Sask. farm groups split on whether carbon tax will help or hurt in climate change fight

Among the intervenors in the Saskatchewan government's legal battle against a carbon tax are the National Farmers Union and the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan.

National Farmers Union, Agricultural Producers Association both have intervenor status in court challenge

Stewart Wells, a farmer in the Swift Current area, is seen here on his farm with a younger relative, Liam Pruden. Wells said he supports the federal government in its actions to fight climate change. (Submitted by Stewart Wells)

A farming group that's supporting the federal government's authority to impose a carbon tax in Saskatchewan says farmers are on the front edge of climate change and need pressing action on that file.

"We're coming to the point where this environmental pollution can no longer be ignored," said Stewart Wells, a Swift Current, Sask., farmer and vice-president of operations with the National Farmers Union.

"If you wait too long and you reach the so-called tipping point where everything is in complete upheaval all the time, then it's much too late to act."

The National Farmers Union is one of several groups that has been granted intervenor status in the Saskatchewan government's legal challenge of federal carbon pricing.

Wells pointed out the federal government has pledged to take action on climate change on the global stage. The government's credibility is hurt when provinces fight that stance, he argues.

"[They] really want to ignore the situation and basically put a stick in the spoke of any sort of meaningful legislation that would help the situation in the future," he said of provinces like Saskatchewan and Ontario, which have dug in their heels in opposition to the tax.

Wells has been farming since the 1970s, and while catastrophic events like drought and flooding have always been part of his reality, he says they've become more unpredictable and damaging in recent times.

Previously parched fields in Rouleau, Sask., were swamped with water this summer. One farmer says Saskatchewan has seen more unpredictable cycles of drought and flooding in recent times. (CBC News)

"There's no question those events are much more widespread now and are happening more often," he said, pointing to his lentils being flooded out four years in a row as one example.

Farms consider bottom line

While the National Farmers Union is supportive of the federal government's authority, another agricultural group has grave concerns about what a carbon tax will mean to farmers.

Todd Lewis is president of the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan, another group with intervernor status in the upcoming court case.

Todd Lewis, president of the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan, argues that a carbon tax will hurt farmers' bottom lines and their ability to react to climate change and mitigate their carbon footprint. (CBC)

Lewis, who farms near Gray — just southeast of Regina — said his association has been trying to raise its concerns with the federal government. The association says a farm fuel exemption will not cover the other farm costs that will rise as a result of carbon taxes.

"We're price takers, not price makers, and we're going to be stuck with these added costs and it's all going to come out of the bottom line," he said.

If this tax goes through, we're going to be handcuffed a little bit.- Todd Lewis, Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan

Farmers have always worried about the climate and weather, he said. But they live with climate change, and Saskatchewan farmers have adapted to those changes with new technology to minimize impacts and to improve their carbon footprint, he said.

"We have an industry here in Western Canada that's a world leader in carbon management and it's not being recognized at all by the federal government," he said.

"If this tax goes through, we're going to be handcuffed a little bit. We won't be able to continue with the adaptations we've made."

Lewis said he welcomes other groups, including the National Farmers Union, having their say on an important issue.

"This is just a base we didn't want to leave uncovered. If we had a chance to influence the court, we were going to take the opportunity."


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