Alberta Finance Minister Joe Ceci was in Red Deer on Tuesday to open the dialogue with local business, municipal, non-profit and education leaders as the NDP gets ready to release its first budget in October.
Ceci met with members of Red Deer and District Chamber of Commerce, Mayor Tara Veer and city manager Craig Curtis, Red Deer College representatives, and 120 people in the non-profit sector.
“All of them were informed groups of people. I think it was helpful to listen and understand what their issues are and how we can work together,” Ceci said on Tuesday. He has been meeting with similar groups across the province since August to talk about the provincial budget.
On Monday in a first quarter update, the NDP told Albertans to expect a $5.9 to $6.5 billion deficit this year due to stunted oil prices.
The fully revised budget will be released after the legislature resumes sitting Oct. 26.
Ceci didn’t have much to say about the recent 8.8 per cent jump in crude oil prices that reached $49.20 US a barrel.
“I’m taking a longer view than today, or yesterday, or tomorrow. I have a good feeling about our gross domestic product improving in 2016. That’s what the forecast is so I’m feeling confident about our long-term future in Alberta.”
He said a lot of the local Chamber of Commerce members he met were connected to the energy sector, but not all of them, and people shared ideas on how government can assist the economy by increasing transportation infrastructure, agri-business development, increasing access to capital to invest in businesses and keeping the tax environment competitive.
“They were trying to emphasize that now is a good time to put some real meat into diversification programs and to work co-operatively with them to make that happen.”
Ceci said he also heard about the importance of provincial grant programs like the Municipal Sustainability Initiative for the city’s development.
“We have a really focused minister in the Municipal Affairs area, and other parts of the cabinet, who understand the connection government has with municipalities is a critical one for the development of Alberta generally, but also Red Deer specifically.”
He said the provincial budget will focus on supporting infrastructure development to put Albertans to work, and job creation for young Albertans as well as providing businesses with the skilled labour force to succeed.