A balanced budget by 2023.
That’s the goal for Finance Minister Joe Ceci and Alberta’s provincial government, as outlined by the 2018 budget that was presented to legislature on Thursday, March 22.
Ceci opened up the speech by touching on the strides that Alberta has made over the past year, having achieved a real GDP growth estimated at 4.5%, housing growing by 20%, rig activity by 66%, retail sales by 7.5% and exports on oil production increasing by nearly 30%.
He said that the government is expecting a $1.5 billion reduction to the deficit that was forecast a year ago, bringing it down to $8.8 billion for the year.
A large part of the road to recovery from the recession, Ceci said, is with diversification.
The minister touched on the three largest pipeline projects currently underway in Alberta: The Keystone XL, Enbridge’s Line 3 replacement, and the hotly contested Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion.
“When complete, these pipelines will provide critical market access as oil sands production rises and emissions remain capped, supporting new investment and jobs,” he said.
The new pipelines are expected to increase Alberta’s GDP by about 1.5% by 2023.
Another $13 billion in investments towards the province’s Petrochemical Diversification Program is expected as well.
$6 million has been put aside for the 2018 budget to go towards technology-related post secondary program seats, with that number expected to increase to $43 million per year by 2022-2023.
$400 million from this year’s budget will be going towards building new schools, adding 600 new teachers, 300 new support workers, and providing a school nutrition program for 30,000 Albertan students.
A large part of this year’s budget will be going towards Health – a total of $22.1 billion, which is a growth of 3% from last year.
Ceci noted that more funds would be allocated towards supporting those Albertans who are affected by the opioid crisis, substance use issues, or mental health problems, with $87 million being put aside for addictions and mental health in 2018-2019.
$800 million is being put towards strengthening the province’s child intervention system, a $60 million increase over 2017’s allocated funds for the same programs.
An additional 4,500 affordable childcare spaces will also be created over the next year to build on the current $25-per day child care pilot program.
And finally, an investment of $11 million will go towards the Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services to allow for expanded counselling and crisis support.
While revenue has risen and the deficit has decreased year over year, the government’s faith in future pipeline projects providing the revenue boost that will get them to a balance budget could be viewed as optimistic – especially with BC’s recent push-back against the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion.