The House resumed from May 2 consideration of the motion that Bill , be read the third time and passed, and of the amendment.
Mr. Speaker, I am quite pleased to speak to Bill and the amendment, and I offer my support for the bill but not for the amendment.
I might say that it is important in this debate, regarding the amendment, because everything relates to the bill, so I will be fairly broad in my remarks.
It is interesting to see the reactions of some of the party leaders in this House since this bill was first debated at first reading and at committee.
At one point in time, all parties seemed to be in favour of increasing biofuel production for several reasons: one, to develop greater economic opportunities for rural Canada; two, to offer alternative crop opportunities and better returns for farmers in rural Canada; and three, to provide for a move away from fossil fuels, which would mean reduced greenhouse gas impacts on Canadian society. This is at a time when the environment is a huge issue.
However, now, because of changing circumstances in the global food supply and a few other issues, in an almost knee-jerk reaction, we are getting some saying that ethanol is almost solely responsible for the global food shortage and therefore some party positions are switching.
I will put it to members this way. Whether we pass or reject Bill , it will, in neither case, impact the global food shortage or surplus to any great extent. Let us be realistic here. Regarding ethanol in Canada, in terms of this bill, will we be in the modern world or will we stay behind the times? It is time we get up to speed.
However, I can say that if we reject this bill we will send a very negative message to those investors who took all parties' words and who based their investment decisions on plants that are already being built and on farmers who will put crops in the ground on the basis of those initial discussions at committee which had basically all parties supporting Bill .
If this bill is defeated, somebody had better take responsibility for that lost investment opportunity and that lost investment out there for those people who actually took the word of the various representatives of the parties that this bill would actually go through Parliament. They took our word that we would implement regulations and increase the content of ethanol and biodiesels in fuel by regulations.
Simply put, investments have been made both on the farm in terms of the production of alternative crops and in plant capacity to build plants for the current feedstocks and, in their minds as well, for future feedstocks for ethanol production from more cellulosic feedstock, et cetera.
If we reject this bill, we will have killed an economic opportunity for great numbers of Canadian and international investors and we will have certainly killed an economic opportunity for a great number of Canadian farmers.
For those who say that we will be using good quality wheat and other crops for fuels, that is not necessarily so. Yes, sometimes they will be but not always.
Sometimes there is frost. There is always a frost in some area. Sometimes there is too much rain and the quality of the grain goes down. Sometimes there is drought, which affects the quality. Sometimes there are surpluses.
It is those products, which are not always top quality bread wheat or top quality cereal grade corn, that are going into the production of these particular fuels. There are these other lower quality crops that are often used as well.
I say, especially to the leader of the NDP, who seems to have a knee-jerk reaction against ethanol now although he had it in his policy platform for the last election, for heaven's sake, that he must not kill that gleam and that spark in the eyes of those farmers out there. I ask him to allow economic opportunities to develop in rural Canada. I ask him not to hamper this investment in economic opportunities by the farm community.
This 5% really will not take a whole lot of crop, but it will make a huge difference in terms of price returns for primary producers. The interesting thing about farm production is that if we have a 2% or 3% surplus, especially in the potato industry, it is not just that 2% or 3% surplus for which we get paid low returns: it kills the price of the whole 102% and 103%. This will assist in terms of that economic development and economic opportunity for the farm community as well.
The Canadian Renewable Fuels Association has some information on this, and I will quote the association a little later, but I can say that by being a player, by having the production base taking place right now with the current feedstock, it will encourage research and development in the newer feedstocks that are not so much food for our consumers as others. That is where we have to get to.
We cannot jump over this step. We are not ready to go there yet in terms of the cellulosic and the research and development required in that area. This step cannot be jumped over. We have to go to this step with that production and fuel stock base right now.
Oh yes, there is a number out there, and this debate is rather interesting, but there is quite a debate by some who would blame the world's food shortage on the production of ethanol. Nothing could be further from the truth. Is there some impact? Yes, there is a marginal impact, but ethanol is not the cause. The real cause, in my view, is the speculation in the commodities market, which has no relationship to costs or real crises on the ground.
As well, certainly, global trade has an impact on the food shortage. The food for which there is greatest shortage at the moment is rice. Rice is not used in the production of ethanol. However, some countries that have become dependent on rice imports have seen the exports from some other countries frozen. We are seeing speculation, hoarding and all these kinds of things.
That is the real reason there is a problem in terms of global food supply. It is due more to market exploitation, market manipulation and market speculation than it is to the production of ethanol itself.
I have what I think is a very good paper that certainly opens up a good debate. It is a policy brief by the Oakland Institute and I believe it was written in April although it does not have the date on it. It has this to say at one point:
In fact, it is the traders and middlemen who stand to gain most. Speculation in world commodities is driving prices upward, from global futures commodity trading to traders and hoarders in West Africa, Thailand and the Philippines.
The institute goes on to say:
The payments made by the Canadian Wheat Board show--
And we know that the Canadian Wheat Board maximizes returns to primary producers.
--that the farmers were paid between $260-$284 a ton for various qualities of non-durum wheat, while the global price for wheat peaked to over $520 a ton. In India, farmers were paid Rs.850 [their currency] a quintal while wheat was imported at Rs.1,650 [their currency] a quintal.
What this is showing is that prices on the ground are one thing, but it is the market speculation and the middlemen that are really causing those prices to go through the roof. The farmers are not feeling the benefit of those prices on the ground to anywhere near the extent of what prices are in the marketplace.
The Oakland Institute paper goes on. I do not necessarily agree with everything that is said, but I think they are interesting points. It states:
Various causes for the current food price crisis are being cited by policy makers and the media--most common among them being the increased demand from China, India, and other emerging economies, whose increasing per capita growth has whetted appetites, as well as the oft-cited rising fuel and fertilizer costs, climate change, and impact of biofuels production. What is missing in the discourse is analysis of the failure of the free market, which made countries vulnerable in the first place; ironically, it is being promoted as a solution to the current crisis.
