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Wildrose promises cash rebates to Albertans if oil money creates budget surplus

CREMONA, Alta. – 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.

“We all own the resources and we all deserve to have a share in that wealth,” Smith said at a campaign stop.

Smith has already said her party will pass a law to have half of all surpluses go to growing the nest-egg Heritage Trust Fund.

On Monday, she said the next 20 per cent will go into the Alberta Energy Dividend Fund.

“Whenever this fund exceeds $750 million, we will distribute it equally to all Albertans,” said Smith.

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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.

She said the payout makes more sense than the waste seen under Premier Alison Redford’s Progressive Conservative government, which includes $2 billion for pilot projects on carbon capture and storage.

“The Alberta Energy Dividend makes sure when times are good it’s Albertans who will benefit directly, not politicians, not the bureaucracy,” said Smith.

The promise echoes 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.

The move was panned by some as a cheap stunt from a premier who had given so little thought to economic planning, the only idea he could come up with was to give some money back.

But it was a public relations success, with Albertans putting their “Ralph Bucks” into savings accounts for children or treating themselves to trips or consumer goods.

Redford 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.

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“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 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 withdrawals 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 another 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.

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The Wildrose has already promised tax rebates for families with young children, for kids in sports and the arts, along with 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.

– By Dean Bennett in Edmonton and Bill Graveland in Strathmore