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Alberta

Alberta’s projected surplus balloons: Mid-year budget update

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Mid-year update: Keeping Alberta’s finances on track

Alberta’s government continues to manage the province’s finances responsibly with the future in mind.

Alberta continues to lead the nation in economic growth and is forecasting a surplus of $5.5 billion in 2023-24, an increase of $3.2 billion from Budget 2023. The province’s fiscal outlook continued to improve in the second quarter of 2023-24, boosted by strong bitumen royalties and higher income tax revenues.

However, volatile oil prices, continued inflation challenges and uncertainty due to slowing global growth could still affect the province’s finances going forward. Debt servicing costs will be higher than previous years due to higher interest rates, reinforcing the importance of the government’s commitment to balance the budget.

“Alberta continues to stand out as a leader when it comes to fiscal stability and economic resilience in the midst of so much global uncertainty. Our second-quarter fiscal update is another positive report, showing strength in Alberta’s finances and economy and positioning us for future growth and prosperity.”

Nate Horner, President of Treasury Board and Minister of Finance

The government continues to spend responsibly, maintaining its commitment to keep funds in the province’s contingency for disasters and emergencies. The government’s new fiscal framework requires the government to use at least half of available surplus cash to pay down debt, freeing up money that can support the needs of Albertans for generations. The government continues to reduce the province’s debt burden and will pay down a forecasted $3.2 billion in debt this fiscal year.

Alberta’s government is turning its focus to developing next year’s budget, so it supports Albertans’ needs and the province’s economic growth while maintaining the government’s commitment to responsible spending within the fiscal framework. Budget 2024 consultations are open and Albertans are encouraged to share their feedback to help set the province’s financial priorities.

Revenue

  • Revenue for 2023-24 is forecast at $74.3 billion, a $3.7-billion increase from Budget 2023. The increase is due to increases across different revenue streams. In addition, the price of West Texas Intermediate (WTI) oil is forecast to average US$79 per barrel over the course of the fiscal year, in line with the Budget 2023 forecast.
    • Personal and corporate income tax revenue is forecast at $21.8 billion, $1.8 billion higher than at budget.
    • Bitumen royalties are forecast at $14.4 billion, an increase of $1.8 billion from budget.
    • Overall resource revenue is forecast at $19.7 billion, $1.3 billion higher than the budget forecast.
  • Beginning in 2024, Alberta’s government will continue to offer fuel tax relief when oil prices are high, even as the province transitions back to the original fuel tax relief program, which is based on average quarterly oil prices.
    • Albertans will save some or all of the provincial fuel tax on gasoline and diesel when oil prices are $80 per barrel or higher during each quarter’s review period.
    • Although oil prices have been below $80 in recent weeks, Albertans will continue to save at least four cents per litre on the provincial fuel tax in the first three months of 2024 as the tax is phased back in.
    • The government’s fuel tax relief efforts, which include the pause to the end of 2023 and additional savings over the first three months of 2024, are forecast to reduce other tax revenue by $524 million in 2023-24.

Expense

  • Expense for 2023-24 is forecast at $68.8 billion, a $481-million increase from Budget 2023.
  • Capital grants are up marginally from Budget 2023, but down from the first-quarter forecast, mainly due to funding schedules for Calgary and Edmonton LRT projects.
  • Debt servicing costs are forecast to increase $309 million from budget, a reflection of ongoing high interest rates and inflation.
  • Total expense has increased by $1.9 billion, $0.5 billion is directly offset by revenue and $1.4 billion is absorbed by the $1.5-billion contingency.
  • In total, $123 million of the 2023-24 contingency remains unallocated.
  • $1.2 billion in disaster and emergency costs are forecast for the current fiscal year.
    • $750 million for fighting wildfires in the province
    • $165 million for AgriRecovery to support livestock producers affected by dry conditions
    • $253 million to provide financial assistance to communities for uninsurable damage from spring wildfires and summer flooding
    • $61 million for evacuation and other support
  • The operating expense forecast has increased by $319 million, including an additional:
    • $301 million for Health
    • $48 million for Advanced Education
    • $48 million for Energy and Minerals
    • $33 million for Mental Health and Addiction
    • $30 million for Education
    • $14 million for Indigenous Relations
    • Offset by decreases of $187 million for lower-than-expected program take-up of affordability payments and re-profiling of TIER spending to 2024-25.

Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund

  • The Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund’s market value on Sept. 30, 2023, was $21.4 billion, up from the $21.2 billion reported at March 31, 2023.
    • The Heritage Fund returned 0.9 per cent over the first six months of 2023-24.
    • Over the five-year period ending on Sept. 30, 2023, the Heritage Fund returned 5.9 per cent, which is 0.5 per cent above the return of its passive benchmark. While the Heritage Fund is outperforming its benchmark return, it is below the long-term real return target of 6.9 per cent, again a result of interest pressures.
    • The Heritage Fund generated net investment income of $1 billion in the first half of the fiscal year.

Economic outlook

  • Alberta’s economy continues to be resilient, with continued growth projected over the three-year forecast.
  • Alberta’s real gross domestic product (GDP) is expected to grow 2.8 per cent in 2023, in line with the Budget 2023 forecast.
  • Despite interest rate increases, high prices and slower global economic growth, Alberta’s economy is forecast to keep expanding. The pace of growth, however, will be slower compared with the last two years when the province was recovering from the pandemic.

Alberta Fund

  • The amount of surplus cash available for debt repayment and the Alberta Fund is determined after a number of required cash adjustments have been made. For 2023-24, this includes $5.1 billion from the 2022-23 final results to start the year.
  • The Alberta Fund contribution for 2023-24 is forecast at $1.6 billion.
  • Money in the Alberta Fund can be used toward additional debt repayment, the Heritage Savings Trust Fund, or one-time initiatives that do not permanently increase government spending.

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In a televised address from Edmonton, Danielle Smith, the premier of Alberta, delivers an update on her government’s vision and legislative priorities.

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Alberta looking to ban electronic vote tabulators ahead of next provincial election

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From LifeSiteNews

By Anthony Murdoch

electronic voting tabulators, which were supposed to speed up vote counting, instead saw election results delayed due with workers having to manually enter the results that each tabulator printed out.

The conservative Premier of Alberta, Danielle Smith, has confirmed she is looking to ban the use of electronic vote tabulators in future provincial elections after issues with them in the 2023 election saw massive delays in the tallying of votes.  

Smith, according to a report from True North, while speaking to a United Conservative Party (UCP) fundraiser on January 26 in the community of Bonnyville was asked if she would “end the use of voting tabulators across the province?” 

Smith replied with a firm “yes.” 

The 2023 Alberta provincial elections held in May saw Smith and her UCP win a majority, although a slim one, over the left-wing Alberta New Democratic Party (NDP).

Elections Alberta used what is called a Vote Anywhere Service, which allowed anyone to vote at any voting place regardless of which riding (jurisdiction) they were actually voting in. While paper ballots were used for the election, electronic tabulators were used to count the votes from all hand ballots. A form was then printed out with the result of each riding from the tabulators count of the hand ballots.  

However, the electronic voting tabulators, which were supposed to speed up vote counting, instead saw election results delayed due with workers having to manually enter the results that each tabulator printed out.  

Elections Alberta noted in June 2023, per True North, that “[w]e did not use any electronic data transfer from the tabulators, as the tabulators used for advance voting were never connected to a network at any time.” 

“As a result, it was a manual process to verify and enter these results.”  

As for Smith, before the 2023 election, she noted that she was confident in Elections Alberta’s plan to use electronic tabulators, as “we have the ability to do a hand count as a follow up in the event there are close results, I believe that’s going to be sufficient.” 

“That’s, I think, something that people expect in democracy – that you should be able to verify a vote if results end up very close,” she added.  

Elections Alberta, however, has pushed back on returning to hand counting ballots, saying it would increase the manual workload of employees.

There were many close results on election night, with the NDP losing a few seats by only a handful of votes in some Calgary ridings.  

Smith gave no timeline as to how or when she would make the change.

Many large municipalities in Alberta, including the province’s two biggest cities, Calgary and Edmonton, use electronic tabulators for ballot counting.

Issues surrounding electronic voting machines as well as tabulators came to a head in the aftermath of the 2020 U.S. presidential election, which saw Joe Biden declared the winner over Donald Trump. 

A report published by LifeSiteNews last year documented how a computer programmer, Clinton Eugene Curtis, who had previously testified to Congress on the integrity of voting machines, warned lawmakers in Arizona to never trust them.  

“Don’t use machines, because you can never, ever trust them to give you a fair election,” said Curtis. 

“There are too many ways to hack them. You can hack them at the level that I did when you first build them, you can hack them from the outside, you can hack them with programs that load themselves on the side. It’s impossible to secure them. You will never beat the programmer. The programmer always owns the universe.”  

Of note is that Curtis is a Democrat who had worked as a programmer for NASA, as well as the Department of Defense and other government agencies.

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