The Oakland Institute is saying that there are a lot of causes of the food crisis, and it is certainly not just the production of ethanol and biodiesel causing it, as some would portray.
I want to turn to a comment that I think is right on the mark. Larry Hill, now chair of the Canadian Wheat Board, stated in an article:
Commodity prices have risen dramatically in the last two years. There are many factors that have contributed to these increases. Supply-side issues have been the most dramatic, with...production problems plaguing all five of the world's top wheat-producing exporting regions over the past two years.
This ranged from drought in Australia to the heavy rains at harvest in Europe, poor winter wheat conditions in Kansas, frost in Argentina, and heat damage in western Canada.
On the demand side, the world population continues to grow. In some of the world's most populous nations, improvements to living standards have created more demand for a wheat-based diet and for livestock fed with grain.
He went on to say:
Until this year, grain prices in real dollars were so low that they were on par with what farmers received in the Dirty Thirties. Not surprisingly, these values caused many farmers to rethink their future in agriculture. Some walked away, others tried to diversify into other types of enterprises, while still others were forced to subsidize their farms with one if not two off-farm jobs.
The fact of the matter is that if we bring it into real terms the price of the wheat in a loaf of bread now is about 16¢ for a 16-ounce loaf of bread. That is not a great deal when the price of a loaf of bread is $2 or thereabouts.
My point is that the farmer's share is still not really any more than what it should be. When we hear Mr. Hill's comments, we have to recognize, as I am certain this House does, the kinds of difficulties that producers have faced over the last eight years in Canada, when farm incomes were at record lows in this country.
This ethanol and biodiesel industry is creating a spark in the eye for many. It is creating economic opportunity.
Yes, we know there is price pressure on the livestock and hog industries, but we have to find a way of making one agricultural commodity complementary to the other. We cannot have one industry such as the hog and beef industry built on cheap feed grains, because those producers have to survive too. We must have policy done in a complementary fashion such that farmers can make a living off the land in this country regardless of the commodity produced.
If I may turn to the bill for a moment, I want to come to the fact that the protection is already in the bill in terms of what I think is being asked by the amendment. The bill allows the government to regulate renewable content in fuels. It allows the federal government to implement regulations requiring 5% average renewable content in gasoline by 2010.
Subsequent regulations will also require 2% average renewable content in diesel and heating oil by 2012 on successful demonstration of renewable diesel fuel use under the range of Canadian environmental conditions, meaning fuels made from renewable sources such as agriculture crops and other organic matter.
This gives the government the authority to make regulations. I believe that the government will be sensible in that. Perhaps the government will be sensible on this particular issue and make reasonable regulations. We cannot say the same for the government on all issues.
New subclause 2(8) amends the bill to add a provision for periodic and comprehensive reviews by a parliamentary committee of the environmental and economic aspects of biofuel production in Canada. That is important. The committee put that in there. Parliament is not going to be hamstrung, but this is sensible.
The amendment that we are talking about now is not sensible. It basically stops the ethanol and biodiesel proposal in its tracks.
This review allows us to monitor the situation, to determine the environmental and economic impacts of biofuel production in Canada, and to do it in a sensible way. It is extremely important.
I think the amendment that the members are calling for is already covered by the work of the committee itself.
I would encourage Parliament to pass this bill. Investments are already being made. Primary producers are looking to the future with the current crop regime, yes, but they are also looking for and hoping that the government will put in place the research and development.
I know that research and development is taking place south of the border into other alternative crops such as wheat and barley, straw, stalks and cobs from corn in Ontario and Quebec, and vegetable and fruit residues from across Canada. In Prince Edward Island, there is a very small cold press biodiesel operation in place using canola.
There is the possibility of using forest and wood waste and also municipal solid waste. There are other alternatives down the road, but we have to get there. In order to get there, I ask Parliament to support this bill and let this economic opportunity succeed.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to speak today on Bill .
Let us make it clear right at the start that the purpose of this government bill, which in itself contains no standards whatsoever, is to authorize the government to enact regulations governing the Canadian production of biofuels. In other words, the bill would allow the federal government to regulate renewable content in fuels in order to require, for example, a certain percentage of biofuel in gasoline.
In order to have a better understanding of legislative developments in the biofuels file, let us begin by reminding hon. members that the proposed measures, except for a few key details, were included in from the previous session. I would remind the House that this bill, known as the clean air act, was amended by the opposition parties in committee and that the measures concerning biofuels still appeared in the amended version of the bill.
It would be a good thing to remind hon. members at this point that the government had already announced that an amended Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 would allow the government to implement regulations to require an average of 5% renewable content in gasoline by 2010. Subsequent regulations would also require an average of 2% renewable content in diesel and heating oil by 2012 upon successful demonstration of renewable diesel fuel use under the range of Canadian environmental conditions.
I would point out that the Bloc Québécois has been concerned since the beginning about the environmental and social consequences of the use of corn ethanol. It therefore submitted amendments in the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food specifically intended to better monitor biofuel regulation. These amendments would, for instance, have enabled committee members to keep abreast of technological advances in the field of renewable biofuels and also to evaluate the appropriateness of the measures proposed by the government.
Renewable fuels are one way for us to reduce greenhouse gases, but not the only way. Such fuels can also help us reduce our dependence on oil. However, not all renewable fuels are equal. That is very important to realize. A study by the committee of the federal government's regulations could have looked further into biofuels, their sources and their potential consequences. Unfortunately, the amendments proposed by the Bloc Québécois were all rejected by the Liberals and the Conservatives.
In light of this, the Bloc Québécois then moved, in the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, a motion that asked:
That the Committee recommend that the government ensure that the implementation of regulations resulting from the eventual adoption of Bill C-33, An Act to amend the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, not result in an increase in the proportion of Canadian corn production currently used to produce ethanol and that it be reported to the House at the earliest opportunity.
