Stelmach says deficit shrinking

EDMONTON — Premier Ed Stelmach says he expects Alberta’s deficit will be far less than a record $7 billion projected three months ago.

EDMONTON — Premier Ed Stelmach says he expects Alberta’s deficit will be far less than a record $7 billion projected three months ago.

Stelmach told a radio talk show Tuesday he expects the deficit will end up closer to the $4.7 billion projection made in the April budget.

“By the time we end our fiscal year on March 31, we’ll be very, very close to our original budget estimates,” said Stelmach.

So far, no one in government has been willing to explain how the deficit will be reduced by more than $2 billion by the end of the fiscal year.

Finance Minister Iris Evans says details on why the deficit is shrinking will have to wait until the second-quarter fiscal update at the end of the month.

“I’m not ready with that document,” Evans said tersely after being surrounded by reporters Wednesday on her way into the assembly.

But Evans was willing to says that even though oil prices are higher than what the government had projected, this has been offset by a strong Canadian dollars, which hurts Alberta’s export revenues.

“Oil prices are up, but oil is still a lesser part of resource economy than (natural) gas is,” she said.

Treasury Board President Lloyd Snelgrove was equally vague, offering only that the lower deficit is the result of spending cuts and improved energy prices.

But he cautioned that there’s still a lot of volatility in the numbers, so the final deficit numbers are unpredictable.

“It may be closer to what we projected, but if you get all excited in the middle (of the year) when the numbers are moving, it’s not a real picture,” said Snelgrove.

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