Feel good about your information and become a local news champion today

Alberta budget deficit almost $2B lower than originally forecast: finance minister

EDMONTON — A third-quarter update from the Alberta government forecasts a budget deficit almost $2 billion lower than originally forecast due in part to higher than expected bitumen royalties.

Finance Minister Joe Ceci on Wednesday projected a deficit of $6.9 billion for the 2018-2019 fiscal year — down from the $8.8 billion in his financial blueprint last March.

He has not confirmed whether a budget for this year will be presented before a spring election call.

“The deficit is down by $1.9 billion, faster than forecast. We’re on track to balance the budget by 2023 and we’ll continue to have the best balance sheet in the country,” Ceci said at the legislature.

The update forecasts total revenue at $49.6 billion and total expenses at $56.6 billion.

Debt is being pegged at $56.8 billion and is projected to rise to $95 billion by 2024.

The update contained long-term projections for deficit reduction, which are normally found in budgets, along with charts detailing what the NDP government has been doing to combat a downturn in oil prices.

The document lauded how “the Alberta government moved quickly and decisively to improve the value of Alberta’s resources.”

It also echoed NDP campaign policies and slogans. It said “the government refused to make a bad situation worse through drastic cuts that would have put thousands more out of work.”

Ceci dismissed suggestions he was putting out a political document under the guise of a publicly funded government report as Albertans prepare to go to the polls.

Premier Rachel Notley can call an election at any time to start a 28-day campaign. Legislation dictates an election must be held before the end of May.

“I asked my officials to prepare the information because there’s good news in this path to (budget) balance,” said Ceci.

“I thought it’s been enough time since we last talked about it (in March 2018) that we should talk about it again.”

The legislature is to reconvene March 18 for a spring sitting.

Opposition parties have been criticizing Notley and her government for what they say is a misuse of government money and resources to push her party’s message before the campaign period.

Last weekend, Notley was criticized for making a campaign speech in the atrium of a hospital in violation of political neutrality rules at Alberta Health Services facilities.

Notley has also been giving campaign-style speeches.

Jason Nixon, house leader for the Opposition United Conservatives, said Ceci’s update contained similar political messaging.

“They’re trying to operate as a government while still campaigning across the province,” said Nixon.

“It’s time for an election. It’s time for Albertans to decide who is best to run this province.”

The UCP also said Ceci’s update affirms the province is racking up crushing debtloads by a party that has promised — and failed — to meet self-imposed deadlines to balance the books.

Alberta Party finance critic Greg Clark said the path to balancing the budget by 2023-2024 is unrealistic because non-renewable resource revenues would need to more than double to $12.3 billion by 2024.

“The entirety of their plan consists of holding expenses flat, an unlikely move for this government, and having resource revenue increase until the deficit is gone,” Clark said in a news release.

“They’re using the uncertainty of the energy market to cover for a number they pulled out of thin air, a number that just happened to balance their budget for them.”