I call the meeting to order.
Welcome to meeting number 39 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Industry and Technology.
Pursuant to the order of reference of Wednesday, June 1, 2022, the committee is meeting to study Bill , An Act respecting the building of a green economy in the Prairies.
Today’s meeting is taking place in a hybrid format, pursuant to the House order of Thursday, June 23, 2022.
You all know the rules, so please follow them whether you are in the room or participating remotely.
Before we get started, I'd like to note that we have with us here, in Ottawa, Rémy Trudel, an adjunct professor at the École nationale d'administration publique, or ENAP, and a former minister in the Quebec government who oversaw a number of portfolios.
Mr. Trudel, thank you for being here.
He has brought his master students at ENAP with him. Welcome to the House of Commons and to the Standing Committee on Industry and Technology.
I just want to let the committee members and those watching our proceedings know that Manitoba's Minister of Economic Development, Investment and Trade, Cliff Cullen, was supposed to be here, but unfortunately something came up, so he won't be with us for the first hour, as planned.
We will therefore start with the panel scheduled for the third hour. From the Alberta Beef Producers, we have Dr. Melanie Wowk, chair, and Mark Lyseng, lead, government relations and policy, who are both joining us by video conference.
We also have Dale Austin, head of government relations at Cameco Corporation, and from the Canadian Cattle Association, Dennis Laycraft, executive vice-president, and more than likely Tyler Fulton, officer at large, both of whom will be joining us by video conference.
Before we hear from the witnesses, I'm going to turn the floor over to the clerk to preside over the election of a vice-chair.
Thank you to the House of Commons of Canada Standing Committee on Industry and Technology for the chance to speak on behalf of the Alberta Beef Producers today.
My name is Melanie Wowk. I am a veterinarian and rancher from Beauvallon in Alberta. I am here today as the chair of the Alberta Beef Producers, an elected producer-led organization representing 18,000 producers. ABP's government relations and policy lead, Mark Lyseng, is also here with us today. My children and I will be fifth-generation stewards of the land and, along with my husband, represent the Métis nation.
I hope that you all have had the pleasure of driving through our prairie landscape and experiencing its beauty. When you see prairies, true rolling prairies with native grassland communities, that land is managed by beef producers. As one of those beef producers, I am excited to see attention going towards greening the prairie economies.
Our industry perfectly fits as an economy-generating industry that provides environmental benefits. Beef producers are stewards of the land, holding a unique symbiotic relationship with the rangelands we manage. We invest and work diligently to ensure our rangelands are healthy. A healthy rangeland provides forage for our cattle. The rangeland, the entire ecosystem and society benefit from these healthy native ecosystems, as they support the sequestration of carbon, the purification of water and the maintenance of critical wildlife habitat.
Grasslands are woefully undervalued in their contribution to the carbon cycle. It's estimated that, globally, grasslands store approximately 34% of the terrestrial stock of carbon. What's great about grasslands is that most of the carbon they store is below ground—about 97%—which safeguards it from disturbances such as fire. Unfortunately, if these grasslands are tilled for cultivated land or developed for housing, up to 50% of the carbon storage is lost forever.
Cattle, being continually amazing, convert plant protein on marginal lands not suitable for cultivation into the nutrient-dense protein source we consume. The cattle industry also provides more than just carbon storage and sequestration. The Prairie Conservation Forum wrote in 2021 that without native prairie, “there is no wildlife”. We certainly see our share of wildlife on our ranch, and many species look to beef producers' pastures for habitat.
In fact, in Alberta, 85% of the species at risk are found on native grasslands. Many of these species are endangered because of habitat loss, which includes an estimated 74% loss of Alberta's grassland habitat. Beef producers have safeguarded the remaining grasslands and the ecological goods and services they provide through our daily practices. In this way, our industry is unique. We are compatible with native ecosystems and add economic value to the maintenance of these ecosystems.
In Alberta, beef producers contribute over $4 billion to the provincial GDP, including $2.7 billion in labour income, and the cattle sector generates over 55,000 jobs, each of these yielding another 2.7 jobs elsewhere in the economy. We are an industry that is continually moving forward, striving for efficiencies and more effective management practices—we have to, to allow our businesses to survive.
We've seen continued evolution in range management, even in my time as a rancher. We are producing more pounds of beef using less feed and less water. These positive moves are driven by farmer and rancher passion for their craft and, in many cases, are supported by producer organizations and industry initiatives and through research such as our living labs partnership with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.
