Provincial fiscal quarterly report shows deficit has dropped

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The provincial deficit has been reduced by $1.4 billion from the original forecast in the 2017 provincial budget, the NDP government said this week.

The provincial government tabled the third quarter financial update on Wednesday morning and predicted the 2017-2018 deficit to finish the fiscal year at $9.1 billion.

Provincial Finance Minister Joe Ceci said that the drop is due to increased oil revenues and the removal of the $500 million risk adjustment.

But Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock MLA Glenn van Dijken said that the government is not doing enough to control spending and get the deficit under control.

“The government wants us to believe that everything is roses but we are lowering the deficit $1.4 billion dollars and $500 million of that is just writing off the risk adjustment,” van Dijken said.

St. Albert MLA Marie Renaud said that the quarterly report showed that there are signs that the economy is recovering such as an increase in GDP growth. Right now the growth is forecast to hit 4.5 per cent for 2017, which compared to just 2.6 per cent in the budget and four per cent at the second fiscal update.

“This rebound is hitting all of the correct markers. That is really positive and it is demonstrated that the approach that we chose to take on the advice of some very smart people is working,” Renaud said.

Along with growth, the provincial government is saying the labour market in the province has improved.

“Nearly 90,000 full-time jobs were created over the last year and Alberta’s GDP growth led the country at 4.5 per cent in 2017,” Ceci said.

Ceci said that the jobs were added primarily in the private sector with 12,500 in mining and oil and gas production, around 23,000 in manufacturing and 8,000 in finance and real estate. There were also 7,100 added in transportation and warehousing and 5,700 added in accommodation and the food service industry. During that same period Alberta lost 43,000 part-time jobs.

Alberta’s unemployment rate also dropped down to 6.8 per cent, which is lower than the 7.6 per cent forecast in March 2017.

Spending is rising to around $55.9 billion, which is around $1 billion more than projected at last year’s budget. This is due to increases in RCMP salaries, an increase for services for children and people with disabilities. The debt will hit just under $42 billion this year and debt payments will sit at $1.4 billion.

Van Dijken said the province continues to spend too much and is still relying on oil revenue to bail them out.

“We have increased oil revenues but we have total expenses up too,” van Dijken said. “Everyone talks about getting off the roller coaster of these oil energy revenues and it looks to me that they are spending, spending, spending and they are looking to the oil energy rollercoaster to bail them out.”

Renaud said that the government has chosen to not cut essential services during the downturn while containing and reducing costs. The MLA said that the provincial government has continued to invest in infrastructure across the province, including new schools in St. Albert and a new NICU unit for the Sturgeon hospital.

“During tough times it is really important to not slash and burn. In the long run that will cost a lot more than being focused and forward,” Renaud said.

Ceci said on Wednesday that the spring budget will be released on March 22.

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Jennifer Henderson

Jennifer Henderson joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2016. She writes about municipal, provincial and federal politics; court and crime; general news and features.