By Tim Kalinowski
On Feb. 13 years of carbon tax federal-provincial strife in Saskatchewan finally came to a head in the Court of Appeal in Regina, and Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan president Todd Lewis had a front row seat— almost.
“We weren’t right in the courtroom,” he confirmed in interview with Ag-Matters. “The lawyers from all the interveners in this case and the governments— all those lawyers filled up the courtroom. So we were in an adjacent room watching it on TV.”
APAS is one of dozens of interveners in the case, which may have far-reaching implications not only for agriculture in Saskatchewan, but also in terms of setting a new bar for provincial/ federal relations. The Saskatchewan government and it supporters, like APAS, argued Ottawa’s Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act is an unconstitutional tax which trammels all over provincial jurisdiction before Chief Justice Robert Richards in Regina— while the federal government argued the Act was not really a tax at all, but rather a mechanism for regulatory change.
Whichever way you slice it, APAS was having none of it, said Lewis.
“No one was arguing whether carbon should be managed or not,” he said, “I think everyone was in agreement carbon is important, and greenhouse gas emissions are something that are effecting our climate. I think it just gets down to who is best to manage it.
“We are certainly on the side the Government of Saskatchewan as the people who know agriculture in Saskatchewan, and are the best to tell us how best to manage it. We are happy to be there (in court) to tell a little about our farmers’ stories, and I think going forward there are going to be more opportunities to inform the public on where we’re coming from.”
Lewis said APAS feels either farmers should be exempted from any potential carbon tax, or should be incentivized instead to do what they are already doing anyway: Creating greater efficiencies in their operations.
“Over the last number of decades we are growing more bushels of grain and producing more pounds of meat with an ever-lowering carbon footprint,” explained Lewis. “We have made great strides with technologies like direct feeding, and certainly on the pasture management side grasslands are handled totally different than they were even 20 years-ago with rotational grazing and so on. There are systems in place which have lowered our carbon footprint without a carbon tax or carbon pricing model, and I think that is going to continue.
“Carbon pricing isn’t what is driving the improvement in technology,” he emphasized, “and the improvement of carbon management: It is the farmers’ drive toward efficiency. And one of the by-products of that is good carbon management.”
Lewis acknowledged other jurisdictions like neighbouring Alberta had imposed their own carbon tax rather than having one foisted on them by the federal government; and in Alberta’s case it had exempted farm fuel from this tax.
But Lewis said there are other good reasons for the continuing displeasure with this tax he keeps hearing from farmers in both his own province and elsewhere in the country. He gives an example to illustrate his point.
“With a fall like we had this year, there was millions of bushels of grain that needed to be dried, and there was no other choice but to use natural gas or propane for that,” he explained. “Nobody is chopping wood and drying grain— guys have got to use that to save their crops. If we are going to have more variable weather because of climate change, this is an adaptation that is necessary— we need to be able to dry our grain at a reasonable cost.
“Adding a tax on propane and natural gas doesn’t mean we are going to be able to become suddenly more efficient while we are drying those things; it is what it is.
“We need to burn that fossil fuel to dry our grain, and the idea of putting a tax on that comes straight off the farmers’ bottom line.
“That is just one example of how this tax is impacting agriculture,” he stated. “I think with this February we’ve had no one is thinking who owns a chicken barn or a hog barn, ‘let’s turn this heat down five or six degree so we don’t have to pay some carbon tax.’”
Lewis said it is interesting to be watching a case in the Regina courtroom which has such significance for the future of provincial/ federal relations, and he expects whatever decision ultimately comes out of this round of arguments won’t be the end of the debate.
“This is just preliminary rounds really,” he confirmed. “I don’t think anybody feels this is going to be the last court case around the carbon tax. Whichever side loses is going to appeal to the next level; so it will be months and years before this thing probably does get settled. But I also think it is a pretty important question.”