Alberta budget to lay out plan to end deficits by 2023

Finance Minister Joe Ceci is promising Thursday’s provincial budget will have a plan to balance Alberta’s budget in the next five years.

Finance Minister Joe Ceci will unveil the budget around 3:15 p.m. MT on Thursday

Finance Minister Joe Ceci will table the government's 2018-19 budget on Thursday. (Caitlin Hanson/CBC)

Finance Minister Joe Ceci is promising Thursday's provincial budget will have a plan to balance Alberta's budget in the next five years.

"The budget is going to be balanced in 2023," Ceci said at a pre-budget news conference on Wednesday. "I'm going to show you a plan in the budget."

Figures released in the third-quarter update suggest Alberta will finish the current fiscal year with a deficit of $9.1 billion.

With a provincial election looming next year, the NDP government needs to show deficit-averse Albertans how it plans to get back to balance. In other words, spending the same amount it brings in each year.

Ceci's plan won't address how the government plans to pay down the debt it has incurred over the past three years in an effort to boost the economy through infrastructure spending. He said the government wants to stop running deficits first.

The debt is forecast to be  $41.7 billion, or 12.4 per cent of gross domestic product, by the end of the 2017-18 fiscal year..

Jason Kenney, leader of Alberta's Official Opposition United Conservative Party, said he hopes the government will unveil a credible plan to balance the budget, and start paying down the debt. But he isn't holding his breath.

"I suspect there will be some reduction in their projected budget figure, but I think the finance minister has already admitted that's based on hopeful projections, as opposed to real fiscal plans," he said, referring to Ceci's admission the government is factoring in future royalties related to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion in its balanced budget plan.

"Basing this on a pipeline which is bogged down in delays right now is not a credible fiscal plan."

The return to balance won't come through drastic cuts to frontline services.

Instead, the government plans to bring spending on capital projects back to typical levels now that the economy is improving.

The budget will have money for some cultural projects.

Some budget items have already been announced. Funding will be made available for rural municipalities to set up or supplement bus service to regional centres like Red Deer, Lethbridge and Grande Prairie to fill gaps left by cuts to Greyhound routes.

Transportation Minister Brian Mason said the cost of the two-year pilot project will be revealed in the budget.

The government has already announced it will spend $43 million to create 3,000 post-secondary spaces over five years to train people to work in the technology sector.

The program will dedicate an additional $7 million to scholarships, with some funding aimed at increasing the number of women in the tech sector.

The province is also offering a tax credit for digital gaming and media companies to set up in Alberta. The program would cover 25 per cent of salaries and bonuses for staff.

The government is also providing $1 billion in grants and loans over eight years to incent companies to build two to five partial upgraders in Alberta.