Sagging in the polls and facing the end of a 41-year dynasty, the Progressive Conservative campaign is rolling out a new pledge and going after its chief opponent – saying a PC government would build 50 schools and renovate 70 more, with money the Wildrose would instead send back to voters in energy rebates.
Alberta’s boom also led to a baby boom, which has left the province starving for schools in new suburbs and fast-growing communities. Over the next decade, the province estimates it needs to build or renovate 400 schools.
Ms. Redford pledged Wednesday to, beginning in 2013, build 50 new ones at a cost of $1.2-billion. Wildrose leader Danielle Smith earlier this week pledged an energy rebate, which it estimated at $300 per Albertan for a cost of $1.1-billion by 2015.
“That’s the amount of one year of the Danielle Dollar dividend,” Ms. Redford said Wednesday afternoon at a Calgary recreation centre, joined by supporters as she announced the new schools. “There’s a choice for Albertans to make in this election, a clear difference in priorities. I’m glad for this choice. This is why I entered politics. My priority is schools for children.”
The cost of renovating the 70 other schools is also estimated at an additional $1.2-billion. It will be up to school boards and the ministries to decide which schools are renovated, and which neighbourhoods get new buildings.
Ms. Smith dismissed the pledge, saying the PCs have squandered money for the past four years, citing a $275-million renovation of the Federal Building (a government building near the legislature) and a $2-billion fund for carbon capture and storage technology.
“They’re the ones that have already made these choices that they’d rather give money to themselves. They’d rather give money to their corporate pals than put it into the priorities of Albertans,” Ms. Smith told The Globe and Mail. Her party’s first priority is a return to surplus. From there, they’d save 50 per cent of the surplus, send 10 per cent to municipalities and use 20 per cent for a fund to pay the energy dividend – the rest could be used for schools, Ms. Smith said. They’ve also – like the Liberals and NDP – pledged to eliminate all school fees.
“We’ve left 20 per cent un-allocated, so if Albertans tell us they want those extra dollars spent on infrastructure projects, we’ll take direction from Albertans on that.”
In making this pledge, Ms. Redford is returning to her old faithful: education. She won her party’s leadership in large part because of a pledge to restore $107-million in education funding cuts, which she did 11 days into her premiership (one day short of her 10-day promise). The new schools will come out of projected budget surpluses stretched over four years of construction.
It will be up to voters to decide if they want rebates or schools, Ms. Redford said.
“The announcement on Monday from the Wildrose I think contrasts very clearly the difference between our parties, and I do believe Albertans have a choice to make,” Ms. Redford said.
The Liberals on Wednesday announced $100-million in annual funding, by 2016, for early childhood education programs.
“Early childhood education is one of the smartest investments a government can make,” Liberal Leader Raj Sherman said in a news release.
The Liberals were the first party to propose banning school fees and would also bring in a $15-million school lunch program. Their platform is also centred on post-secondary education, saying they’ll eliminate tuition fees altogether by 2025 and forgive portions of student loans.
The NDP, meanwhile, have pledged $357-million in new education funding, including class-size reductions, ending school fees, a school lunch program and optional full-day kindergarten.