The adoption of this motion would have kept the current proportion of land seeded with corn for use in ethanol production. For example, if 15% of Canadian corn production is currently being used to produce ethanol, the motion would have ensured that 15% of that production continued to be used to produce ethanol.
Unfortunately, by rejecting the motion, the Conservatives have sent a clear message: they have no intention of developing the biofuel industry in a balanced manner. The regulation that will result from Bill may be conducive to excess. I cannot stress that enough.
We are in favour of renewable fuels but, in our opinion, this bill, which allows the federal government to regulate the level of biofuel in gasoline, diesel and fuel oil, must be passed in order to ensure sustainable development.
The federal government cannot try to find a measure that reduces both greenhouse gas emissions and our dependency on oil while at the same time it risks bringing about social and environmental consequences by increasing the proportion of corn production currently dedicated to ethanol production. If it adopts this contradictory approach, it risks completely eliminating any of the benefits it is trying to create through this bill. The Bloc Québécois cannot endorse such action.
This is one of the reasons that we are in favour of the amendment we are debating today, which asks that Bill be sent back to committee to be further studied in the context of the most recent scientific, environmental, agricultural and international developments.
For us, in terms of a biofuel substitute for oil, the most interesting prospect at present is ethanol made from cellulose. This technique, still in its experimental stage, uses an inexpensive raw material and, more importantly, would recycle vegetable matter that is currently unusable. It would also provide new markets for the forestry and agriculture industries.
Given the environmental and economic problems posed by the production of ethanol from certain crops, support for raw materials that could be produced more readily is gaining ground.
Research is being increasingly focused on the production of ethanol from non-food crops and materials rich in cellulose, that is, fibres. The development of an efficient process for converting cellulose to ethanol could promote the use of raw materials such as agricultural residues and straw as well as forestry residues, primarily wood chips, and even trees and fast-growing grasses.
Iogen Corporation has built a pilot plant and has been producing ethanol from cellulosic materials for a few years.
A pilot plant in Sweden, for example, is producing ethanol from wood chips. The process produces three co-products that can be burned directly or dried and sold as fuel, carbon dioxide gas and ethanol.
The Fédération des producteurs de bovins du Québec has already asked the federal government for assistance to conduct a market study to determine whether constructing a biodiesel plant would be feasible. A very profitable market could be developed in which animal oils and animal product residues could eventually be turned into biofuel.
We think that ethanol made from cellulosic materials such as agricultural and wood waste, and other types of fuels still in the experimental stage look like a very interesting possibility.
In addition, the Government of Quebec has announced that it will not promote corn ethanol further because of the environmental impact of intensive corn production. It seems that the Varennes corn-based ethanol plant will be the only such plant in Quebec. In fact, during my tour of the Varennes facilities over six months ago, the CEO, a particularly visionary leader, told me that future development of his plant would be based on second generation ethanol production using household waste.
Before the regulations are implemented, the Bloc Québécois wants to see some thoughtful deliberation concerning the environmental record of the alternative fuels the federal government will propose. We must not lose sight of the fact that the original intention of this bill was to try to decrease greenhouse gas emissions and reduce our oil dependency.
If the Conservative government really wanted to make a difference in this area, it would choose the path proposed by the Bloc Québécois, including a plan to reduce dependency on oil, among other things, rather than trying to go against the current and scuttling Quebec's efforts with its inaction in the fight against greenhouse gases.
It could also, as proposed by the Bloc Québécois, require automakers to substantially reduce the fuel consumption of all road vehicles sold in Quebec and Canada, like the reduction proposed by California, which has been adopted by 19 other American states and the Government of Quebec.
However, we know the Conservative government's position on this matter: rather than adopting a standard supported by those who have shown leadership in the fight against greenhouse gases, it chose to go with that of the Bush administration, which is less stringent and seems to be designed specifically to spare American auto manufacturers.
However, although there is no consensus on the environmental record of an alternate fuel, it is definitely responsible to have some reservations about it. Thus, in a letter last May about Bill , the Fédération des producteurs de bovins du Québec wrote:
The federation agrees with the objective of the bill. However, this objective cannot be attained unless certain conditions are fulfilled. On the one hand, the industry cannot develop fully without adequate government support in terms of human and financial resources. On the other hand, we have to ensure that the life cycle of the renewable fuels chosen offers true environmental and energy benefits compared to oil products.
Furthermore, if it potentially worsens troubling social and environmental problems, elected members must make the responsible and appropriate decision, must refuse to continue in that direction and must attempt to propose alternative solutions.
That is exactly what the Bloc Québécois is doing. Although we initially supported the principle of the bill, we proposed significant amendments, which sought, among other things, to shed light on the environmental record and to ensure oversight of the potential negative effects of choosing one type of replacement fuel over another. I would remind members that these amendments and motions were defeated in two separate committees by the Conservative government with the support of the Liberal Party. This point is central to our position.
When the government commits more than $2 billion of Quebec and Canadian taxpayers' money to a bill of this scope, it is important to ensure that all the objectives of this bill will be reached and that the medium- and long-term negative effects are balanced and reasonable.
In closing, I would like to say that this is a complex bill. As an MP, I have had a number of calls and letters from producers urging my colleagues and I to vote in favour of this bill, while a number of citizens have called on us to vote against it. This bill concerns me ethically, personally and emotionally, since I represent an agricultural riding. I am very familiar with the situation facing many farmers who are trying to make ends meet, who are fighting to develop new markets, who are trying to build a better life and who want to keep doing their share to protect the environment.
After our discussions, a vast majority of the people I spoke with understand our position and admit that it is balanced, reasonable and responsible, and that it is important to make the right choices and reach one's objectives as well as possible. I will conclude by saying that it is important to pursue ethanol development from a variety of sources. In this sense, the Bloc Québécois motion, which was rejected by the Conservatives, and from which the Liberals abstained, was a step in the right direction. It is important to make informed decisions that take different parameters into account and that meet the environmental, social and economic objectives.
