CALGARY—Premier Rachel Notley says she and her cabinet have been surprised by the state of Alberta’s finances in the first few days since the NDP took over from Jim Prentice and the Progressive Conservatives.
“There’s no question that as we get briefed we are starting to find that the challenges are a bit bigger than what may have been featured in the Prentice government’s campaign,” Notley said Wednesday after her cabinet met for the first time.
“There’s no question that you will probably over time hear from us, ‘Gee, we’ve got some new information now that we are behind the curtain and we are going to have to adjust accordingly.”‘
She wouldn’t get specific with what the discoveries might mean in terms of how the party plans to deliver on its election platform, which was based on the previous government’s numbers.
“We are the ones that are in charge, but I also think that it is not unreasonable to expect that anyone who is new on the job take a bit of time to become well informed,” she said.
“Rushed decisions can be bad decisions and … it is in the best interests of Albertans that we continue with a careful, well-informed approach.”
Alberta’s new finance minister, a former Calgary city councillor, admitted he’s got a case of the nerves as he takes over during an economic downturn in the oilpatch.
“I kind of feel a little bit of the weight of the work and the promises we made, Joe Ceci said earlier in the day as he went into the meeting. “The economic situation and all of that is nerve-racking, but I’ve been to this rodeo a few times.
“The briefings are revealing and eye-opening and they make you want to get down to work right away.”
The budget brought down by the former Tory government before the May 5 election showed Alberta facing a $7-billion shortfall in revenues this year as a result of low oil prices.
The NDP toppled almost 44 years of successive Tory governments with a campaign that promised more taxes on the wealthy and corporations. The party also plans to raise the minimum wage to $15 by 2018 and review the royalties oil and gas companies are charged.
Notley and her 11 colleagues were sworn in at the Alberta legislature on Sunday. The premier has said there will be an interim budget in the coming weeks to keep the province functioning while the government works to have a full budget ready by the fall.
Ceci said work on the budget will begin next week. In the meantime, he’s watching oil prices closely.
“All the time. All the time. What’s it at now? $60?”
The price per barrel hovered just under US$58 much of the day Wednesday.