Tories lose Hail Mary bid in House to reverse amendments to farm heating bill

Opposition MPs say the bill was deluged with a flurry of amendments clearly meant to neuter the bill

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OTTAWA – The Conservative’s last-ditch attempt to strip amendments from a contentious farm heating bill died in the House of Commons Wednesday, one day after the hobbled private member’s bill passed third reading in the Senate.

A motion tabled in the House Wednesday afternoon called on MPs to reject amendments added to Bill C-234 by the Red Chamber — amendments that both Opposition MPs and senators allege were whipped into the bill at the behest of the Trudeau Liberals.

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“Section 53 of the Constitution states that all financial, spending and tax relief measures must originate in the House, and the Senate has overstepped its role,” read a portion of the motion, viewed by the National Post prior to it being tabled in the House of Commons.

“The House calls on the government to reject the Senate amendments to bill C-234 and reinstate the bill as passed by the House to remove the carbon tax on farmers.”

Rising in the House shortly after question period, the motion read by Haldimand-Norfolk MP Leslyn Lewis was almost immediately jeered by the government side of the House — losing the unanimous consent required to restore the bill.

“I regret I’m hearing a lot of noes from others members, that there’s not unanimous consent to proceed,” Speaker Greg Fergus said, as the jeers drowned Lewis out.

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Bill C-234’s tumultuous ride through the Senate came to an end Tuesday evening after Senators voted 44 to 40 to grant the contentious farm heating bill third reading.

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But because senators voted in favour of hobbling the bill with two late-game amendments, C-234 is now back before the House of Commons, where proponents fear the bill will be left to die on the order paper.

C-234 is Conservative private member’s bill that would have exempted farms from paying carbon taxes on natural gas and propane used to dry grain or heat and cool barns.

It enjoyed all-party support when it passed third reading in the House in March and moved to the Senate for final consideration.

But that was before the Trudeau Liberals flagship carbon tax policy ended up on the political carving block, with the government granting a rare exemption for home heating oil — a move to shore up cratering Liberal party support in Atlantic Canada.

Bad luck or poor legislative planning brought C-234 to committee consideration just as the Liberals made that exemption — adding political fire to prevent passage of a bill that would have legislated another carbon tax carve-out.

As C-234 left committee and was presented to senators for third reading, the bill was deluged with a flurry of amendments clearly meant to neuter the bill.

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Previously rejected amendments that would have removed all but grain drying from the bill and shorten its sunset clause were eventually adopted by senators in a series of close votes.

Conservative senators blamed the Senate’s sudden interest in watering down the bill on intense lobbying by both Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“As this bill arrived in this chamber, bill C-234 was contentious for only one reason: the Liberal party opposed it,” said Senate Conservative Leader Don Plett during third reading debate on Tuesday.

“Their opposition was strictly political. It was a political calculation in an attempt to shore up their dwindling support base by acting tough on climate change when they were really just getting tough on farmers.”

Furor over the amended bill prompted the Conservatives to bog down government business until the Liberals back down.

Senator Pierre Dalphond, who tabled the amendment removing grain drying from the bill, told the National Post he was pleased to see the bill pass third reading.

“At the end of the day, senators adopted two amendments based on clear evidence that reducing emissions in barn heating is possible now, like with other buildings, and that a three-year exemption is more reasonable than eight years for grain drying, considering available efficiencies and emerging technology,” he said. 

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It is now up to MPs — including ministers — to consider these amendments and to put in place a coherent approach regarding exemptions and transition programs. I will be the first to defer to the final judgment of the House of Commons on the bill’s details.”

In a statement, the National Farmers Union urged MPs to pass the bill as is, lest it end up in parliamentary purgatory.

Because the Bill was amended by the Senate (to remove exemptions for fuels used to heat barns, greenhouses, and other farm buildings) there is a significant possibility that it will be delayed in the House of Commons until an election, at which time it will die,” the statement read, stating that there are few low-carbon alternatives for farmers to dry their grain. 

“The National Farmers Union (NFU) is calling on all political parties to prioritize and pass Bill C-234.”

Conservative agriculture critic John Barlow told the National Post farmers face a grim winter amid rising costs.

“In a departure from parliamentary norm, the Senate, at the direction of the Prime Minister, took apart a private member’s bill just to save their radical policies,” he said.

The Liberals did all this because they care more about protecting their ideological carbon tax than lowering food bills for Canadian families. When C-234 comes back to the House of Commons, Justin Trudeau must immediately let the bill pass in its original form so farmers and families can receive some relief in time for Christmas.”

• Email: [email protected] | X: @bryanpassifiume

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