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to Bill .
There has been some criticism that this bill is being held up for no reason, and let us get on with it and push it through. This is not the case.
We are debating a motion put forward by my hon. colleague from to refer it back to the agriculture committee to make sure that both economic and environmental effects of introducing these regulations do not cause a negative impact on the environment or unduly influence commodity markets. In other words, what we are saying is, if we are going to do this let us do it right.
We know worldwide that we have seen so far that there is a cycle that starts, for example, in the United States where more land is taken out of production. Soybeans are taken away, more corn is produced and then soybean production is expanded in Brazil, for example, which then forces ranchers off their land, which then forces them to cut down the rainforest to bring in more grazing pasture, and the net effect of all of this is very negative on the environment.
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the rising demand for ethanol derived from corn is the main reason for the decline in world grain stocks during the first half of 2006. In Canada we know that to meet the 5% target by 2010 Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada estimates that 4.6 million tonnes of corn, 2.3 million tonnes of wheat and .56 million tonnes of canola will be required.
All of this is grown domestically which will equal roughly 48% to 52% of total corn seeded area, 11% to 12% wheat seeded area, and approximately 8% of the total canola seeded area in Canada, which in itself is not alarming. However, a danger exists that if the need for fuel stocks increases due to a demand for biofuels, there is concern about then allocating more farmland to energy production rather than food production.
We have already seen that food stocks are diminishing in the world and we have seen the rise in food prices. Therefore, I would submit that it would not be in our best interests.
This is not about making life more difficult for farmers. What we are asking for is that a biofuel strategy be well thought out that takes into account the potential impact on the environment.
When the bill goes back to the agriculture committee, and I sincerely hope that it does, what is to stop us from taking another look at the amendments that I initially proposed and were rejected? I would like to review them very briefly.
The first amendment was to prohibit the use of genetically modified grains, oilseeds or trees for biofuel production except for those genetically modified grains, oilseeds or trees that were used prior to 2008.
The second amendment that was rejected was prohibiting the use of lands protected by federal legislation and other sensitive biodiverse lands for biofuel production.
The third amendment was preserving the biodiversity of lands used in biofuel production.
The fourth amendment was establishing criteria in relation to the environmental sustainability of biofuel production to ensure compliance with internationally recognized best practices that promote the biodiversity and sustainability of land, air and water, and to establish restrictions on the use of arable land in Canada for biofuel production to ensure that biofuel production does not have a detrimental impact on the food supply in Canada and foreign countries.
I do not see why we cannot, as a Parliament, adopt a policy that takes this into account. These are very basic ideas that the world is talking about, that we should be looking at if we put forward a new policy, that has proven in other countries to have a devastating effect.
This government must not be given carte blanche as far as biofuels are concerned. Our goal should be to amend this bill so that it will have a sustainable and effective impact on the battle against climate change, while ensuring that this is done safely and kept out of the hands of big business, which benefits from increasing sales of genetically modified crops and pesticides.
A good biofuel strategy must be a responsible strategy.
Finally, biofuels can be part of the solution, but they can also be part of the problem, if not properly handled. Bill opens the door to a number of environmentally harmful consequences, particularly an increased dependency on big agribusiness that produces genetically modified crops by using enormous quantities of water and pesticides.
According to Darrin Qualman, director of research for the National Farmers Union, the headlong rush toward industrially produced biofuels must be stopped, because the world is faced with serious problems relating to the sustainable development of food systems: erosion of arable land, overuse of water for irrigation, excessive dependency on fossil fuels, deforestation, and lack of preparation for climate change. He feels that these problems must be solved before we try to use our food to fuel our vehicles.
As we debate Bill , we often neglect to mention the effect of biofuels on greenhouse gas emissions. According to a report presented by Resource Efficient Agricultural Production Canada, REAP, entitled “Analysing Ontario Biofuel Options: Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Efficiency and Costs”, it is estimated that U.S. corn ethanol will double greenhouse gas emissions over the next 30 years by increasing the carbon debt from land conversion.
REAP, in another report, analyzed Ontario biofuel options. The report concluded that solid biofuels offer the least expensive biofuel strategy for government incentives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Ontario. The report's major discovery is that government incentives applied to large scale solid biofuels would surpass even the most effective existing subsidies, those for wind power, at reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. The findings suggest that a solid biofuels policy would be an effective and sustainable means to develop the Ontario and Canadian economies. Such a program would support market opportunities for the forest industry and for farmers with marginal farmland.
In volume 319 of the journal Science, dated February 29, there is a study entitled “Use of U.S. Croplands for Biofuels Increases Greenhouse Gases Through Emissions from Land-Use Change”. The article stated:
By using a worldwide agricultural model to estimate emissions from land-use change, we found that corn-based ethanol, instead of producing a 20% savings, nearly doubles greenhouse emissions over 30 years and increases greenhouse gases for 167 years. Biofuels from switchgrass, if grown on U.S. corn lands, increase emissions by 50%. This result raises concerns about large biofuel mandates and highlights the value of using waste products.
Another study in the same journal found that converting rainforests, peat lands, savannahs or grasslands to produce food crops-based biofuels in Brazil, Southeast Asia and the U.S. created a biofuel carbon debt by releasing from 17 to 420 times more CO2 than the annual greenhouse gas reductions that these biofuels would provide by displacing fossil fuels. The study goes on to say that biofuels made from waste biomass or from biomass grown on degraded and abandoned agricultural lands planted with perennials incur little or no carbon debt and can offer immediate and sustained greenhouse gas advantages.
The point I would like to make today is that we need to re-examine Bill at committee in light of the most recent research taking place throughout the world. Let us not cave into demands by big agribusiness to push this bill through.
