Alberta ended fiscal year $33.3B in debt

The Alberta government ended the 2016-17 fiscal year with $33.3 billion in debt incurred to cover capital and operating expenses, an annual report released Thursday shows.

Figures released Thursday in annual report show province spending $1B per year on debt interest

Alberta Finance Minister Joe Ceci speaks about the Government of Alberta's 2016-17 year-end financial results in Edmonton on Thursday. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

The Alberta government ended the 2016-17 fiscal year with $33.3 billion in debt incurred to cover capital and operating expenses, an annual report released Thursday shows.

The report shows the overall debt, which includes the debt of the province of Alberta and the Alberta Capital Finance Authority which lends money to municipalities for infrastructure projects, was $49.6 billion as of March 31, the fiscal year-end.

The deficit was $263 million more than forecast in the 2016-17 budget. It ended the fiscal year at $10.8 billion.

Finance Minister Joe Ceci pointed to the low price of oil and the costs of the Fort McMurray wildfire as factors the government had to grapple with last year. But he insisted the government is holding the line on costs while GDP contracted by 3.5 per cent two years in a row.

"We're showing great restraint, my view is," Ceci said. "Departments are working with very little growth. But we're still growing as a province." 

Opposition critics denounced the continuing slide into red ink. Wildrose Leader Brian Jean said the report shows last year was one of the worst fiscal years in Alberta's history. 

"This budget alone drove us $13 billion further into debt," Jean said. "That's more than the entire budget for Alberta Health Services."

Wild Rose Leader Brian Jean tears into the NDP budget

6 years ago
Duration 0:34
The leader of the official Opposition slams the NDP budget after Alberta ends its fiscal year $33 billion in debt.

While the conditions exist for the province to recover economically, Jean said the NDP government is driving away investment with their policies and "anti-business ideology."

Ceci said he still expects the budget to return to a balanced position in six years, a goal Jean dismissed.

"I think that's a fantasy based upon their current spending," Jean argued, adding he doesn't expect the NDP will be in government after the 2019 election. 

Fort McMurray fire costs 

For the first time since the 1999-2000 fiscal year,  the province's net financial assets — the difference between total assets and liabilities — is in the red by $8.9 million.

Expenses were up by $519 million over what was forecast in the 2016-17 budget due to increases in social assistance payments, increased enrolment in schools, drug costs and physician compensation.

The government spent $1.4 billion on the climate leadership plan and $1 billion to service the debt.

The annual report also reveals the costs of the May 2016 wildfire in Fort McMurray. The government lost about $215 million in revenue and incurred roughly $300 million in expenses that were not offset by federal assistance payments.

The government spent $1.9 billion less on capital projects last year than forecast in the budget. That was due to reduced costs on some projects and delays in municipal projects.

Changes in funding criteria meant municipalities couldn't get some federal money in time to get their projects started.

On the revenue side, the province took in less corporate and personal income tax, which was offset somewhat by an increase in resource and investment revenue.

The government had to include the $1.1 billion cost for the coal phase-out payments as an expense in this year's report. 

Changes to the Balancing Pool had a big impact on the revenue side of the balance sheet.

The pool is used to manage the power purchase agreements (PPAs) that were set up when Alberta changed to a deregulated electricity market in the 1990s. The government's decision to incorporate the arm's-length agency under its budget resulted in a $2-billion decrease in revenue.

Electricity companies cancelled their PPAs last year because they became unprofitable under the government's new climate policies. The government has since settled lawsuits with all but one of the four companies.