By Cal Braid
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Martin Shields, MP for Bow River, spoke in the House of Commons on Dec. 7 when discussion turned to the business of supply. He specifically spoke on behalf of irrigation farmers whom he said are heavily burdened by the toll of the carbon tax.
“When I last spoke about this, I had examples of many of the irrigating farmers paying more than $100,000 in carbon taxes a year, and there are thousands of them in my riding because of irrigation,” he said.
In the House, Mark Gerretsen, MP for Kingston and the Islands (ON), was vocal and had a far different take on the tax. He said, “Conservatives stand up in here and routinely, day after day, tell Canadians they are paying a carbon tax and it is contributing to all of the problems they have in their lives without even bothering to suggest they get more back than they put into it. This is unless of course someone is one of their rich friends, and probably somebody going to the $1,700 per person fundraiser (…). Those are the people they are actually talking to. Those are the people they are actually catering to.”
“I get really concerned when I hear conservative after conservative come in here and talk about the price on pollution and how it is impacting people. They talk about farmers as well. Effectively, for 97 per cent of farmers, it nets out to them not paying the carbon tax,” Gerretsen added.
Shields took exception to Gerretsen’s statements, saying, “To my colleague across the way, I will say that I am in a constituency with 70 per cent of the irrigation in the country, so when he talks about very rich people, they are not my constituents. The constituents I represent grow on four per cent of the arable land and bring in 28 per cent of the GDP for ag in the province of Alberta. This is costing them because they grow 60 different kinds of products, which translates to expensive food in this country. I know them.”
In a Dec. 1 discussion with the Times, Shields said, “The piece that is really challenging for irrigators in my point of view is the cost of the carbon tax on irrigation. It’s huge. Irrigation takes a lot of power to move, so those guys are running huge carbon taxes just on the irrigation piece alone.”
“It is tough,” he said emphatically. “It is an expensive proposition.”
He said he’s attempting to clarify the message to other MP’s.
“I’m saying, ‘Guys, you don’t understand; we have about 60 different crops growing here, but that only happens because of irrigation.’ We have the largest windmill farms and solar farms in Canada in this riding, but of all the Alberta solar and wind, they were producing only 0.03 per cent of the max that they could. The sun rays at this time of the year are not very strong, and there’s no wind blowing. So you’ve got to have that backup of natural gas.”
Contentious issues generate conflicting takes on the facts. Gerretsen told the House, “According to Statistics Canada, and the data it has, when overlaid with this program, 94 per cent of households with incomes below $50,000 receive rebates that exceed their carbon tax costs in 2023. Roughly half of households in this income category see a net gain between $20 and $40 per month, and about 4 per cent see a net gain of $70 per month or more. As a matter of fact, 55 per cent of those who are making at least $250,000 a year still receive more than they put in.”
Shields recommended the Alberta Irrigation Districts Association (AIDA) conference as a good place to gather more information on irrigation farming and water supply in southern Alberta. The AIDA event, called ‘When in Drought’ runs Feb. 5 – 7, 2024 at the Sandman Signature. “They have great speakers that the irrigation council brings,” he said. “One year in Lethbridge, the next year in Calgary, back and forth.”