I would like to say a few words as well about genetically modified trees. Unlike conventional reproduction and hybridization, the process of genetic engineering makes direct gene transfer possible between organisms in completely different species or kingdoms which do not cross in nature.
With respect to biofuels and genetic engineering, it is a matter of reducing lignin so that the trees can be converted to ethanol and paper more economically; increasing cellulose so that the trees can yield more ethanol and paper.
Given the explosion of the biofuel market and the desire to move on to a second generation of biofuels, the companies are calling for the use of genetically engineered trees as a potential source of cellulose from which to manufacture ethanol.
What, then, are the risks?
First of all, irreversible contamination. Contamination of forests by the pollen or seeds of genetically engineered trees could devastate ecosystems and biodiversity. Genetically engineered trees will contaminate the forests, which will themselves then become contaminants, in an endless cycle of living pollution.
Then there are other risks: toxic waste, invasive species, increased herbicide use, weakened trees, the contribution to climate change.
Bonn, Germany is the site of the major meeting of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. On May 20 of this year, representatives of Canadian civil society released an open letter signed by 47 Canadian groups to the Canadian demanding that Canada support the global moratorium on GE trees to be decided in negotiations during May 19 to 30.
As I mentioned, contamination from GE trees would be irreversible. Research scientists at Duke University have found in their models that pollen from trees in the southeast U.S. can travel for more than 1,200 kilometres into eastern Canada. Last Thursday at this convention, Canada intervened to directly eliminate an African request for a UN moratorium on GE trees.
It appears that Canada is not supporting a ban on GE trees and is in fact speaking out against this important concern. I might add as an aside that this is similar to what I have experienced in doing research on terminator seed technology, where Canada is saying it wants to proceed on a case by case basis not realizing the ramifications of this technology on agriculture and biodiversity.
As we move forward in this very necessary debate, I wish to emphasize that in spite of the fact that biofuels are one of the reasons for the rise in food prices, it is not farmers who are to blame. They are doing their very best to survive and are finally getting some good prices for their commodities.
I would like to close with a couple of other points in regard to the environment. The Gulf of Mexico dead zone, the destruction of the rainforest and other forest ecologies, increased pesticide and herbicide use from growing monocropped agrifuels, the depletion of water tables, genetically engineered monocrops and the host of negative impacts, the loss of biological diversity wherever monocropping has taken hold, invasive species of GM crops resistant to Roundup are some of the dangers. However, by going forward with a planned, measured approach, we can certainly ensure that these dangers do not face us here in Canada if we look at this bill once again in committee.
There are a couple of other points I would like to make. For example, World Bank president Robert Zoellick said:
While many are worrying about filling their gas tanks, many others around the world are struggling to fill their stomachs and it is getting more and more difficult every day. In just two months, rice prices have skyrocketed to near historical levels, rising by around 75% globally....
It is the same story for other grains. That is why the UN has called for a five year moratorium on biofuel production. I repeat that it is only one part of the reason for the increase in food prices and it is not our farmers who are struggling to make a living who are responsible for this.
In closing, we have a chance today, in the history of our country, to look at a policy that will give us direction in the future in regard to alternate energy. We have a chance to do this right, not to move along quickly under pressure from big agribusiness and those who would like us to institute this policy tomorrow, but to ensure that we have a sustainable policy, that the environment is protected, that we guarantee there will be no further genetically modified organisms in the environment, and that if we use crops grown in Canada, they should be crops grown in Canada.
It is not right to have a biofuel industry supported by, for example, Husky in Lloydminster or Minnedosa that will rely on American corn as feedstock. There is something not right there. All we are doing, then, with our government aid is supporting the industry at the expense of farmers and other programs that we could be doing.
I am pleased to have had the opportunity to speak on this subject. I am anxious to get to the questions.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join in the debate today. I am not a member of the agricultural committee but some day I may have that opportunity. Coming from an urban region, I am sure it would be quite a learning experience.
When I first came here eight years ago there was a lot of talk about ethanol and about our farmers. Farmers were demonstrating because they could not get a proper dollar for a day's work. That was my first introduction to the struggles of our farmers and the difficulties they were facing. They needed an alternative for what they were growing that would provide them with a reasonable day's wages and ethanol was exactly what they needed.
We have now found out that there are a whole lot of other issues that need to be addressed if we are going to really help our farmers and ensure they get adequate reimbursement for a hard day's work. Until those of us in urban regions spend a whole day on a farm, we cannot appreciate just how hard and difficult a farmer's job really is. We need to appreciate the fact that people still want to farm in Canada so we need to find ways of ensuring they get a decent day's pay for their work. These are the people who provide the food on our tables but we do not pay enough attention to that fact.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill today which seeks to amend the Canadian Environmental Protection Act with respect to the provisions for the regulation of fuels. It would establish minimum levels of biofuel content in gasoline, diesel fuel and heating oil and would be implemented within the next three to five years.
I support the bill in principle, as does my party. I look forward to discussing the parameters of any new regulations that will come from committee. We look forward to ensuring the regulations reflect the desires of most Canadians.
Although I support the bill, it does raise significant questions about the government's policy on renewable fuels and climate change, questions that we have been hearing from our colleagues across the way. Those are areas on which we must all come together in a much stronger way so we can be ready for the future years that will be very challenging.
The government claims that the bill is part of its overall strategy to increase the use of ethanol and yet it refuses to set the minimum standard for ethanol use in fuel above 5%. Clearly there is a difference. The committee will look at all of these things and ensure the bill respects and achieves its intended goals. Meanwhile, all cars sold in Canada already use up to 10% ethanol. The Ontario government is setting that as the minimum standard in the province.
Despite the fact that cellulose ethanol can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 64%, the government has not been aggressively doing everything it can to mandate the expansion of that ethanol specifically so that it would clean up our environment and make our air better to breathe.
