Wildrose leader releases financial platform

The Wildrose Party says the Progressive Conservatives are squandering Alberta's petro-billions on perks and pet projects, moving the province dangerously close to the precipice should oil prices tank once again.

Danielle Smith promises balanced budget and savings act

The Wildrose Party says the Progressive Conservatives are squandering Alberta's petro-billions on perks and pet projects, moving the province dangerously close to the precipice should oil prices tank once again.

"Alberta families know the difference between a want and a need," Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith said Tuesday while outlining the party's financial platform in her home constituency of Highwood, just south of Calgary.

"Unfortunately, the Redford PCs have completely lost the ability to make that distinction.

Wildrose Party Leader Danielle Smith makes a policy announcement in Okotoks, Alta. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

"They're only interested in what matters to them (with) things like getting paid to be on committees that never have meetings, extravagant severance packages and huge pay hikes for them and their pals."

The Wildrose are promising to bring in a balanced budget and savings act to force the government to live within its means.

Despite the price of oil  — the wellspring of Alberta's economy — hovering around US$100 barrel, the Tories under Premier Alison Redford withdrew $3.7 billion from the Sustainability Fund this year to cover off a record $40 billion in spending.

The province has been running multibillion-dollar deficits for the last four years, regularly transferring money over from the savings fund to prevent incurring long-term debt.

Redford's team is promising to review all spending later this year and says it will return to surplus budgets next spring.

Tories don't know how to prioritize, claims Smith

Smith said the Tories, who wiped out long-term debt under former premier Ralph Klein, no longer know how to prioritize.

Smith's leadership contributions

On Sunday, the Wildrose leader released a list of donors to her 2009 leadership campaign.

Smith raised $487,748 from 2,666 contributors, with $271,935 coming from individuals and companies that gave more than $375.

Her three biggest donations came from Pirie Resource Management with $25,000, EnCana with $10,000 and Pacific Western Transportation which also contributed $10,000.

Smith was required under Alberta election law only to disclose the 173 contributors that gave her more than $375.

The list of names can be found here.

Under former premier Ed Stelmach, $2 billion was committed to carbon capture and storage technology test projects.

Smith said they wasted money on carbon capture and storage technology when they should have been hiring more teachers, doctors and nurses.

Redford says she doesn't plan to follow through.

Earlier this month, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation announced that it had found 21 politicians, most of them Tories, who were being paid $1,000 a month for years to sit on a committee that hadn't met.

Recent estimates say that generous changes to severance rules under Klein will result in more than $10.6 million being spent on transition payouts to 22 MLAs of all stripes who have decided to retire from politics. That includes more than a million dollars for outgoing Speaker Ken Kowalski and almost a million dollars for Stelmach.

Smith said such wrongheaded priorities are similar to the ones that pushed countries such as Italy and Greece over the edge into spiralling debt and unemployment.

'Drowning in debt'

"Jurisdictions that fail to get a grasp on public spending are drowning in debt, besieged by taxes, plagued by unemployment and flailing desperately for lifelines and bailouts."

Redford's team has already promised to balance the budget this year by cutting extraneous government spending, particularly on carbon capture, and by extending some infrastructure projects by a year.

If elected on April 23 to form government, Smith said the Wildrose would pass a law to direct half of all future surpluses to the nest-egg Heritage Savings Trust Fund. The goal would be to grow it to $200 billion within two decades and reduce Alberta's reliance on roller-coaster oil and gas prices.

Wildrose Party Leader Danielle Smith exits her campaign bus Tuesday as she campaigns in Highwood, the riding where she is a candidate. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

Future spending would be limited to population growth plus inflation, forcing politicians to direct money to where it was needed, she said. Smith said she would focus on more funds for front-line help in schools and hospitals and would not increase taxes or introduce new ones to do so.

"Families have to balance the household budget," she said. "Families have to make sacrifices. Families have to prioritize needs and wants - small businesses do to.

"When times get tough – and they’ve been tough, up and down over the last five years – small businesses have to make these same difficult decisions and they expect their government to do the same, and this government has let them down."

Smith will also be travelling to the Alberta communities of Strathmore and Drumheller Tuesday.

With files from CBC News