There have been many changes on Alberta's rangelands over the last decades, from the adoption of rotational grazing methods to shifts in cattle genetics. Other subtle shifts include those of some ranchers in the province who voluntarily transformed their traditional fencing into pronghorn antelope-friendly fencing, for example, to allow the safe migration of the species.
In recent years, industry-driven initiatives such as certification through the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef and Verified Beef Production Plus have acted as a benchmark for producers. These initiatives push us to improve management practices while exploring new possibilities in marketing.
There are numerous examples of how farmers and ranchers, industry and government have worked and continue to work together to support the continuity of the rangelands and the environment, and these partnerships can definitely be successful.
To succeed, we first need to acknowledge the significant positive contributions of prairie grasslands in all green economy and environmental discussions. It is widely acknowledged that forested lands offer much in sequestration, but we often overlook the native prairie.
We also need to consider the varied opportunities for producers, based on their ecoregion, the native species present and the habitats they’re supporting, as well as their business models. In other words, collaborative initiatives cannot have a blanket approach. They must either be flexible to a large region or specific to the local communities and individuals involved.
To achieve all of that, we need to give beef producers, who are the proud champions of the varied prairie ecosystems, and Canadian agricultural leaders a seat at the table. The agriculture industry needs to be involved in the collaboration right from goal development through to implementation and assessment. The beef industry of Alberta would like to contribute.
Thank you again, Chair and standing committee members.
Thank you very much. Good afternoon.
It's my pleasure to appear at committee today on behalf of Cameco Corporation to provide input to your study on Bill .
The bill and the committee's study of it are of particular interest to Cameco. Headquartered in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Cameco is one of the world's largest producers of uranium for nuclear energy and is the world's largest publicly traded uranium company. We're uniquely situated with operations across the nuclear fuel cycle, including in mining, refining, conversion and fuel manufacturing. The majority of our operations are located in Saskatchewan and Ontario, and our total Canadian workforce stands at just over 2,900 employees and long-term contractors.
Cameco is a proud and important part of Canada's nuclear and critical mineral supply chains, which deliver reliable, emissions-free electricity in Ontario, New Brunswick, and around the world. Canada's uranium and nuclear fuel sectors already play a significant role in underpinning green, low-carbon economies and are positioned to lead the transition to net-zero emissions by providing highly skilled, well-paying jobs; engaging suppliers in a wide range of skilled trades and expertise; and stimulating innovation in a variety of nuclear disciplines, including small modular reactors.
Cameco is well positioned to provide input to and support the development of a framework for a green prairie economy that considers all forms of low-carbon energy and the role they will play in electricity generation and in industrial and transportation-related emissions reductions.
As the committee considers what building a green economy in the Prairies might entail, we must also recognize that indigenous partnerships and indigenous businesses will play a major role. As you may be aware, Cameco is one of the largest employers of indigenous people in Canada, with about half the workforce at our mines and mills in northern Saskatchewan being residents from within the region. Beyond employment, over 80% of the services used at Cameco's mines and mills in northern Saskatchewan, totalling more than $4 billion since 2004, are procured from northern indigenous businesses.
Our success depends on the long-term, positive partnerships and mutual trust we've built with first nations and Métis communities where we operate, particularly in northern Saskatchewan. A green economy in the Prairies will also require indigenous partnerships and strong indigenous businesses along the entire value chain to maximize future success.
A significant number of economic, energy, environmental and national security policies being pursued by the Government of Canada, including the contents of this bill, are focused on achieving net-zero emissions. It is Cameco's view that there is no path to net zero without nuclear energy. We were pleased to see nuclear energy mentioned in the content of the framework; I might, however, disagree with its characterization as a new source of energy.
Access to significant amounts of reliable, emissions-free baseload electricity is the foundation for any green economy. Current use of nuclear energy worldwide helps the planet avoid some 2.5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions every year. Cameco is very proud of our contribution to global greenhouse gas reduction efforts from our home base in Saskatoon. Saskatchewan uranium facilitates the generation of clean, carbon-free baseload electricity that will power the transition to a low-carbon economy.
That said, there are mixed signals coming from the federal government regarding the use of nuclear technologies to achieve climate goals and to support the transition to a green economy. The Government of Canada's climate policy framework clearly includes nuclear energy in its clean and low-carbon technology definition; however, recent decisions that excluded nuclear technologies from the tax rate reduction for zero-emission technology manufacturing and Canada's green bond framework send mixed signals to markets and investors.
Nuclear energy is a clean, carbon-free source of electricity. We ask that as the framework for a green Prairie economy is being developed, governments take a technology-agnostic approach and consider all emissions reduction technologies on a level playing field for inclusion in government programs and investments. The most effective path to a low-carbon economy will require the targeted, fit-for-purpose use of all types of zero-emission energy technologies.