The government's perversion to this issue is also manifested on the taxation front where it removed the excise tax exemption on biodiesel and ethanol fuels and thereby heavily taxing the cleanest versions of ethanol. One really needs to question that policy if that is the government's direction. It just does not make sense. I would hope that when these regulations are scrutinized, we get a better understanding of the reason that it should be increased to 10%, if that is what we are doing, especially in the province of Ontario.
Bill is really just a technical amendment to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. It would provide the government with useful additional authority so that it can look at various regulations and start making changes to those regulations in a faster and clearer way.
The Liberal opposition is in favour of ethanol as part of our energy mix now and in the future. Many people are looking at ethanol as being one of the tools needed in the toolbox to help us when we are dealing with climate change, particularly second generation ethanol which uses agricultural waste and non-food crops. We have clearly gone a long way from the growing of corn to looking at where we go in the future by using agricultural waste and non-food crops so that it would not hinder the production of food and the providing of food for the world that we all need. It would have the twofold effect of being a winner on both sides of that issue.
The Liberal opposition supported an amendment at committee that would compel the government to perform a detailed analysis of the economic, social, environmental and additional implications of Canada's ethanol industry exactly one year after it comes into force. That is a very important motion passed at committee that would ensure an analysis would be done of all the impacts of Bill .
The government has committed $2 billion to ethanol but it has been deliberately vague on the details. That is not the first time and not the first issue. Vagueness is one of the tributes that the government seems to have when it comes to announcing all kinds of things but not giving a whole lot of information on the details. However, our job is to ensure those details are clear and those regulations will be what Canadians want.
The government must tell Canadians what form of ethanol will be primarily promoted and it must explain how ethanol fits into its environmental, agricultural, international development and fiscal policies. We cannot have a policy on ethanol that does not take into account all the different impacts that these little things, as somebody might want to call them, these different tools will have on climate change and on the environment.
The way I understood it, the government's former highly criticized ethanol plan was supposed to support investments by farmers in ethanol production facilities. I was out west some years back and had a tour of what was to be the next great ethanol facility. Everybody was excited because it would provide an opportunity for farmers as well as focus on climate change. It was to be the future. Now people are having second thoughts and are second guessing some of those decisions.
However, funding would be directly tied to investments by farmers, which means that before any government funding flows toward developing Canadian ethanol production, Canadian farmers would need to first shell out their own money. Any of the Canadian farmers who I have spoken with are not rich people. They are all looking for assistance in order to look after their families and produce the various products in which they have an interest. Coming upfront with that money, I think, would be an extremely big challenge for a farming industry that is under threat pretty much all of the time. If no upfront government money is provided, it would be very difficult for many of those farmers who are looking to the government for leadership.
I would remind members how many rallies have been held in front of the House of Commons by farmers who have driven on tractors thousands of miles to come here to protest and to ask us to be fair. It did not matter whether it was the Liberals in government or the Conservatives in government, the issue was that farming is an important industry for Canada and our farmers need assistance.
By comparison, the Liberal governments made direct investments of over $117 million of upfront support for the construction of production facilities across Canada. As a result of those investments by the Liberal government, the production of ethanol was expanding at a higher rate than anyone had expected.
By not making direct investments, I am very concerned that ethanol expansion will not grow nearly quickly enough. Therefore, for it to be a tool in the toolbox, in addition to the many other things that are needed to deal with climate change, we are actually shooting ourselves in the foot rather than moving forward and clearly helping the farmers and helping Canadians overall.
The Liberals will continue to drive the need to promote biofuels that have been proven to yield high environmental net benefits such as cellulosic ethanol.
For the benefit of those who are watching at home and who may not know quite what that is, it is a particular type of biofuel produced from a structural material that comprises much of the mass of plants. We can see there is a lot for all of us to learn as we move forward to try to find alternatives to the fuel issues and the challenges that our farmers face. Corn stover, switchgrass and wood chips are some of the more popular materials being used for ethanol production.
Cellulosic ethanol is chemically identical to ethanol from other sources such as cornstarch or sugar, but has the advantage that the raw materials are highly abundant and diverse. We hear that from different spots around the world. There are many alternatives. This type of ethanol has lower greenhouse gas emissions than other forms and may help us to use crop lands more efficiently than is currently being done.
However, the NDP are deliberately misleading Canadians about the complexity of the worldwide food shortage, something that all of us in the House are concerned about and it is something that we all will have to work to overcome the problems and to contribute to providing food throughout the world. However, the NDP ignores a dozen or more identified factors at play.
For example, the desertification in Africa has severely diminished the agricultural output on that continent. What are those people going to do for food? We know of the struggles. We know all the other issues that thousands of people living in Africa are facing. These are going to add to those problems.
Rising energy costs has to be on the minds of everybody in the House, as it is with Canadians. Every time we turn around, the bills keep going up higher and higher. Rising energy costs have made farming much more expensive.
Trade rules and subsidies in the developed world have created market distortions. Many parts of the world suffer from the collapse of food distribution networks, widespread corruption and the refusal of governments to impose the rule of law.
Going back to the details of the bill currently before us, the new measures are administrative in nature and appear to give the government more control on regulations. For example, the government would enhance its ability to regulate fuel produced in Canada to be exported. Regulations may be made regarding the blending of fuels. The bill would also expand the bases upon which the government might distinguish among different kinds of fuels.
We will support Bill as we are in favour of the increased use of biofuels, such as ethanol, biodiesel, and other renewable fuel sources. We will move forward on a variety of bills that will help to deal with climate change and other opportunities for us to ensure that all of us do our jobs as we move forward.
This is fundamentally a housekeeping bill. There is nothing in the bill that will immediately affect any commercial interests or immediately require any fuel producer or vendor to do anything. It is a preliminary step that will allow the government to regulate all kinds of fuel within the same regulatory regime. From that perspective, the bill is an improvement over the current wording of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.
