EDMONTON — Alberta Finance Minister Joe Ceci says Thursday's budget will not only contain a huge deficit, but also a plan on how to dig out of it.
"A $10.4-billion deficit is serious, but it is manageable,'' Ceci said Wednesday.
"And we will show when we release our fiscal plan tomorrow that we are reducing the deficit year over year over year. With a growing economy and (by) reducing deficit, we will find ourselves back in balance.''
Ceci commented after posing for photographers with new workboots, as per a parliamentary tradition that a finance minister gets a new pair of shoes before budget day.
Alberta Finance Minister Joe Ceci donates his work boots to Women Building Futures student Kim Brurtton. (Photo: Jason Franson/CP)
Premier Rachel Notley's government has already announced or signalled core elements of the 2016-17 budget, including the $10.4 billion in red ink.
Ceci attributed the heavy deficit to a steep and precipitous drop in oil revenue over the last two years.
West Texas Intermediate, the benchmark price for oil, fell below US$30 a barrel in January, but has recovered slightly and hovers in the low $40s. It was more than US $100 a barrel in the summer of 2014.
The low prices have dampened the bottom lines of energy producing provinces across the country.
"A $10.4-billion deficit is serious, but it is manageable.''
The government of Newfoundland and Labrador, another province heavily reliant on energy income, is also to table a budget Thursday. Tax hikes, job losses and spending cuts are among grim expectations as the oil price slide takes its toll there as well.
Notley's provincewide TV address last week revealed this year's resource revenue will total $1.4 billion compared with almost $9 billion in the 2014-15 budget year.
Ceci and Notley have said that some new programs will be delayed or spread over a longer time, but that front-line jobs will not be cut. An accelerated $34-billion infrastructure program is to continue.
Spending on seniors housing
The government also plans to spend an additional $500 million or more in seniors housing.
"It's not an austerity budget,'' said Ceci.
The oil plunge has resulted in tens of thousands of job losses. Ceci said the budget will have more details on a plan to diversify the economy and create employment.
"You'll be getting some depth and detail about different aspects (on a) suite of programs that will help Albertans get back to work.''
Fall budget aided small business
The NDP's budget last fall freed up $2 billion for investments and loans to aid small and medium-sized businesses and Alberta growth companies.
But a signature job creation program, promised in last year's election campaign, has been scrapped. The plan was to create 27,000 new jobs a year through 2017 by paying a portion of the salary for new hires by eligible employers.
"It's not an austerity budget.''
Economic Development Minister Deron Bilous said Monday the government had received enough evidence to be persuaded that the program would not be effective.
The budget is also to include details of a new carbon tax set to begin Jan. 1. It's part of Alberta's climate-change plan and is to provide incentives to go greener by increasing the cost of everything from gas at the pumps to home heating and electricity.
The tax is expected to bring in $3 billion a year, but the government plans to give rebates to low and middle-income Albertans.
Opposition wants tax cancelled
Opposition Wildrose Leader Brian Jean said the government needs to rethink the tax given the sluggish economy.
"I would cancel it immediately,'' he said.
Progressive Conservative interim leader Ric McIver said he wants to see a plan to pay back provincial debt that is projected to reach almost $50 billion by the end of the decade.
"That's what Albertans deserve,'' he said.
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EDMONTON — Alberta's NDP government tabled its first budget Tuesday. A look at some of the winners and losers: Files from The Canadian Press
Winners — Low-income families: New Alberta Child Benefit to assist families earning less than $41,220. Parents to get up to $1,100 for one child and as much as $550 each for three additional children. Family Tax Credit to be enhanced so more lower- and middle-class families can get access to it and draw from it for longer periods. Files from The Canadian Press
Winners — Employers and people looking for work: A two-year job incentive program is to give companies of all sizes, as well as non-profits, $5,000 for each new job they create. Meant to support 27,000 new jobs each year. New measures to improve access to capital for small- and medium-sized businesses. Files from The Canadian Press
Losers — Drinkers and smokers: The cost of cigarettes goes up by $5 a carton. A case of 12 beers goes up 24 cents and a bottle of wine is increased by 18 cents. Files from The Canadian Press
Losers — The insured: There is an insurance premium tax hike of one per cent. Files from The Canadian Press
Losers — Politicians: Cabinet ministers, political staff and members of the legislature are to be under a salary freeze for the remainder of the current four-year legislature term. Files from The Canadian Press
Winners — The sick and those in need: More money for services to help children and families in need, including $15 million to support women's shelters. Operational funding for health is to increase to almost $21 billion by 2018. Files from The Canadian Press
Winners — Construction workers: The province plans to spend $34 billion over the next five years to ramp up construction for roads, schools, hospitals and other facilities. Files from The Canadian Press
Winners — Students: There is a two-year tuition freeze for post-secondary students. An additional 380 teachers, plus 150 support staffers, to be hired for grade schools. Files from The Canadian Press
Losers — Future taxpayers: Starting next year, the province plans to begin borrowing for the first time in 20 years to manage its day-to-day spending. Debt for capital is expected to hit $36.6 billion by 2018. Files from The Canadian Press