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Alberta Conservative Leader Alison Redford makes a campaign stop in Calgary, Alta., Monday, April 9, 2012. Albertans go to the polls on April 23. (Jeff McIntosh/ The Canadian Press/Jeff McIntosh/ The Canadian Press)
Alberta Conservative Leader Alison Redford makes a campaign stop in Calgary, Alta., Monday, April 9, 2012. Albertans go to the polls on April 23. (Jeff McIntosh/ The Canadian Press/Jeff McIntosh/ The Canadian Press)

Struggling PCs court Alberta's rural voters Add to ...

Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives rolled out a pitch to rural voters Monday, hoping to shore up long-held ridings while facing a Wildrose surge.

Dubbed “ Protecting our Way of Life: A Plan for Rural Alberta,” the pitch includes funding for rural doctors, distance education at local colleges, expanded high-speed Internet access, expanded research funding for agriculture and forestry, and pilot projects on long-distance healthcare.

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The package comes at a total new cost of $47-million in 2013-2014, as well as some programs being covered in existing ministry budgets, the PCs said.

“My government will ensure that good jobs, health and education services that support a desirable and successful lifestyle are available in rural areas,” PC leader Alison Redford said in a news release.

The detailed pledge list amounts to an overture to voters who have left the PC party, which until this election was the only major conservative option for voters. Wildrose has opened a wide lead in rural ridings province-wide – roughly one-third of the seats – and the PCs need to remain competitive if they hope to form government once again.

The pledges include setting up a “Next Generation Advisory Council” for the development of rural Alberta, as well as tuition refunds for medical students who graduate in family medicine and commit to working in a rural community for 10 years (estimated at $4-million annually, increasing to $8-million; the PCs didn’t specify what portion of tuition they’d refund).

They’d boost pilot projects in long-distance-care, allowing for health services delivered without requiring people to commute to major cities.

The PCs will help small-town colleges boost distance-learning programs, so they’re able to offer degrees in partnership with Alberta’s major universities, while also offering grants for students from remote and rural communities.

The plan will boost agricultural society funding by $2-million per year and spend $3-million on high-speed Internet infrastructure.

Ms. Redford made the announcement in the village of Beiseker Monday while campaigning in southern Alberta.

The pledge comes three days before the leaders’ debate, scheduled for Thursday evening in Edmonton. Election day is April 23.

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