Ethanol and how governments bought a cleverly-packaged scam – by Carol Goar (Toronto Star – September 5, 2012)

The Toronto Star has the largest circulation in Canada. The paper has an enormous impact on federal and Ontario politics as well as shaping public opinion.

Carol Goar’s column appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Carol Goar’s column appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Remember Corn Cob Bob? The goofy-looking mascot for the Canadian Renewable Fuels Association — a farmer’s body with a bright yellow corn cob head — was ubiquitous a few years ago. So was his creator Kory Teneycke, executive director of the association.

They showed up farmers’ markets, fall fairs and holiday celebrations promoting ethanol. Then they started appearing at political events alongside MPs and cabinet ministers.

It was one of the most effective marketing campaigns in recent memory. By 2005, three provinces — Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario — had set mandatory standards for ethanol in gasoline. In 2006, Prime Minister Stephen Harper made it national; all Canadian gasoline and diesel had to contain 5 per cent ethanol. In 2008, he appointed he appointed Teneycke as communications director.

The ambitious 38-year-old lobbyist has moved on now. He is vice-president of Sun News Network. Corn Cob Bob has vanished.

But the consequences of their campaign live on, affecting farmers, car makers, gasoline retailers, drivers and even public transit users. In Ontario, regular gas typically contains 10 per cent ethanol, mid-grade gas contains has 5 per cent and premium has zero. (Diesel has 2 per cent.)

These requirements may have been defensible when corn was plentiful and using it as a fuel additive gave governments an easy way to cut fossil fuel emissions. Neither is true today. Corn prices are soaring after a severe drought in the U.S. Midwest and parts of Canada. It is now clear that converting corn into ethanol uses as much as energy as it saves.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization has urged governments suspend their ethanol requirements. Beef, pork poultry and dairy farmers, who depend on corn to feed their livestock, are pleading for relief. And carmakers, who never liked ethanol in the first place — it reduces fuel efficiency — are renewing their complaints.

At the moment, the issue is on the periphery of the North American political agenda. But as consumers see sharp increases in their grocery bills — as early as next month — opposition to the use of food for fuel is sure to rise. Some U.S. pundits expect that to happen in the final leg of the presidential race. If they’re right, Canada won’t be far behind.

For Harper, this poses a political dilemma. Ethanol has been a boon for grain farmers creating a new market for their produce, raising crop prices and generating a new income stream.

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