Productive work done in Ottawa last week says MP

Federal bill passed

This past last week was very busy in Ottawa, with several important NDP-inspired bills and the fall economic statement.

That statement, presented by the Liberal government to provide an update on its economic plan, was meant to be an opportunity to truly help those Canadians who are struggling to get by.

It does mention $1.3 billion in funding to build an estimated 7,000 homes people can actually afford, a measure put forward by the NDP. Unfortunately, it puts those expenditures off until 2025 while Canadians need this help right away.

We should have much bolder investments in affordable, non-profit housing that matches the gravity of our housing crisis. We needed an acquisition fund to keep people in their affordable homes, as well as low-interest financing for post-secondary education institutions to build affordable student housing and for provincial and municipal governments to build public housing on public land.

Bill C-56, debated last week, calls for two measures the NDP has long pressed the government to act on—elimination of the GST on the building of rental accommodations and strengthening the Competition Act to lower grocery prices. The latter is even in (federal NDP Leader) Jagmeet Singh’s private member’s bill now before the House of Commons.

The NDP is also looking for more concrete measures that will lower grocery bills and put money back in people’s pockets with another doubling of the GST rebate. We want the list of food items exempted from GST expanded and the implementation of the national school food program promised by the government four years ago.

So, what was in the “win” column (for the NDP) in Ottawa this week?

After decades of NDP advocacy, alongside the labour movement and decades of opposition from both Liberal and Conservative governments, we finally saw the current government introduce new “anti-scab” legislation to prevent the shameful act of locking out union workers and hiring replacement workers.

This vital piece of legislation was part of the supply and confidence agreement between the NDP and the government, and once it is passed, we can level the field at the bargaining table, avoid or shorten labour stoppages and increase the benefits and respect workers deserve.

Last week, Parliament also passed Bill C-57, an updated and expanded free-trade agreement with Ukraine. Ukrainians are fighting harder than ever for their freedom and this agreement will be especially important when Ukraine begins to rebuild once it is victorious.

The measure of success of free-trade deals must not be just the profits made by Canadian companies. It must also include measures that support good labour conditions, good environmental regulations and human rights laws on both sides. This new agreement with Ukraine does that.

As well, we know the war (with Russia) is a significant reason for food and energy price inflation around the world, including here at home. It was shameful to see the Conservatives vote against the bill, citing a carbon tax concern that is entirely spurious. The agreement doesn’t force either side to have a carbon tax and Ukraine has had its own carbon price since 2011, long before Canada.

Ottawa can be a very partisan place, often with the Conservatives and Liberals pushing agendas for their CEO friends. This week, however, if you read beyond headlines, there was progress and good work done.

Richard Cannings is the NDP MP for South Okanagan-West Kootenay.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


Cannings continues to call for removal of GST on home heating bills

MP wants GST off heating

Last week the federal NDP put forward a motion that sets out (what I believe to be) a truly fair, common-sense approach to deal with two of the most important issues of our time—the climate catastrophes we are living through every year across this country and the struggle many Canadians are facing just to get by.

In a nutshell, the motion recognized that Canadians are facing increasing costs of the climate crisis and at the same time are facing rising fuel costs for gas at the pumps and in their home heating while the gas and oil companies that are charging those costs are reaping in record profits. On top of that, both oil and gas heating are contributing to the carbon emissions fuelling the climate crisis. It’s a vicious circle.

The NDP motion proposed three straight-forward solutions to that situation—take the GST off home heating (bills), provide heat pumps free to lower-income and medium-income families in an easily accessed program and fund the program with a windfall tax on the record profits being made by fossil fuel companies.

This motion was a response to both the Liberal’s bungled program to provide relief to some Canadians by taking the carbon tax off home heating oil and the Conservative’s motion to extend that relief to natural gas for home heating as well. Both those ideas fail the fairness test of the federation.

The Liberal program benefits predominantly Atlantic Canadians where many homes are heated with oil, while the Conservative motion would have British Columbians and Quebecois out in the cold, because families in those provinces don’t pay the federal carbon tax.

One of the key steps the NDP included in its motion is to take the GST off home heating bills. The GST is not supposed to be charged on the necessities of life. We don’t pay GST on food and I think everyone would agree home heating is a necessity of life in Canada. Removing it on home heating bills would save everyone money across the country—helping people to get by in a truly fair way.

