By Ian Croft
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The gears of government continue to move forward as discussion once again occured within the House of Commons, this time with a focus on agriculture.
Martin Shields, MP for Bow River, rose in the House on Feb. 16 to speak on some issues that are affecting Alberta farmers.
“I am dealing with a topic that is really important to agriculture in parts of our country,” said Shields, who went on to talk about a common insecticide that has impacted bee populations. “It has to do with dichlorvos and leafcutter bees. People are familiar with honey bees, but there is a very small subset of bees called leafcutter bees. These are the ones that are used to pollinate alfalfa seed and canola seed. There was a decision made in 2020 about this chemical. When they looked at this chemical, they said it is something we do not want to have used in homes. Some people might remember those old fly strips. It was connected with people, but they did not address outside use. Under the labelling, it did not say it was used outside. However, it is used outside for the parasites that attack the leafcutter bee.”
Leafcutter bees are critical for alfalfa and canola seed producers.
“The leafcutter bee pollinates alfalfa seed and canola seed. Those people who grow hay, those people who grow canola need this seed. This is critical. There is no more of this supply in Canada at the end of this year. They have used up all of the inventory that is there. This is critical. The producers are saying we need an extension on what was put in to stop it from being used domestically, but this is agriculture. We need this change now. We are talking about the canola crops in this country. We are talking about alfalfa that is grown. These are the seed producers, and a by-product of these small seed groups is that they export it to the United States for about $16 million a year. We need to look at this issue. As the 2023 season ends, we will be in trouble with our seed producers in alfalfa and in canola, the very seed producers who produce it for farmers so they can grow alfalfa and canola in this country. We need to address this issue.”
The intensification of agricultural production in the future will begin first in irrigated areas, predicts Shields.
“Speaking of another particular area in our economy, most of these farmers grow this seed in an agricultural area that is irrigated,” said Shields. “In my riding, we have a huge percentage of the irrigation that is done. When we are talking about 2050 and 10 billion people on our planet, we will need 70 per cent more food produced. Where is that going to happen? The intensification will happen in irrigated areas. We have the water. We have the land. We grow 60 different varieties of plants and products that are exported and used in food security. The problem with the government is that it believes that carbon tax is a good thing. For our food security, it is not. It is not good, because this is an industry that uses a lot of electricity. People will find that I will get the same reply I have before, that the farmers get a rebate, but they get a rebate that is about 10 per cent of one per cent back to their operation. This does not solve the electricity. I have ag people out there paying $10,000 a month on their irrigation, on the carbon tax.”
“This is about food security. This is where we are going to grow more food, so we need to get the carbon tax off the irrigated farms in this country.”
Terry Beech, Liberal MP for Burnaby North – Seymour (B.C.), had no direct information available in regards to Shields’ first question on leafcutter bees, so he moved on to address the issue of the carbon tax.
“I think it is important for my friend’s constituents to know that even though his Conservative Party refused to pass a resolution acknowledging that climate change is real, he in fact did campaign for a price on pollution in the last election,” said Beech. “Unlike our government’s plan, which is revenue-neutral, fights climate change, supports farmers and makes life more affordable for eight out of 10 Canadian families, his plan actually costs more, does less and forces all Canadians to adopt a government-controlled bank account allowing his Conservative Party to dictate what someone can or cannot spend their money on. I know that sounds outrageous, but it is very real. I encourage all residents in Bow River to look it up.”
Beech countered that putting a price on pollution is not solely responsible for recent upticks in inflation.
“Inflation is also real, and it is important that we take action to reduce it,” said Beech. “My friend probably wants everyone to think that the main cause of inflation is our price on pollution, but that does not really pass the smell test. In British Columbia, we have had a price on pollution since 2008, but there was no record inflation between 2008 and 2021. In fact, if we look at B.C. generally, not only were we the first province to implement a price on pollution, but we had the fastest-growing economy in the country at the same time. Part of that story is the fact that clean tech companies, including in agriculture, are disproportionately located in British Columbia, generating tens of thousands of good, sustainable jobs and generating billions of dollars in annual revenue.”
Beech argued some farm fuels, like gas and diesel, have been exempted from the federal government’s backstop pollution price.
“A September 2020 report on the economic impact of the agriculture sector in B.C. showed that farm cash receipts from 2015 to 2018 actually increased four per cent annually and 12 per cent in 2019. That is more than $3.8 billion per year in revenue for farms. The same report highlighted improved trade agreements made by our government as a significant opportunity to improve profits and grow employment in the agricultural sector. That same report, ironically given the context of tonight’s debate, also listed climate change as the number one threat to farmers. The member opposite ignores the fact that we have exempted gas and diesel for farm use from our backstop pollution price, which accounts for nearly 97 per cent of on-farm GHG emissions. We also return the proceeds of the price on pollution to farmers, something the Conservatives actually voted against. That measure has returned more than $120 million to farmers in the last year alone. We have also invested $1.5 billion to support farmers’ efforts to reduce GHG emissions, and we have tripled the size of the agricultural clean technology program, with a further investment of $329 million in the last budget.”
“Farmers need a real plan to fight climate change and to grow farm profits, and that is exactly what our government is doing,” said Beech. “The problem with ignoring the facts or making improper assumptions is that it usually forces people to make bad policy decision. I suspect that is what is happening within the Conservative caucus, and the official opposition continues to put forward reckless policy as a result.”
Shields disregarded Beech’s response to his initial questions, and doubled down on the issue of carbon tax when it comes to the production of electricity.
“What I was talking about was very specific,” said Shields. “I am talking about the electricity used for irrigation. I welcome the MP to come out to my riding so he can see how irrigation works. Farmers are using electricity. The gasoline that ag producers are using has gone up by 53 per cent, and other things have increased significantly too. The pipe they use for irrigation is up 44 per cent if they can get it. The carbon tax is on electricity, and it is tens of thousands of dollars. We are going to grow our ag security in irrigation. It is very specific. The member is not listening to what I am talking about. I am not talking about policy. I think we need to fix what will provide food for this country and food security. It will be found in irrigation. Production is eight times better there than on dry land anywhere in this country. That is how we are going to get food security. The Liberals are missing the point of what irrigation can do for this country. They are not getting it.”
Beech replied back to Shields by pointing out Canada has remained financially stable despite the recent financial burdens that have been thrown at the world.
“Supply chain shocks felt after the global pan demic and after Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine have only underlined how important it is to protect Canadian farmers’ competitiveness, whether that is in irrigation or otherwise. We have a responsible fiscal plan, as well as the lowest net debt and deficit in the G7 with a AAA credit rating. We have created more than 800,000 jobs since the pandemic started, including in agriculture. Those farmers who have seen crops ruined by extreme weather events understand that we need to combat climate change and are already taking massive strides to do so. While they undertake this necessary action, they can count on our government to continue supporting them with concrete measures that promote innovation and put money back in their pockets.”