Update: Shortly after we published this story, UCP candidate Michaela Glasgo retracted her original statement. The story has been updated to reflect her new comments.
A UPC candidate has retracted her claim that Alberta’s carbon tax would cost her church $50,000 per year.
Now Michaela Glasgo says it would cost only $5,400 per year.
She wrote a retraction on Facebook after critics disputed her claims. Economists told VICE News her church would have to be the size of five or six Notre Dame cathedrals for her statement to be true.
“Unbelievable,” Glasgo tweeted Sunday afternoon. “Today at church we learned that the Carbon Tax is going to cost our church $50,000 this year ALONE.”
“But that’s the thing about The Carbon Tax, it doesn’t discriminate,” she continued in a subsequent tweet and Facebook post. “Whether you’re a senior’s facility in Sundre, a local small business, or a community church in Medicine Hat — this is the cost of Rachel Notley’s failed social license experiment.”
UCP leader Jason Kenney quoted her tweet, adding, “We hear stories like this all the time, sadly.” But others called her out, including Calgary pastor and Liberal supporter Kevin Powell, who tweeted “I’m a pastor and I can say that this is 100% false.” Powell told VICE News over the phone the cost to his own church has not gone up dramatically.
It turns out her claim really was unbelievable.
When he saw her tweet, Nic Rivers, Canada Research Chair in climate and energy policy at the University of Ottawa, did the math.
A typical commercial building emits one gigajoule per square metre, he wrote to VICE News in an email. Churches would be slightly less than that. Although some of that energy would be from electricity, to be generous to Glasgo, he assumed it was all natural gas.
Not knowing which church she was referring to, he used the biggest church he could think of, the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, which is 6,000 square metres. The cost of Alberta’s carbon tax on natural gas is $1.50/GJ. So the carbon tax would cost the Notre Dame $9,000 per year.
“In other words, the $50,000 in carbon charges would be a good estimate for heating about five or six Notre Dame cathedrals,” Rivers said. “Unless the church in Medicine Hat is really large, there’s something wrong with this calculation.
Glasgo has not said publicly which church she was referring to. The candidate and her campaign manager did not respond to requests for comment from VICE News.
Trevor Tombe, associate professor of economics at the University of Calgary, came to the same conclusion as Rivers.
“This doesn’t strike me as truthful at all, unless there’s something very unusual about this particular church,” he said over the phone Monday.
“The carbon tax is $1.51 cents per gigajoule for natural gas for heating. The average home in Alberta uses about 100 gigajoules per year. So a $50,000 carbon tax bill for the church is equivalent to over 330 average homes.”
“This is either an extremely inefficient building and they are wasting substantial amounts of money because there are serious leaks, or it is not credible.”
The carbon tax will eventually increase to $50 per ton. But even under the highest cost scenario, $50,000 is “orders of magnitude” higher than the cost for a typical church, Tombe said.The Calgary Airport or the West Edmonton Mall are two commercial properties that would have high costs under the carbon tax, Tombe said.
“It’s nothing new in that the UCP campaign here against the carbon tax has been largely fact-free, and that’s unfortunate. There are legitimate differences of opinion on whether the carbon tax is the right way to go. There are pros and cons of any policy choice and it’s unfortunate to see the discussion around the carbon tax being one primarily opposed by false claims,” he said.
Responding to criticism in a Facebook post, Glasgo would not name the church, but doubled down on her claim. “Yes, the facility in question is quite large. It also includes a number of facilities beyond the main chamber. But as an institution, it is still referred to as ‘the church.’”
During the Sunday service, someone appealed for contributions to cover the church’s “expected $50,000 carbon tax bill for 2019,” she continued. “To be clear, the church is non-partisan, and this was in no way a political attack or statement by the church. I have no reason to believe this appeal was made in bad faith.”
David Pollard replied to her post that he had checked the carbon levy for his church, Fifth Avenue Memorial United, one of the largest churches in Medicine Hat, which has two gymnasiums.
“We paid $2,500,” he said.
Another commenter, Stuart MacMahon, replied: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.”
In her retraction, Glasgo said, “The church has now indicated to me that their fixed operational costs for 2019 are increasing by $50,000 versus 2017. The utilities cost increase between 2017 and 2018 alone was just shy of $22,000. While the carbon tax was specifically named, I have now been told that the expected specific carbon tax cost will be around $5,400 for the year.
“This is still a sizeable sum for a not-for-profit that is already dealing with the burden of increased costs, and I do not think the impact should be downplayed. I fully stand by my criticism of the NDP’s carbon tax.
“I reported the initial figure in good faith and did not intend to mislead. But given the new information that has come to light, I felt it important to keep you apprised.”
Sign up for the VICE Canada Newsletter to get the best of VICE Canada delivered to your inbox.
Follow Hilary on Twitter.