Canada's and the Prairies' resource wealth has long been a major driver of our financial health, socio-economic well-being and job creation efforts. The bill's proposal to develop a framework for a green prairie economy could provide an opportunity to enhance and modernize the prairie resource sector's economic contributions and solidify our reputation as a responsible resource developer that meets the standards of ESG investors. Canada's economic prosperity is, to a significant extent, linked to our ability to responsibly and sustainably develop and export our abundant natural resources and the value-added products that are produced from them.
Cameco supports the intent of Bill , which is to work with provincial governments, indigenous governing bodies and the private sector to develop a framework for a green prairie economy. We ask that all zero-emission technologies, including nuclear, be given the same consideration as the framework is being developed.
Good afternoon, and thank you for having us today.
I'm Tyler Fulton, a beef cattle producer based in Birtle, Manitoba. I'm currently the president of the Manitoba Beef Producers, and an officer at large with the Canadian Cattle Association. I’m honoured to be here today to discuss the opportunities in the Prairies to build a green economy, and how that impacts cattle producers.
Beef cattle production in the prairie provinces represents a large portion of our sector, and one of the largest economic contributors in the region. We, in the beef cattle industry, are proud to be one of Canada’s largest agricultural sectors, supporting 348,000 jobs and contributing $21.8 billion to GDP, while also conserving 44 million acres of important grassland ecosystem that stores 1.5 billion tonnes of carbon.
However, it doesn’t stop there. Beef cattle production in Canada is leading the way internationally in terms of sustainable production practices. While production methods differ by region and landscape, our goal is aligned—to contribute to Canada’s economy, while conserving and protecting Canada’s environmental landscape. It is in the best interests of beef farmers and ranchers to preserve the environment, so we are always striving for continuous improvement.
The Canadian beef advisers, alongside the robust membership of the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, made scientifically sound environment goals leading into 2030. These goals are ambitious but measurable, and we have a plan for how we can achieve these goals.
We are committed to continuous improvement and leaving the environment in a better position for the next generation of beef cattle producers: for example, a 33% emissions intensity reduction by 2030, sequestering an additional 3.4 million tonnes of carbon every year, and maintaining 35 million acres of native grasslands. These efforts have us excited about both the environmental and the economic future of Canada’s beef industry.
When we look specifically at Bill and developing a framework for a green prairie economy, we have a few comments for the committee’s consideration.
First, it is essential to include cattle producers during the development phase. The Prairies have a large agriculture economic presence, and primary producers are the subject matter experts. Including agricultural advisers will be key for long-lasting success.
Second, the Canadian beef sector is confident in our 2030 goals, and we recommend that any framework be built by starting with industry-led goals. This will ensure that we’re working toward achieving shared objectives with an incentive-based approach.
As innovation and research continue around sustainability, there are tools coming to light that do have some public good. However, these result in added costs for producers. I need to emphasize that primary producers cannot pass these costs along, which will make the tools economically unsustainable. Looking to install those tools in a regular practice will not happen on its own, and a regulatory push would be costly and generally ineffective. We’ve seen how a regulatory approach drives up costs, and exports production to other jurisdictions.
Canada has one of the leading sustainable beef production systems in the world, with less than half the global greenhouse gas emission average. If there are regulatory and cost burdens on producers, it becomes unattainable to maintain production effectively in Canada. This will have a negative impact on our domestic and global food security. It will also have a severe negative consequence on Canada’s landscapes, without producers stewarding the land with their cattle.
Third, with regard to the content under paragraph 3(3)(c) in Bill , it talks about “prioritizing projects that generate natural infrastructure and a clean environment”. Given the landscape that cattle graze in the Prairies, we strongly encourage cattle production to be included, given our positive contribution to biodiversity, temperate native grasslands, and the many species at risk that live on these pasture lands.
When we’re discussing “greening the economy” in the Prairies, the temperate native grasslands are a key consideration. While Bill mentions forests and forestry multiple times, there is no reference to grasslands. Analysis by the Nature Conservancy of Canada shows that, on average, over the past 25 years, roughly 148,000 acres of temperate native grasslands were lost through conversion each year. This doesn’t include the tame pastures and hay-lands, which are also being lost at similar rates. These losses are detrimental to key environment and climate change objectives. In fact, a recent study by Nature United identified stopping this loss as the number one solution we have for natural climate solutions.
Canadian cattle producers are well positioned to be a part of the climate change solution and to help conserve these grasslands, while contributing to Canada’s economy.
