Liberals pitch legacy account for oil money

The Liberals promise to divert $250 million a year from offshore oil royalties to create a fund to assist future generations.
Kevin Aylward released the Liberal election platform on Friday in St. Anthony. (CBC)

Newfoundland and Labrador's Liberals pledged Friday to divert about $250 million a year from offshore oil royalties to create a fund to assist future generations.

The legacy fund is a hallmark of a policy platform that Liberal Leader Kevin Aylward released Friday during a campaign stop in St. Anthony. [Read the full platform here.] Other planks include investigating a constitutional challenge over the export of Upper Churchill hydroelectric power to Quebec, reviving negotiations with Quebec on Lower Churchill hydro, and pouring significantly more money into the fishery.

Speaking with reporters, Aylward said payments will be made into the legacy fund only when there is a budget surplus.

Otherwise, Aylward said, the Liberal plan will cost about $145.4 million in the first year of a new term, or about $10 million more than a debt-conscious platform that PC Leader Kathy Dunderdale released Thursday.

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The Legacy Fund is similar in concept to Alberta's Heritage Fund, which was launched in 1976 and built in its first 11 years with 30 per cent of petroleum-based revenues.

"As a province we need to leverage our energy resources for future as well as present generations," says the platform, which says 10 per cent of oil revenues will be invested in the fund.

"This investment will grow over time once the fiscal situation of our province has been determined. Responsible management of the fund shall safeguard and build financial wealth for future generations."

Muskrat Falls proposal denounced

The policy book — dubbed the People's Platform — delves into several issues connected with hydroelectric power in Labrador. The Liberals oppose the plan of the governing Tories to generate power at Muskrat Falls on the Churchill River, while leaving undeveloped for now the larger proposal at Gull Island.

The platform says both should be developed together, and that the government should talk to Quebec about doing it. The government's current plan involves generating power at Muskrat Falls, exporting all of it to Newfoundland, and then piping as much as 40 per cent of it to Nova Scotia through subsea cables.

"A new Liberal government will direct Nalcor to recommence negotiations with Quebec, Ontario and the federal government to develop the entire Lower Churchill. It is not financially feasible to develop only part of the Lower Churchill," the platform says.

The platform says the Liberals "will not be party to any agreement which has this province’s electricity consumers subsidize the electricity rates for Nova Scotia or any other province or state."

The platform also puts a strong emphasis on the provincial fishery, an industry that has been in turmoil for over two decades, and which the Liberals say has been neglected by the governing Progressive Conservatives.

"We will again have a great fishery," says the platform, which opens with a chapter on fisheries issues. "Our fishery has been our past and the Liberal Party believes it will be our future."

The platform notably excludes a promise to eliminate the provincial portion of the gasoline tax. Former Liberal leader Yvonne Jones had said in May that that promise would be a key part of the fall campaign.

As well, the platform does not include a section on building a fixed link between Newfoundland and Labrador, which Jones had said in a Facebook posting on Thursday would be part of the policy on Labrador.