CALGARY — Alberta Premier Rachel Notley says continued oil-price volatility could be affecting the province’s bottom line even more than the former Tory government predicted.
The NDP premier isn’t sharing much about what might be in the 2015-16 budget when it comes down in October.
But she does says keeping on top of oil prices remains a priority.
The price per barrel hovered around US$60 when Notley’s New Democrats were elected in May, but has since fallen to below US$40 a barrel.
The budget introduced but never passed by the Progressive Conservatives under Jim Prentice last March predicted a record $5-billion deficit for the current fiscal year.
Notley wouldn’t say after a byelection rally on Tuesday night what Albertans will still see in the budget.
“Our revenues have gone down perhaps more than what the original Prentice budget projected,” explained Notley. “At the same time, we need to … preserve those important public services for those Alberta families.”
Notley was at a rally for Calgary-Foothills candidate Bob Hawkesworth and said her government is focused on figuring out the final numbers.
“Those kinds of details will be coming out in the days and the months to come as we get together and introduce the budget,” she said. “I’m not going to announce the budget today, because we’re going to announce the budget at the end of October.”
Notley suggested the government remains responsible for carving itself out of any mess volatile crude prices create.
“We would not be doing our job if we did not look at where we could do that, while at the same time preserving and protecting frontline services,” she said.
“We’re seeing tremendous volatility with the price of oil, so what we’re going to do is keep an eye on that and look at what the projects are, look at where our opportunities for savings are, and … try to find the right balance.”
Finance Minister Joe Ceci has been touring the province to gather input for his budget. He has warned that challenges lie ahead as this will be the first full fiscal year with oil at drastically reduced prices.
Final numbers for last year showed the NDP took over Alberta’s finances with more than $1 billion in surplus cash — almost double than what the Conservatives had said. The extra revenue came from diverse sources, including more tax money and higher-than-expected investment income.
Ceci’s budget will have to tackle the reality of low oil prices while reflecting savings promises and priorities from the NDP campaign.
The Notley government has already announced $624 million in new spending to cover larger class sizes and more money for health care and social programs.
It has also raised taxes on large corporations to 12 per cent from 10 per cent and increased personal income taxes for those making more than $125,000 a year.