At the same time, action on climate change is also a necessity. This was a summer that marked a shift in public opinion about climate change—public awareness that climate change is not a theoretical event somewhere in the future. We are living it today.

People struggled to breathe across the country this summer (because of wildfire smoke). Thousands had to leave their homes in hastily planned evacuations, including the entire city of Yellowknife (because of wildfires). People lost their homes. People died.

This year was worse than 2021. That was the year of the “heat dome” in late June followed by an unprecedented “atmospheric river” event in November. What many forget, or don’t even know, is that 619 people died of heatstroke in Metro Vancouver during the 2021heat dome. That was the real tragedy of that year.

Most who died lived in lower income areas of the Lower Mainland, in neighbourhoods with no access to shady green spaces. They died in apartment complexes with no air conditioning. They died with their windows closed against the stifling heat.

Providing people, and especially lower income Canadians, with air conditioning would save hundreds of lives during future heat events. If we do that with heat pumps, switching out oil and gas heating units to provide comfortable electric heat in winter as well as air conditioning in summer, we’ll save lives and cut emissions as well. The incredible efficiency of heat pumps will also significantly reduce energy bills, further helping Canadians make ends meet.

Right now, government incentives to install heat pumps are time-consuming, difficult and (heat pumps are) almost impossible to afford for lower income families. We need a simple, essentially free, program to bring this benefit to as many Canadians as possible.

Over the past few years, fossil fuel corporations have raked in record profits as the world oil price soared. The five big oil companies in Canada made $38 billion in profits last year alone. The parliamentary budget officer recently reported a windfall profit tax would bring in more than $4 billion—and that could create a fund that would provide for tens of thousands of heat pumps every year.

Cutting the GST off home heating costs, providing free, efficient heat pumps and funding all that through an excess profit tax on oil companies, these are common sense solutions from the NDP.

(Editor's note: The non-binding NDP motion was defeated Nov. 8, in the House of Commons, 292-30 with only NDP and Green Party MPs voting in favour. Two days earlier, the non-binding Conservative motion calling for the federal carbon tax on all home heating fuels was also defeated, 186-135.)

Richard Cannings is the NDP MP for South Okanagan-West Kootenay.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

Water issues need to be addressed across Canada

Clean water needed for all

One important aspect of parliamentary proceedings that doesn’t get too much publicity is committee work.

House of Commons standing committees offer parliamentarians the opportunity to investigate important issues facing our country, put forward suggestions and concerns, and get real answers from the government.

Last Thursday, I took part in the House of Commons Environment Committee hearings into Canada’s freshwater resources. Appearing before us were representatives from Health Canada, Indigenous Services Canada, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and Global Affairs Canada. As you can imagine, the issue of freshwater resources is an immense and complicated—but extraordinarily important—subject, so the conversation was lively and illuminating.

Indigenous Services officials were, of course, asked why there were still 28 First Nations communities with boil-water advisories eight years after the government promised to fix the huge problem of neglect they found when taking office.

Most of these problems go back much further than eight years. For example, the Neskantaga First Nation in Ontario has been on a boil water advisory since 1995. While some of these situations face jurisdictional and engineering challenges, we can all agree they would have been fixed much more quickly in non-indigenous communities.

One of the big water policy issues facing the South Okanagan-West Kootenay riding is the renegotiation of the Columbia River Treaty. The original treaty, signed in 1964, focused only on hydro power optimization and flood control in the United States, but much has changed since then. Climate change, ecosystem function, indigenous rights, agriculture and industrial water supply are among the new priorities facing negotiators.

I asked Global Affairs officials about the status of these negotiations, highlighting the fact this year’s drought conditions have clearly shown the need for new decision rules around water flow controls on the Canadian portion of the Columbia.

The treaty requirement to send water south to Washington State to fill the reservoirs behind dams there has essentially drained the Arrow Lakes this year, stranding residents of Nakusp and other communities far from their normal access points for swimming and boating opportunities, while their American neighbours enjoy a full pool behind the Grand Coulee Dam.

Longer, hotter summers are also affecting the water supply in the Okanagan Valley. The Okanagan has the smallest watershed supply per capita of any similar sized area of Canada, as it has a very dry climate combined with a small watershed confined to the hills on either side of the valley.

Orchards and vineyards of the Okanagan are an integral and iconic part of the local economy, but they rely entirely on an adequate water supply to irrigate their crops. As summers become longer and drier, the irrigation season expands as well, requiring more and more water with every passing decade. I asked Agriculture Canada about what it is doing to mitigate this coming impasse between domestic and agricultural water needs.

