BY KALISHA MENDONSA
MLA for Lacombe-Ponoka Ron Orr connected with constituents recently during a round-table discussion in Lacombe.
Orr said there was a lot of discussion in regards to financial issues, carbon taxes and pressures for the agricultural industry.
“We heard questions and responses on how people are feeling towards the provincial and federal budgets, and concerns for the ongoing deficit and increasing debt in the province. That’s a hard issue for people,” Orr said. “That really affects people in a personal way with regards to increased taxes – particularly the hot-button issue of the carbon taxes.”
He mentioned several business owners had approached him with concerns about continuing to manage their business in the province as costs increase to do so.
“The economy is already struggling and revenue streams are already declining, but costs of surviving – in regards to taxes and administrative red tape – are going up. Those are reasons many businesses in the province are either closing or choosing to leave,” he said.
Carbon taxes, provincially and federally, remain a hot issue for Central Albertans. Orr said the carbon taxes are not something he and his party supports, seeing it as an ineffective way to manage carbon output.
“The impact of carbon reduction is almost negligible. It’s a huge cost for a very minimal return, and there is concern over how that money would be put to use,” he said.
Orr said it is a positive that some of that carbon tax money would go to low-income families, but he has heard from many constituents they are concerned over other initiatives the money would be spent on.
“Most of the carbon tax revenue will be spent on green initiatives that may or may not benefit our economy. We see it as a different form of corporate welfare. I know that people don’t like the idea of giving the oil and gas industry breaks, but now we’re giving another group of industry people breaks so it doesn’t change the approach much, just the individuals,” he said.
He said his riding is a strong mixture of people in the agricultural industry and those in the energy sector. He said those in the ag industry are still struggling with the roll out and implication of Bill 6 – guidelines that have not been strictly laid out by the province yet.
“The regulations and details of Bill 6 are still unwritten. Farm operations are responsible to comply, but they aren’t sure what they’re complying with and that is causing some anxiety in the industry,” he said.
He said he heard particular concerns over the beef industry as well, worried that members of his riding are being hit hard with the declining profit margins in the industry.
“I met recently with a cow/calf operator who feels the prices are coming down, and the margins of profit are becoming extremely thin. He was very worried. His exact comment to me was, ‘It’s getting to the point where I really wonder between the lower revenue, increased taxes and increased regulations, is it even worth doing this anymore?’” Orr said.
Orr added he feels the only silver lining to the carbon taxes is an exemption for marked agricultural fuel.
“There are a lot of people out there struggling in the agricultural industry and I think we will see more fallout over time.”