Finance Minister Joe Ceci admits Alberta deficit to hit $10.4 billion

Finance Minister Joe Ceci finally uttered the words Thursday he tried so hard not to say just a day earlier, admitting that Alberta's projected deficit could reach a record this spring of $10.4 billion.

Though health care and education will be spared, Albertans can expect cuts in spring budget

Finance Minister Joe Ceci announced Wednesday the province's deficit projections could climb as high as $10.4 billion when its 2016-17 budget is tabled in the spring. (Amber Bracken/Canadian Press)

Finance Minister Joe Ceci finally uttered the words Thursday he tried so hard not to say just a day earlier, admitting that Alberta's projected deficit could reach a record this spring of $10.4 billion.

After refusing to say the deficit figure out loud during his third-quarter fiscal update Wednesday from the legislature, Ceci did so Thursday morning during an interview on CBC's Edmonton AM.

"It is up to $10.4 billion next year, and that's a lot, obviously," Ceci said.

Once again Ceci kept his sense of humour, and said: "$10.4 billion is not something I'm opposed to saying. I just choose to say it the way I said it, and (the media) had fun with it."

The global drop in oil prices has had a significant effect on provincial revenues and on the national economy, Ceci said.

With the spring budget expected to be tabled in early April, the finance minister has started to send signals that Albertans can expect cuts in the near future.

"We won't put people out of work, but we will be prudent with protecting needed services in this downturn," he said.

The province's deficit, initially projected at $6.3 billion last October, seems likely to grow into largest Alberta has even seen.

Although Ceci said health care and education will be spared from any cuts, other departments should brace for the impact of the revised budget.

"We believe that protecting health and education are necessary for the health of the province," Ceci said. "Those are bedrocks, solid things that need to be there for us.

"But we're not opposed to looking at other parts of government, we've already done that in so many ways."

Ceci said public sector layoffs and tax increases are not on the table.

"Now is not the time to throw people out of work, to destabilize our economy even further. Now is not the time to bring in additional taxes. We don't believe that Albertans want to go down that road."

The province has already received $251 million in financial relief from the federal government, but Ceci said the province will lobby for additional support, including  EI reforms for laid-off workers, and fast-tracked infrastructure investment for municipalities.

"The federal government could play a hand in getting Alberta through this tough time, by doing things that they've done in other provinces."

Ceci said he will reveal more details about the province's fiscal plan when he tables the budget. He would not confirm the exact date, but said he expects it will be in the first two weeks of April.

"We're confident that the program we have will help diversify our economy, and put us on a better standing so we're not reliant on the oil and gas sector entirely."


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