February 28th, 2024

Tories seek to reject Senate amendments on carbon pricing, but Bloc not on board

By Mia Rabson and Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press on January 29, 2024.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, Sept. 22, 2023. The Liberals intend to move quickly to get a Ukraine free-trade bill back up for debate and pressure the Conservatives to support it as MPs return to the House of Commons today following the Christmas break. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Patrick Doyle

OTTAWA – The housing crisis, clean-tech tax credits and carbon pricing were front and centre in the House of Commons on Monday, as MPs picked up where they left off – both in substance and in tone – when they rose for the Christmas break in December.

The Liberal government’s immediate focus is on debating and passing a bill to implement the promises in its fall economic statement. It includes a major tax credit for carbon capture and storage and additional money to stimulate housing construction.

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland insisted Monday the bill is “making the math work for builders,” as the government battles against a cranky electorate that has seen housing prices skyrocket.

The Liberals also intend to move quickly this week to get the Ukraine free-trade bill back up for debate.

The legislation to implement an updated free-trade agreement between Canada and Ukraine became unexpected political fodder in the fall when the Conservatives voted against it in a protest against carbon pricing.

The agreement calls on both countries to promote carbon pricing. Canada’s system was created in 2019, while Ukraine has had a carbon price in effect since 2011.

Several Ukrainian organizations in Canada criticized the Conservatives for their vote against the bill. And the Liberals seized on it, accusing the Conservatives of bending to American right-wing commentators and politicians who are urging less support for Ukraine in its war against Russia.

The Conservatives say they stand with Ukraine and voted against the legislation solely because of carbon pricing.

Poilievre has made “axe the tax” his main slogan as Opposition leader, and it was one of the party’s main lines of attack against the Liberals during the first question period of 2024.

That included querying whether Prime Minister Justin Trudeau intended to pay the carbon price for the emissions he produced flying with his family to Jamaica for a vacation after Christmas.

The Tories also wasted no time getting a carbon pricing carve-out bill back up for debate.

Bill C-234 was the first thing MPs dealt with Monday morning. The legislation initially called for the carbon price to be removed from natural gas and propane used on farms for heating farm buildings and drying grain.

It passed the House of Commons last year with support from all parties except the Liberals, though a handful of Liberal MPs voted in favour.

In December, after an intense series of debates, the Senate passed an amended version of the bill that limited the carve-out only to propane used for grain dryers.

It was an acrimonious process.

Tories insisted Liberals were harassing senators to get the legislation killed – something the government denied.

And as Conservatives pushed for the bill, some senators alleged they were the victims of harassment and bullying. The Tories’ Senate leader, Sen. Don Plett, stood up to apologize for losing his temper on the Senate floor.

The situation became so heated that Sen. Bernadette Clement said police advised her to leave her home for a weekend after she got a threatening call prompted by a Tory social-media campaign that named her as an obstacle to the bill.

Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet said Monday that those allegations are among the reasons his party is no longer supporting the Tories on the bill.

In the House, Conservative MP Ben Lobb sought approval for a motion to reject the Senate’s amendments and revert the bill back to the version passed by the House of Commons.

“What I would ask is let’s not drag this out,” he said. “Let’s be reasonable.”

While the NDP seemed prepared to agree, the Bloc did not.

Bloc MP Yves Perron said in the House Monday morning that he believed supporting the bill as amended was the correct course of action, because it excluded a fuel for which farmers have limited or no alternative options while maintaining support for carbon pricing.

Gasoline and diesel used on farms are already exempted from carbon pricing because, for the most part, there are no real alternatives.

At this point, Perron said, it seemed like the Conservatives were only keeping up the fight “to get a slogan” out of it.

If the House accepts the Senate amendments, the bill will become law. If it rejects them or makes any other changes, the original version of the bill will go back to the Senate for a final vote.

Together, the Liberals and Bloc form a majority in the House.

But even an amended version of the bill would be politically problematic for the government.

Both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault promised there would be no more carve-outs from the carbon-pricing system after they moved in October to remove it from heating oil for three years.

With heating oil more prominent in Atlantic Canada, the Liberals were accused of pandering to the region to win back votes.

Liberals insisted the decision was made to give heating oil users more time and money to replace their oil furnaces with electric heat pumps.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 29, 2024.

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