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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appears to like farmer Todd Lewis’s combine, but Lewis does not like Trudeau’s carbon tax.
Trudeau happily hopped into a combine during a visit Thursday to the Lewis family’s century−old farm in the community of Gray, south of Regina.
"Glad to see how you guys have developed some amazing ways to succeed," Trudeau said.
He climbed into a sprayer too, and was told how it uses a GPS so that the nozzles automatically turn off if they overlap to save fertilizer and fuel costs.
Most of the farm technology has been developed in Saskatchewan and Western Canada, Lewis told him.
"A real point of pride for all of Canada," replied Trudeau.
And that’s the recognition Lewis wants for farmers when it comes to Trudeau’s carbon tax.
Trudeau has said all provinces must set up a cap−and−trade system or impose a price on carbon of at least $10 per tonne starting next year, increasing to $50 by 2022.
"Putting a price on carbon pollution is a way of encouraging and rewarding people who are innovating and reducing their carbon pollution outputs," the prime minister said at a news conference in front of a couple hundred people at the Gray rink.
Trudeau said every penny collected from a carbon tax in Saskatchewan will stay in the province.
But the carbon tax idea is not popular among producers, who fear it will hurt income and competitiveness, especially with their American counterparts who don’t have a carbon tax.
"There’s lots of work due for the recognition that agriculture is part of the solution, not the problem," said Lewis, who is also president of the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan. "Intuitively, farmers recognize you burn fuel, you spend more money, so intuitively for years, we’ve been on the carbon band wagon just from the practices we do."
Jacob Froese, president of the Canadian Canola Growers Association, says the tax will go on fuel, fertilizer, and chemicals. Railroads that ship farm products will also face the tax and pass that onto farmers, he said.
The canola crushing industry could be in trouble because they compete globally with countries that don’t have a carbon tax, he suggested.
"We don’t want to be alarmists, but we want to be realists and look at what is coming down the road," said Froese. "They have to find a way to neutralize the tax on producers. We have picked all the low hanging fruit, so to speak. If you look at agriculture in Western Canada, it has revolutionized in the last 15, 20 years."
Froese also says producers sequester a lot of carbon with the crops that they grow and haven’t been recognized for improvements that have been made.
Lewis says that’s why, despite disagreeing with Trudeau on the carbon tax, it was important to have the prime minister out to the farm and for producers to talk to him at the rink.
"We gotta start the conversation," said Lewis. "As somebody said once, if you’re not at the dinner table, you’re probably on the menu, and today we’re at the dinner table."