It has been a great opportunity to speak to the issue. As a member who comes from the city of Toronto, I do not have a lot of opportunity to visit the farming industry, but I clearly recognize how we have to work together to ensure we protect the environment. We also need to move forward to ensure we do not add to the problems of the world shortage, which we clearly are addressing worldwide.
Mr. Speaker, the member of the Liberal caucus from Toronto is to be commended for her support for this legislation.
I want to provide a couple of comments.
First, I want to correct a misconception out there in the public that somehow Canadian farmers are making record profits. Today Statistics Canada reported that last year Canadian agriculture made a net income of $1.7 billion.
Before we all think this is a tremendous amount of money, I would point out that this is about the profit of one company in one quarter among the big five banks. In other words, last year Canadian chartered banks in each of the last quarters made about that much money in one quarter.
I do not say that to begrudge the banks for being successful. The financial services industry is incredibly important to Toronto, Montreal and a number of large Canadian centres. I used to work in that industry and it is incredibly important we have a vibrant financial services industry, but I quote those numbers to put this in perspective.
There are 220,000 Canadian farms. If we divide a net profit of $1.7 billion among those 220,000 farmers, we end up with a net profit, per farm, of about $7,700 per year. I do not know very many Canadians who would invest hundreds of thousands of their own dollars, hundreds of hours of labour and stress to produce $7,700 a year in income.
We need to ensure there is no misconception out there that somehow Canadian agriculture is making a windfall profit from the new structure of pricing in the agricultural sector.
The second point I would make is if we are to point the finger at the reason why the third world is struggling to feed itself, one of the areas we need to look at is the European Union's common agricultural policy, which dumps 40 billion to 50 billion euros a year into subsidizing European farmers.
Subsidizing European farmers itself is not the problem. The problem is when they overproduce certain commodities, which they then dump on to the third world market, undercutting local producers in the developing world and putting them out of business. In my view that is the heart of the problem with respect to the developing world feeding itself.
Mr. Speaker, what is before us today is a proposed amendment. It states that:
Bill C-33, An Act to amend the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, be not now read a third time but be referred back to the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food for the purpose of reconsidering Clause 2 with a view to making sure that both economic and environmental effects of introducing these regulations do not cause a negative impact on the environment or unduly influence commodity markets.
This bill has had relatively limited debate in committee. It probably has had more debate in the House around the various amendments that have been moved and now this amendment to send it back to committee.
What I believe this debate in the House reflects is a real concern by us in the New Democratic Party, by members of the Bloc to some significant degree, I believe, and even by some members of the Liberal Party, that this bill is being rushed through at a speed that does not take into account some very new realities that have taken place globally around the issue of the use of biofuels. It does not take into account “both economic and environmental effects” of the bill and its consequences if implemented.
I want to be very clear on behalf of my party that we have supported and will continue to support the use of biofuels. That is not really what this debate is or should be about. If properly managed, a biofuels program in Canada can have a positive effect on climate change while also helping farmers.
Members were in their ridings last week. I had the opportunity on a couple of occasions to spend time with producers in the rural part of my riding. The debate is raging there.
The National Farmers Union has come out as very strongly opposed to this legislation. We see that the Federation of Agriculture is generally supporting it, but I can say that within both of those groups, and there are members of both of those associations in my riding, the debate is very real.
The farming community producers very much see the opportunity to increase their production and increase their incomes. Oftentimes it is the same producers who tell me the problem they have is that they are seeing this drive up other costs, such as the cost of feed for a number of fairly substantial poultry operations in the riding. The dairy and pork producers are saying the same thing. They are seeing their costs being driven up just for feed.
Of course, all of them are very concerned about the impact this will have on the cost of fuel, whether it is gasoline produced from biofuels or other parts of the market, particularly carbon based fuels.
That debate is going on. What I think has happened is that the reality, not only in Canada but across the globe, has not been taken into account anywhere near fully enough in the debate that took place in committee. We are very concerned as a party that the government is running roughshod over members and using some bullying tactics to try to force this legislation through, both in committee and now in the House. The full debate that should have taken place has not.
We hear from Conservative members of the House who say that we in the NDP do not really care about the producers or the farming community, and that is absolutely false. Again, when I talk to the members of my farming community in my riding, they are expressing similar reservations. How far do we take the biofuels issue? How much production do we put into it? Do we have absolute quotas that are being suggested and will be phased in under this legislation relatively quickly? Do we have the numbers right? Do we have the amount that we should be putting into other gasolines and other diesel fuels? Do we have the percentages right?
They are not convinced that we have the right answers. They are not necessarily saying that the numbers that are in this bill or that we believe will flow from this government are wrong, but they are certainly not convinced that we know for sure. That is the reason for the motion to send it back to committee and hear more from the producers, hear from the industry generally, and also look at what is happening in experiments going on elsewhere in the world.
In that regard, we have heard from various parts of the globe. There are sincere concerns about biofuels being part of the mechanism that is driving up the price of food dramatically. We are seeing that now. The price of rice in parts of Asia has gone up 73% in less than a few months, in some cases even doubling in a very short period of time. We have seen markets in Asia, again for rice specifically, being closed off.
Countries that had been net exporters are no longer able to do it and are shutting the borders, thus tightening up the markets internationally in countries that do not produce sufficient rice to feed their own populations and that now are not finding access to the markets for rice that is affordable for those communities and countries. We are seeing that.
We have seen the United Nations pass a resolution expressing very real caution about the use of biofuels and how extensively we use them.
If I could digress for a moment, the other part of this legislation that is really troublesome is that other alternatives in terms of creating energy for use generally in the market and also on farms right across this country, perhaps even internationally, have been pushed to the side and backed up. We can point to solar or wind, where the government has done little or nothing to allow those markets to develop and perhaps provide an alternative to the greater use of biofuels.
