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Eco-Policies of Alberta's Next Government?

Speed up oil sands, give $300 in petro proceeds to each citizen, says surging Wildrose party.

By Geoff Dembicki, 5 Apr 2012, TheTyee.ca

Danielle Smith, Wildrose Party

Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith: Would 'resist any attempts by the federal government to regulate Alberta's international exports of bitumen.'

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Explosive new public opinion research suggests Danielle Smith's libertarian-leaning Wildrose Party will form a majority government in Alberta later this month. 

Blowing apart more than four decades of Progressive Conservative rule would be a major achievement for an upstart party barely four years old (and one considered further to the right than Alison Redford's right-of-centre premiership). 

It would allow Smith, whose campaign is being run by former Stephen Harper advisor Tom Flanagan, to piece together new, and arguably laxer, regulations for the province's oil and gas industry. 

Wildrose's energy and environmental platform contains some policies certain to provoke and infuriate Canada's green movement, should the party achieve majority rule. 

Smith puts so much faith in industry's ability to restore strip-mined Boreal Forest, for instance, that she would actually speed up the approvals process for new oil sands projects. 

"Bureaucratic hurdles do nothing to protect the environment," she claims on Wildrose's website. 

The sooner oil companies are able to exhaust northern Alberta's massive bitumen deposits, goes her logic, the quicker they can reclaim the land. 

Or in Smith's words: "Let's get these projects approved and stop delaying them so industry can hit the ground running and get to the recovery phase a lot faster." 

Believes tailing ponds can be eliminated

A Wildrose government, meanwhile, would offer generous tax incentives to these companies, hoping to promote new research in environmental remediation. 

Smith believes that "technological advancements will be instrumental in eventually eliminating tailings ponds," those vast reservoirs of toxic waste. 

Her optimistic views don't align with those of a recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which argued that transforming strip-mine to functioning wetland is virtually impossible. 

The Wildrose Party doesn't seem to give much credence to oil sands critics, though, especially the "environmental extremists," as it calls them, worried about the industry's carbon footprint. 

Pandering to "highly emotional" fears about global warming can lead to such "reckless" and "potentially dangerous" policies as the Progressive Conservatives' $2 billion carbon capture and storage program, Wildrose says, which it promises to cancel. 

Smith isn't even certain that humans are to blame for climate change. 

"There is obviously still healthy scientific debate as to the extent man-made emissions of CO2 are affecting global temperatures," her party's environment policy reads, "and this debate will likely carry on for many years." 

'Energy dividend' promise

Even still, a Wildrose government would expand electricity production from "clean burning Alberta natural gas and propane" and fund "mass transit and commuter rail." 

"Doing so will reduce pollutants and CO2 emissions while improving the economy and lives of thousands of Albertans," reads the Wildrose website. 

Next door to the province Smith seeks to lead, growing numbers of British Columbians oppose Enbridge's $5.5 billion Northern Gateway pipeline project. 

Smith's party would "resist any attempts by the federal government to regulate Alberta's international exports of bitumen," reads her website, especially for reasons of "environmental protection or marine transportation." 

Smith needs a robust and growing oil sands sector to follow through on her highest profile campaign promise so far: to give a $300 tax-free "energy dividend" as early as 2015 to every Albertan. 

It's "smart politics," one University of Lethbridge professor told the Calgary Herald, but "terrible" fiscal policy. 

"I'm not sure how much energy I'm going to have to spend talking about how it's a bad idea," joked Premier Redford recently, given the largely negative media attention it's received. (Redford for her part has promised to spend $3 billion over the next 20 years on energy research.) 

Yet if the recent polling done by ThinkHQ Public Affairs Inc. is correct, and Smith can hold on to her apparent 13-point lead over the reigning Tories, it's the Wildrose Party that will be doing all the laughing on April 23.  [Tyee]

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