The research station in Summerland has studied both water conservation techniques and climate change for years and hopefully will provide guidance to farmers and water policy makers in the valley with information they need to navigate this difficult issue.

The new Canada Environmental Protection Act, passed last June, introduced the concept of the right of Canadians to live in a clean and healthy environment. Unfortunately, in that act, the right is confined to the protections of that bill alone and lacks accountability measures.

I’ve introduced a private member’s bill—the Canadian Environmental Bill of Rights—that would extend that right across all federal legislation and provide powers to hold the government to account for protecting that right. I asked Health Canada officials in committee about the other pieces of federal legislation that protect our water resources, including the Pest Control Products Act, the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act, the Food and Drugs Act and the Fisheries Act.

It is clear that without this broader approach and stronger accountability, the right to a healthy environment would simply be nice words rather than a meaningful protection for all Canadians.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


MP says 'misinformation' being spread about carbon taxes

Carbon taxes explained

These are difficult times for a lot of Canadians.

At the top of the list is the difficulty many have in finding affordable housing. In addition, groceries continue to rise in price and rounding out the list is always the price of gasoline.

Over the past three years, gas prices have gone up by about $1 per litre at the pumps (in some cities). The cost of producing gasoline has not risen at all, so it’s clear the oil company giants are making a lot of money, and indeed, they’re posting record profits.

The five big oil companies in Canada made more than $38 billion in profits last year alone.

When gas prices go up, it affects the price of everything. In fact, those oil company windfall profits account for about 25% of Canadian inflation costs. In the United Kingdom, the Conservative government there has implemented a “windfall tax” on British oil company profits to bring in billions that will help fund initiatives to ease the pressures of inflation there.

But neither the Liberal government nor Conservative Opposition in Canada dare to do (or call for) the same, even though the CEO of Shell Canada actually suggested they should do just that.

The federal Conservatives have blamed all our inflationary woes on the federal carbon tax, even though this tax only contributes about 0.15% of inflation—15 cents on every $100 grocery bill. The carbon tax has only risen about five cents over the period, when gasoline prices rose by $1. What is hurting Canadians most—the carbon tax or corporate greed? Clearly the latter.

There is so much misinformation out there about the carbon tax I feel it’s high time for some facts to clear the air.

An important point to remember in this debate around the federal carbon tax is it is not in effect in B.C. at all. In B.C., we’ve had a carbon tax since 2008, when it was introduced by the then B.C. Liberal (now BC United) government of then-premier Gordon Campbell. So, calls for the elimination of the federal carbon tax will have no effect in B.C.

Carbon pricing is widely considered by top economists to be the cheapest and most effective way to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. A rising carbon tax is a signal to consumers that the price of fossil fuels will continue to rise and decisions to move to cleaner alternatives will result in long-term savings.

The federal carbon tax returns essentially all the funds collected to families in the provinces affected—indeed most families get more in their rebates than they spend on the tax.

How can that drive decisions to reduce emissions if the tax is returned to people?Because the amount returned is not related to the amount each family pays in the tax. So, the less gas a person uses, the less tax they pay and the greater the difference between the amount paid and the rebate received.

In BC, the rebate is sent out to lower income individuals and some of the revenue is used to fund emission-reduction programs.

Does the carbon tax work? Studies in B.C., after the carbon tax was introduced here, showed it clearly reduced vehicle emissions in the province. As well, the two provinces with long-term carbon-pricing policies—B.C. and Quebec—lead all the provinces by a wide margin in the uptake of electric vehicles, driven by a combination of carbon pricing and other policies.

Carbon pricing is also a very important incentive for large corporations with big carbon footprints to develop innovative technologies to reduce emissions. Many of these initiatives would not go ahead at all if the carbon tax is eliminated.

So yes, carbon pricing works to bring down emissions but can’t do that essential work all by itself. We need to implement other policies and regulations that tackle other huge sources of carbon emissions.

So why all the misinformation and finger-pointing toward the carbon tax? Conservatives are playing politics and protecting their rich donors instead of getting to the bottom of where inflation is coming from in Canada.

Let’s start telling the truth about the carbon tax. Let’s work to tackle corporate greed through windfall taxes that will bring in billions of dollars that can be used to help the millions of Canadians that are having a tough time making ends meet.

Richard Cannings is the NDP MP for South Okanagan-West Kootenay.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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