On that note, I would invite members of the committee to watch the short documentary entitled Guardians Of The Grasslands. It is available online, and we can share the film with committee members following today’s meeting.
Thank you very much for your time today. We look forward to your questions.
Thank you so much, Chair.
I appreciate all of you being here today. I'm here as a member of Parliament for Saskatchewan.
I'm very pleased to have you here, Mr. Austin, as well as to hear about the grasslands because, clearly, there's much going on in our province in regard to protecting our environment and ensuring that it is there for generations to come in the way that it should be.
With our agriculture, oil and gas, manufacturing, our opportunities with SMRs, critical minerals and potash, we are a wealthy place that has much to offer to Canada. The wonderful thing about it is that we offer it in a way that is very sustainable and we are concerned with the protection of our environment.
As I ask you guys questions.... I've heard bits and pieces of all that you are already doing. Something that grieves my heart quite often is that I don't feel there is that recognition of where we are now. As we just heard from Tyler, the future plans continue to do even more.
Mr. Austin, you mentioned your frustration with the term “new source of energy”. Could you elaborate briefly for us why that causes angst for you?
I appreciate that very much. Thank you.
I also appreciate the opportunities that I and my colleagues have had to meet with the various indigenous businesses that are up north and that you're working with. That's exemplary, and we look forward to that growing as the opportunities increase for you guys.
I would like to ask Tyler.... He mentioned the Guardians Of The Grasslands video, which I was going to mention. I'm glad that he did it first, quite honestly, because it is remarkable. I think it would give this committee a clear understanding of how important those grasslands are.
Bill focuses on emissions reduction, which is a continued focus of the government. From your perspective, what work is happening in your sector on emissions reduction? Are there other environment issues that we should be focusing on, as well, to include ecosystems, biodiversity and whatnot?
Ag in Motion is the largest outdoor ag program in Canada. It's held in Saskatchewan. I'd encourage all the members here to make that part of a trip at some point, as well. It's amazing what's going on, innovatively, in Saskatchewan.
The Canadian Foodgrains Bank was there. They talked about the work they're doing in Ethiopia, which is a reflection of our values here in Canada. They're working with these small farmers who were protecting their own land for their grazing because there was so little to graze on. Eventually they convinced them they were better off to have all their animals grazing together because of the impact of those animals on increasing the pasture land.
Are you familiar with that at all, increasing the root systems and the amount of pasture land available in those circumstances?
I, too, would like to acknowledge the fact that we have Rémy Trudel here. You may or may not know that he was the member of the National Assembly who represented Rouyn‑Noranda—Témiscamingue at one point in time. When I was a young activist, he was one of the first people whose influence helped shape the course of my life, opening the door to politics. He may be the reason why I am in this seat now.
Thank you, Mr. Trudel. I'd also like to thank your students for being with us and for being interested in the workings of the federal public administration.
Mr. Austin, you didn't necessarily come out against Bill . On the contrary, I think you see it as a good thing.
What are the biggest economic challenges facing the prairie provinces right now?
Would Bill C‑235 help you address those challenges. Why or why not?
That's a very fair answer.
What we've discovered through the process—we had here, as well—is that there wasn't a lot of outreach to organizations, so you're not alone. Your testimony is very valuable. You don't have to take a position right now. It's up to us to decide later what we do here.
Perhaps I will shift over to Mr. Austin.
With nuclear power, there's responsibility for what takes place afterwards. I've been involved in the nuclear deep repository in the Bruce area, which is causing quite an issue. Are you aware of the legacy cost there? When you're looking at nuclear.... The United States has asked us to stop doing it there, because we're building a deep repository they oppose. It's right next to the Great Lakes, and the costing hasn't been factored in.
Is there a plan to do it differently? The whole community is ripped apart. In fact, the Saugeen First Nation rejected it. What ended up happening is that they decided to go next door and try to do it there. Is there anything in the model they're dealing with now, in terms of new nuclear, that's going to take into account all of the things that weren't planned for? A lot of this used to be secondary stuff—it's your coats, chairs and other stuff. Everything gets radioactive.
Please go ahead.
That's a fair question. Thank you very much.
We could continue on our way and continue to do the good work we're doing. We are firm believers that, any time we can talk about our industry, the role that it plays, and the role that it plays in western Canada and Saskatchewan in particular, that's useful.
If there are tables where the federal government and the provincial government can sit down and work together with industry, those are also useful. As you know, it is sometimes challenging for all levels of government, industry, indigenous groups and the public to get on the same page. This is an important issue. An opportunity to have frank conversations about what might be possible is useful.
