Alberta's deficit projected to reach $10.9 billion as province faces wildfire related challenges
Joe Ceci, Alberta’s Finance Minister, predicts the 2016-2017 net fiscal impact of the wildfire in and around Fort McMurray will approach the $500 million mark.
Ceci revealed the details of the province’s first quarter update in Edmonton on Tuesday afternoon.
According to the minister of finance, the province will provide a total of $647 million in disaster relieft assistance and the expected loss of wildfire-related revenue is estimated at $300 million. The $452 million provided through federal transfers will not counteract all of the loss.
As a result, Alberta's deficit is forecasted to reach $10.9 billion, $527 million more than estimated in Alberta's budget.
“In the face of the oil price collapse and the economic impact of the wildfires, our government continues to take a prudent approach, controlling spending, protecting critical public services, and taking action to create jobs and diversify our economy,” said Ceci.
"We're not going to make knee-jerk cuts, not going to make it worse for Albertans. If we stay with our plan we'll be fine."
When Ceci released the budget back in April, he projected a $10.4B deficit. That was based off the price of oil hovering around $36 USD per barrel.
In April, Ceci said the budget would not be balanced until 2024 at the earliest.
Lori Williams, a political science professor at Mount Royal University, says the increase to Alberta's deficit has little to do with the party in power.
"The primary reason why we're in the fiscal situation we're in is oil prices and the Fort McMurray wildfire," explained Williams. "The better news is that it looks like we are going to be moving into growth territory in the near future."
"Next year, at this time, likely things will be better."
While some financial experts say we’ve likely hit rock-bottom when it comes to oil prices, unemployment is likely to get worse before it gets better.
“My guess is we will return to some modest recovery in 2017 but really an emphasis on modest,” said Todd Hirsch, ATB Financial’s chief economist. “1 percent growth is a recovery but it is still going to feel pretty recessionary for a lot of Albertans with that unemployment rate remaining elevated even if it stabilizes.
“When does it feel more permanent like boom times? That’s hard to say but my guess is we’re looking at at least three or four years of what will feel like pretty sluggish growth before eventually enough diversity in our economy starts to really create a lot of new jobs and it starts to feel like a boom time again.”
Hirsch says that the unemployment rate could reach as high as 10 percent.