Premier Jason Kenney, left, and Finance Minister Travis Toews speak about the government’s finances on Tuesday, May 7, 2019, in Edmonton .
Greg Southam / Postmedia, file
Alberta’s deficit was $2.1 billion less in 2018-19 than estimated in the last provincial budget, according to the latest government numbers.The $6.7-billion deficit is significantly lower than in the budget laid out by the NDP in March 2018. It was the last budget tabled before the April provincial election that saw the UCP win a majority victory.But Finance Minister Travis Toews said the annual report released Friday shows “irresponsible overspending” by the previous government.NDP Deputy Leader Sarah Hoffman countered that the deficit was even smaller than the province forecast in February’s third-quarter financials.“We thought it would be $1.9 billion smaller and it ended up being $2.1 billion smaller, so this is really the … last update about the NDP’s track record on the economy,” she said.“The financials were well intact and we were actually moving a little bit faster towards a path to balance.”She said the government has accused the NDP of having books that were off.“They weren’t,” she said.Total revenue for the year was also higher than expected, calculated at $49.6 billion. The $1.7-billion boost compared to Budget 2018 is mainly attributed to resource revenue, said the annual report. Bitumen royalties were $571 million higher than in 2017-18 and $1.4 billion more than estimated in Budget 2018.In May, the Alberta government unveiled a blue-ribbon panel to examine what Premier Jason Kenney described as a “critical fiscal situation.”Kenney said the group of experts — including chair Janice MacKinnon, a former Saskatchewan finance minister, and vice-chair Mike Percy, a former Alberta Liberal MLA and University of Alberta professor emeritus — would provide advice on how to get the province out of a “debt hole.”In its 2018 budget, the then NDP government estimated debt would reach $96 billion by 2023.The latest report showed fiscal and capital plan debt clocking in just shy of $60 billion for 2018-19.“This level of debt is unsustainable and we will be taking every measure possible to ensure this is brought under control to get Alberta on a path to balance,” Toews said in a statement Friday.Earlier this month, the province introduced legislation to delay wage talks with unions representing thousands of Alberta workers. Unions called the bill, which will delay negotiations until after Oct. 31, an “egregious attack.”Toews said the move means a “responsible path forward” while the province waits to hear back from the blue-ribbon panel.The panel, which has already started its work, is set to report back Aug. 15.Kenney said his government will table a budget in the firstname.lastname@example.org/clareclancy