to amend the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act (qualifying farming fuel) to ensure farmers would be exempt from carbon pricing on grain-drying activities.

After a few parliamentary process-induced delays, it was supported by MPs last month, except for Bibeau and the Liberals.

Liberals argue that Lawrence’s bill wouldn’t effectively address the issue at hand — exempting grain-drying costs from the carbon tax — because of the text’s wording. Opposition MPs, legal experts, lobbyists, grower groups and, for what it’s worth, this writer, disagree.

But Bibeau didn’t just criticize the proposed law for being ineffective, she also said her government was now planning on introducing its own law to offer relief to grain-drying farmers.

Bibeau, and the Liberals, had plenty of time to address the issue themselves.

Instead they decided it wasn’t an issue.

Now, appearing to be left on the sidelines, Bibeau and her caucus colleagues have changed their minds.

Apparently, grain-drying costs are an issue to the Liberals, and they believe they are the only party qualified to address it.

It isn’t clear what changed Bibeau’s mind.

It is clear that Bibeau and the Liberals should stop standing in the way of opposition MPs, working across party lines, from passing Lawrence’s bill.

About the author

Reporter

D.C. Fraser

D.C. Fraser is Glacier FarmMedia’s Ottawa-based reporter. Growing up mostly in Alberta, Fraser also lived in Saskatchewan for ten years where he covered politics, including a stint teaching at the University of Regina’s School of Journalism. He is an avid fan of the outdoors and a pretty good beer league hockey player. His passion for agriculture and agri-food policy comes naturally: Six consecutive generations of his family have worked in the industry.

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