Alberta's deficit will be "in the range" of $5.4-billion next year, Finance Minister Joe Ceci said Tuesday, sticking to a spring forecast even as skidding oil prices prompt deeper cuts in the energy sector.
Mr. Ceci kicked off a series of consultations with business and non-profit groups as the NDP government prepares its first budget, which is expected this fall. He declined to specify a date for the budget's release, but he noted that the provincial legislature resumes sitting on Oct. 26 – a week after the federal election.
"Global oil prices are obviously a major concern for not only me and the work I'm doing, but for Albertans in general," he said. "We have a significant focus on that every day."
A $5.4-billion deficit is "probably in the range of what we'll be seeing in the fall," he said.
Under the Progressive Conservatives, the previous Alberta government forecast a deficit of roughly $5-billion for the 2015-16 fiscal year.
Economic conditions have deteriorated markedly, however, as oil prices skid below $50 (U.S.) a barrel amid ample supplies and lacklustre demand.
Last week, Suncor Energy Inc. and Cenovus Energy Inc. were among major energy companies that announced another round of cuts to budgets and staffing levels, adding to thousands of job losses in Alberta since last summer.
On Tuesday, West Texas intermediate oil closed at $45.74 a barrel – about 17 per cent under what the Tories assumed in their spring budget.
Mr. Ceci said government departments may have to tighten their belts as low oil prices cut into revenues. "We haven't set absolute targets yet for departments and ministers, but we know that there is a challenge that we have to address," he said.