I know that some of this discussion took place, but I do not believe that it was anywhere near adequate in committee. We can go to the very basics. How much food, if any, do we convert to fuel? That question is still hanging out there.
Again going back to those farmers I spoke to in my community, this very much weighs on their minds. They got into farming to produce food. Their parents and grandparents were in farming to produce food, not to produce fuel. This is a very real new development for them. They are approaching it with an open mind, but they are also approaching it realistically. I cannot say that the government has done the same.
Farmers are very concerned about how much food, if any, we move into the fuel side of the equation. They do not believe that this legislation has had sufficient debate, sufficient analysis and sufficient research to answer those questions at this time. They are not prepared to say that holus-bolus we should just plunge ahead.
We hear from the government that it is time to move ahead, to move forward. That is a simplistic analysis. It is a simplistic approach to what is a very, very complex problem.
I want to be very clear that we understand the other issues that are going on, the other causes that are driving up the cost of fuel. Let me mention those quickly. We know there is some significant speculation going on. It is immoral what is going on in that regard. That is one part of it.
We know that the whole issue of global warming and climate change is contributing to the shortage of foods in certain parts of the world. That is driving up the price.
We know that in areas where before we could continue to expect growth in productivity, we are not seeing any, because we have maxed out the effect of using fertilizers and pesticides, although they are still being used. We are not seeing any further growth. There are those problems.
However, we know as well that the use of biofuels in certain countries in particular has had a negative impact. That impact has resulted in a diversion of crops. We see it in the United States. I am going to use the states as an example because I know, from the area that I come from and how close we are to states like Michigan, Indiana and Ohio, that the amount of production moved from producing food to producing the same crop but producing fuel has been quite phenomenal.
There are areas in those states where as much as 35% of the corn crop now is being used for biofuels. In fact, I can speak very specifically about that, because a good deal of that production is coming into my area. There is an ethanol plant just the next county over. A good deal of the corn that is the source for that biofuel comes out of the United States. We are producing some in our area, both in Essex County and in Kent County, but a good deal of it is coming from the United States. It is part of that huge increase in production.
Up to this point in the United States, the Americans have been able to justify that, but again it begs the question. How much more they can allow it to go to or should they in fact be ramping it back down somewhat and producing more food and less fuel?
We are on the edge of making this decision, but we are not there yet. It does require further debate. It requires us to take a close look at what we are doing.
As well, I want to draw to the House's attention some of the other individuals and organizations that have expressed concern about this legislation and generally about the use of biofuels.
A little less than a year ago, David Suzuki made these comments:
Biofuels have many advantages, but we have to look at all our options and make sure we make the best choices to ensure a more sustainable future.
--attempting to save the planet by wholesale switching to biofuels like ethanol and biodiesel may unintentionally have the opposite effect.
This is the kind of risk that we are faced with. In that regard, I want to draw the House's attention to what we have seen happen in the last two years in Brazil.
After the second world war, Brazil made a very conscious decision to convert a significant proportion of its sugar cane crop to biofuels. Brazil started to do this way back in the late 1940s and early 1950s. In some cases, as much as 50% of the fuel for its vehicles, mostly automobiles and trucks, comes from biofuel sources.
That has worked reasonably well for the Brazilians because of the vast quantity of sugar cane they were able to produce but, starting two years ago in that country, the amount they wanted to produce or allocate to sugar production, if I can put it that way, had to be reduced because of the demand. Their economy had grown so large, so many of their people were driving vehicles and the demand for fuel had gone up so dramatically that they decided they would begin to shift a greater proportion for it.
That has had a very negative impact on their food costs related to the production of sugar. It is a big part of their market and a big part of their food staples. In the last two years, this has had a significant impact on the cost of sugar in their country and therefore on the cost of a number of foods that contain sugar as a staple.
Again, it was an experience that worked quite well. I have looked to the Brazilians in the past and have said that Brazil is a country that thought it through and planned it out. For the better part of four or five decades, it worked very well for the Brazilians. Now it does not.
They are very concerned about what they are going to do. They are looking for alternatives to much of their sugar cane production going into biofuels so that they can shift that balance back more in favour of producing food products rather than fuel. That is just one example.
We can look elsewhere in the world where attempts have been made, and this is one of the other problems that we have with the legislation, in that when we look at what we are trying to do, can we say that we have gotten ahead of ourselves from a technological standpoint? In that regard we know that there are alternatives in food growth to actually using the food product. I am going to use corn again as an example. We know that we are close but we are not quite there in being able to use the cornstalk and perhaps the corncob as opposed to the corn kernel in biofuel production. We know there are other products where we can use chaff, straw and those kinds of items, but we are just not quite there.
I saw a program on one of the national TV networks last week when I was home in my riding. A company, which I believe is based in Quebec, is just beginning to put into production two or three plants and in fact is not using any food product at all. It is using chaff, leftover wood products, a number of products. We could be using those without having to be concerned about using any food products at all, but again, we are not there.
What this bill does is it leaves it wide open for the government to follow what was done in the United States and move huge percentages of production. There are no limits here. Under government regulations, it can simply authorize and in some respects when we look at Bill closely, can compel the use of biofuels. At the very least it is obvious that by way of financial incentives, it can encourage producers to use food products, when in fact there may be this much better alternative if we do not have to use any food product at all. We would use the corncob and the cornstalk right down to the roots.
We must be careful. I know, having grown up on a farm, that farmers put back the chaff, the roots, the leftover once the crop has been harvested as a way of rejuvenating the soil. Can we safely take 50% of the stalk, grind the rest up and let it go back into the soil and biodegrade and rejuvenate the soil, or can we only put 25% into fuel production and put 75% back into the soil? We do not know the answers to those questions.
This is the reason we brought the motion before the House to send this bill back to the committee to allow us to further pursue these questions. There are all sorts of experiments going on around the globe. This House needs more time and this country needs more time to properly assess it so that we do not make a major mistake.