Wildrose promises rebates to Albertans if oil money creates surplus

Alberta’s Wildrose party is promising free oil money for all if it wins the election on April 23.

CREMONA — Alberta’s Wildrose party is promising free oil money for all if it wins the election on April 23.

Leader Danielle Smith announced Monday a Wildrose government would pay directly to citizens 20 per cent of all future budget surpluses generated by oil and natural gas revenues.

“Instead of squandering surplus funds on pet projects and more government waste, the Alberta Energy Dividend will ensure Albertans benefit directly from the wealth our energy sector generates,” Smith said in a news release.

“Wildrose believes that Albertans can spend their own money better than government. That is precisely why we’ve got a plan to put more money back in their pockets instead of government coffers.”

The Alberta government is predicting oil will average out at US$108 a barrel by 2015. Smith said if that happens, her team would cut a $300 cheque to every man, woman, and child.

The promise piggybacks on a payback plan delivered in 2005 by former Progressive Conservative premier Ralph Klein.

With the budget surplus approaching $7 billion that year, Klein announced a direct $400 cash rebate to all Albertans at a cost of $1.4 billion.

Premier Alison Redford, leader of the Progressive Conservatives, said the Wildrose is budgeting with rose-coloured glasses by promising in recent days it can give cash back, grow the nest-egg Heritage Fund to $200 billion within 20 years, balance the budget and not raise taxes.

“It’s another daily announcement that just doesn’t add up,” Redford told reporters while on a stop in Strathmore.

“If there are these daily announcements without understanding or (the Wildrose) being prepared to explain the overall framework, where do we end up losing?

“Where do we end up making those hard choices, and my fear is that we end up making them around education, around health care and around infrastructure.

“We need to make sure that we’re thinking long-term.”

The Wildrose says it’s a lack of long-term thinking that has allowed the Tories under former premier Ed Stelmach and Redford to run up multibillion-dollar deficits for years, even though oil has been at record highs.

This year, the Tories had to withdraw $3.7 billion from the rainy day Sustainability Fund to make ends meet, and will still run an estimated $886 million deficit.

There is no long-term debt because of yearly drawdowns from the Sustainability Fund.

This year’s provincial budget doesn’t hike taxes or introduce new ones. Redford has promised that next year’s budget will be free of red ink.

Monday’s announcement was the third instalment of a Wildrose plan to give back money to help Albertans deal with the inflation and rising costs associated with a booming petro-fuelled economy.

The Wildrose has already promised tax rebates for families with young children and an end to mandatory add-on school fees.

Smith has also promised to balance the budget immediately by cutting government waste, putting the proposed new Royal Alberta Museum in Edmonton on hold, and extending the timelines for other non-core infrastructure projects.

She has been particularly critical of the government’s carbon capture and storage plan.

The plan, introduced under Stelmach, has already spent $1.6 billion in a joint project with oil companies on an experiment to mass-liquefy carbon dioxide and store it underground.

Carbon capture and storage has been criticized as expensive, fig leaf technology, allowing governments and oil companies to appear to be working to save the environment while avoiding having to make drastic cuts or impose meaningful penalties on carbon emissions.

Redford has already said she doesn’t plan to pursue the technology.