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Q & A with Don MacIntyre: Innisfail-Sylvan Lake MLA talks carbon tax and climate change

The Sylvan Lake News sat down with Wildrose MLA for Innisfail-Sylvan Lake, Don MacIntyre after a week a week of controversy.

The Sylvan Lake News sat down with Wildrose MLA for Innisfail-Sylvan Lake, Don MacIntyre after a week a week of controversy at the Legislature which saw his views on climate change be the focal point of the week’s news narrative.

SLN:What is your response to some of your colleagues on the government side that has called for your resignation following this week’s events?

DM: That’s pretty laughable when you think about it. The government side is calling for the resignation of an opposition critic for criticizing them. It’s really funny they would even do that and I take it as a compliment that shows my team and I are doing a really great job. If you really want to know why they want me going, it doesn’t have anything to do with the current issue - it has everything to do with what my team and I did to this government all last year. I exposed what they were doing on the electricity file and I exposed the truth behind their frivolous law suit against Enmax. We uncovered all kinds of FOIP documents exposing their obstruction of the balancing pool and bringing it to the brink of bankruptcy and then having to bail it out at the last minute with 70 million dollars.

We just kept exposing them all year on long. We exposed them on Bill 27 - the renewable electricity bill. We found that that bill was actually going to stop the market surveillance administrator from even considering complaints against renewable projects. We exposed the Minister of Energy was going to have an incredible amount of power to demand that renewable infrastructure be built without having to demonstrate any need. We exposed Bill 20 - the Carbon Tax bill - for what it is. It will not allow measurements to be put in place to see whether the bill actually results in greenhouse gas reductions before they increase it by 50 per cent next year. All these things we accomplished last year and you bet they want me silent.

Q. Is climate change real and what is the human impact on it?

A: Yes climate change is a real thing. Yes there is human impact on it, but there is no consensus amongst the scientific community on the level of human contribution to climate change.

Q: How do you craft legislation based on that confusion you mentioned?

A:That is the real question because historically decision makers and policy makers have relied upon the scientific community for data and research that was really agnostic. That’s what we needed it to be and unfortunately the scientific community now are reporting that there has been industrial and political influence on their work. There was a survey of 7,000 scientists in four US agencies done in 2015 and the results of the survey were terrifying. The community of scientists down there are being interfered with by political and industrial forces. It makes it difficult to craft policy but there are some things we can do.

I think is very important to take a look around the globe and look at jurisdictions that have tried different things - some that have succeeded and failed - and learn from these mistakes and successes. There are some things that are known. For example, Australia and France are scrapping their carbon tax because after trying it they discovered it was destroying their economy. It was doing very little to impact net global greenhouse gas emissions. So they rightly got rid of it. So when you see things like that - you can learn from their mistakes and that’s what we should be doing.

On the carbon tax front, we do know something from the economics of carbon taxation and that is carbon leakage. If you are competing with other jurisdictions that aren’t doing precisely what you are doing with regards to carbon taxation - you put your entire economic engine at risk and that’s what you see happening here. We’re seeing leakage and this means if the goods and services are not produced here because of carbon taxation - they will be produced in another jurisdiction that doesn’t have the tax. The taxation puts you at a competitive disadvantage so in the end you actually aren’t reducing greenhouse gas emissions at all.

Our number one trading partner is the United States. They also happen to be our number one competitor. We have other competitors as well. We have British Columbia that is a competitor and we have Saskatchewan that is a competitor. Those two jurisdictions aren’t doing what we are doing. British Columbia has a carbon tax, however it is entirely revenue neutral so there was no extraction of billions of extra dollars out of their economy. Saskatchewan on the other hand isn’t doing anything like what this government is doing with carbon tax. So you have a jurisdiction like Saskatchewan that has the same types of oil and gas mixed with agricultural economy that we have but their economy is rebounding and ours is still in retraction. The only different between the two jurisdictions is the political scenarios being painted by the two governments. We have an anti-business government and they [Saskatchewan] have a pro-business government. They have made themselves attractive and we are no longer attractive here. Those are the issues we are dealing with as legislators. We’re trying to help the government understand the damage they are doing and try to show them a better way of doing things. So far they aren’t listening.

Q: What do you think is the social impact of the carbon tax?

A: This tax is regressive in nature. The people who can least afford money being taken from their pockets are going to be hit harder than other people. We are also going to see job losses - that’s a social cost. The sensitive issue right now is that we are seeing the suicide rate skyrocket in this province. We are seeing opioid use skyrocket in this province and we are seeing the stress on our mental health institutions increase as more and more people are facing serious issues like depression. A lot of that is economically driven. Unfortunately it’s such a serious situation that I would fear as government to do anything else that would harm the economy.

It’s having an incredibly harmful social impact and we have had families coming into our office in Sylvan Lake that are desperate. They don’t know what to do. Their breadwinners were contractors in the past and there are no programs for them. They can’t collect employment insurance and they’ve been out of work for over a year. I have had grown men cry in my office because they’ve been out of work for over a year. They are losing their houses and their families are breaking up.

Q: One of the common criticisms of the carbon tax is that this isn’t ‘the right time’ for Alberta to have a new tax. Is there ever a good time for a new tax?

A: No. Not like this. If you look back through the last four or five auditor general reports on the finances of the Provincial Government. It becomes crystal clear there is a spending problem - not a revenue problem. It isn’t that we need more taxes. We need a government with the courage to restrain spending and to find efficiency with the dollars that tax payers can afford. If you look back through those auditor general reports and simply do what those reports recommend - billions could be saved. We haven’t had a government, not Stelmach, not Redford, not Prentice and not Notley with the courage to restrain spending and borrowing. It’s not a shortage of revenue - it’s a problem of spending beyond what we can afford.

Q: What would a Wildrose plan look like to fix the economy and address environmental concerns?

A: To make an economy attractive for economic development it has to be a low tax, low red tape economy. Those are the areas we have said we would focus on. If you look at the success Brad Wall has had in Saskatchewan - that’s what he has done. That is what we had many years ago. When it comes to environmental concerns, honestly if you look at the environmental record of this Province, specifically with resource development - many of the environmentalists see our resource development as the big, bad culprit.

Let’s compare our environmental record with nations that are huge exporters of oil and natural gas - I’m talking about Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates. If you wanted to make a reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions, we should be putting as much of our resources in the marketplace to displace oil and gas coming from regimes that have rotten environmental records and even worse humanitarian records. The more Alberta companies produce, because we are an environmentally responsible province already, the more we displace products from these regimes with rotten environmental records. Rather than producing less here, we should actually be producing more.

Q: Is there any room for the Wildrose to work with the government on this issue?

A: Frankly, in Bill 25 [Oil Sands Emissions Limit Act] - we put forward eight amendments trying to shield and help certain segments of our resource industry in the emissions cap. This industry would have amounted to tens of thousands of jobs. Under Bill 20, we introduced to shield greenhouses completely from his tax as well as charities and school boards. This government shot those amendments down. I put forward something like 12 amendments on Bill 27 requiring measurement and verification of results and allowing the market surveillance administrator to actually police the renewable system, just like it polices the electricity system now. We have tried repeatedly to improve the quality of the legislation brought forward and they have resisted those amendments at every single turn.

Q: Would you say there is mutual respect in the Legislature between parties?

A: I think it’s deteriorating. When you have people like Marlin Schmidt - the Minister of Advanced Education - telling me where to stick it. You have the government house leader calling us goons and gangsters. I would have to say that I think the mutual respect thing has deteriorated since the Legislature first sat.

Q:What would you say is the most effective way for Albertans to effectively communicate their concerns with the government?