CALGARY – Alberta Finance Minister Joe Ceci heard some pointed criticism of his government’s $10.3-billion budget deficit and rapidly increasing debt levels Monday after touting the province’s plan at a Calgary Chamber of Commerce breakfast.
Ceci defended the budget he tabled last week that showed Alberta’s debt would rise to $71 billion by 2019/2020 as the NDP government plans to return to a balanced budget in 2023.
“A priority for this government is bringing down the deficit thoughtfully over time,” Ceci said, adding that he wouldn’t cut front-line public services to balance the budget.
Calgary Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Adam Legge used his closing remarks at the breakfast to criticize the government’s fiscal planning saying “2023 is too far off” and that “some of the assumptions built in (to the budget) are based more on hope than being realistic.”
“Our view is that hope should not be a strategy,” Legge said, adding that the budget is “far too reliant on resource revenues as a driver of our fortune or misfortune and we have to get off that roller coaster in Alberta.”
Successive provincial governments in Alberta have tried and failed to make the province less dependent on non-renewable resource revenues, which drive a boom-and-bust cycle in the region’s economy and also in the province’s revenues.
Legge said that last week’s provincial budget doesn’t solve the problem either and “doesn’t take enough of a step toward tackling the deficit. A balanced budget is a better part of a decade away.”
On Friday, Moody’s Investor Service and DBRS Ltd. issued reports that criticized the deficit and spending plans saying the debt levels could strain the province’s current credit rating. Both credit ratings agencies downgraded Alberta’s debt after last year’s budget, which makes borrowing more expensive.