Could we do it without it? Yes, we probably could, but we would end up—or someone else would end up—being a convener of this type of conversation.
Thank you very much, Chair.
I want to thank all the witnesses for coming to the committee today.
I first want to say that you're doing something very wise in joining the process early to give us advice on this very important bill; this is one of the few meetings we've had. We've heard different aspects. To me, the core or the spirit of this bill is development and consultation, so you're doing the right thing by being here and giving us advice.
First of all, it's on the record and everyone's clear, but I want to hear from all the witnesses. Do you believe that this bill is going to build collaboration—perhaps co-operation—between provincial, federal and municipal governments and industry partners to benefit the future prosperity of the Prairies? One by one, maybe witnesses can give me their very short answers.
Thank you so much, Chair.
I appreciate listening here to the conversation going on at this moment. We're hearing a lot about consultation. The bill actually says, “In developing the framework, the Minister must consult” government, all of the ministers, indigenous bodies and the private sector. I am concerned because the responsibility for developing the framework is with the federal government. What I'm hearing is that you'll be consulted, which is a step forward—I honestly say that.
For the elephant in the room, the reality is that my province and I think the prairie provinces have not felt heard, listened to, or respected in regard to the work. This is what I'm hearing from you today, especially the cattlemen and Mr. Austin. You do a great deal and continue to do a great deal. If there's opportunity for communication and to work together, that's a good thing.
However, I'm reading a note from this past summer when the federal government met in Saskatoon with territorial and provincial counterparts and stakeholders to develop what's known as the agricultural policy framework—because the federal government does have a role. They discussed how governments can help the agriculture industry reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and become more climate-resilient. Those are good words, and yet I hear from you about all of the things the cattlemen's association has been doing for a long time, yet there's been no recognition of that in this process of developing this green Prairies concept. What I hear from you is that incentives are important, rather than being denied an opportunity to consult and be part of the process, and to do what you know best.
Am I hearing you right on that to some degree? I know it's a tricky circumstance. You're being asked if you support this bill today. I think what I'm hearing is that you want to support working together, and that needs to be done. There is also a certain level of accountability that belongs to my province, for sure, in Saskatchewan, in developing the resources that are there, which of course make a difference in this entire country when it comes to our GDP and the wealth of our nation.
I would first of all ask the cattlemen's association folks this: How important is that whole area of incentives? They say here that they want to do a pilot for those “who adopt environmental practices that also reduce production risks.” I can't think of any other business that is more concerned about the environment and ensuring that they protect that environment while also reducing risks to their production.
Thanks very much to the witnesses for joining us, in person and virtually, and for your time and your expertise today. It's been a fascinating discussion.
I spent a great deal of time on the small modular reactor file, and I agree with you that it's going to be a part of our green mix in the future. The grasslands conversation has been entirely new to me, and I'm really happy to learn about the cattle industry and the importance of the grasslands. Thank you for enlightening us in that way.
We are living in a time when extreme weather events and natural disasters are increasing in severity and frequency. In my part of the country, we just lived through hurricane Fiona. On the other coast, there were heat domes and forest fires. In your part of the world, it's drought. We know that cattle ranchers have faced critical shortages of feed and water when they're supplying their herds for the winter.
I'd just like to do a poll of the three witness groups. Would you agree that we need to recognize the importance of building a green economy in the Prairies to combat the climate change that is creating this hardship for the cattle producers?
Maybe we'll start with the Alberta group, please.
Thank you very much, Chair.
I heard the question about transportation. I also had a question on that. I remember that, in 2018, Greyhound Canada announced cancellation of service in several regions in Canada, including the Prairies, but I also know that paragraph 3(3)(a) of Bill calls for “addressing the limited or non-existent transportation options in small cities and communities, and advancing innovative solutions for public transportation services in those cities and communities”.
I know that this may not be directly related to your industry or the group that you represent, but it is transportation for workers and for residents and it does matter quite a bit for the future development of these communities, as well as for predictability when it comes to municipalities, provinces and the federal government coming to the same table and laying out the plan for public transit.
I just want to hear from the witnesses about their thoughts on this particular paragraph. Do you think it will perhaps help to draw a blueprint for public transit options in the Prairies?
I don't think there are any more questions.
Thank you to my fellow members.
My deepest thanks to the witnesses for being so flexible today and for sharing their recommendations. We certainly appreciate it.
I'd also like to thank the interpreters, the analysts, the clerk and all the support staff.
Have a great rest of the day.
The meeting is adjourned.