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Oil-rich Alberta nearing end of recession

Finance minister says it's still too early to declare an economic victory.

By Daniel J. Graeber
Oil-rich Alberta nearing end of recession
Alberta Finance Minister Joe Ceci says it's too soon to declare an end to recession, but indications point to growth. Photo by the provincial government of Alberta.

EDMONTON, Alberta, Nov. 29 (UPI) -- A rebound in crude oil prices and recovery in the sector in general means the economy in Alberta province is primed for growth, the finance minister said.

The province was scorched by wildfires in May, which idled about 1 million barrels per day worth of regional oil production. The net impact on the provincial economy of about $387 million, plus lower crude oil prices, meant Alberta was at one point this year anticipating an $8 billion deficit.

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With crude oil prices holding in the upper $40 per barrel range and wildfire reconstruction in full swing, Finance Minister Joe Ceci said the provincial economy was on the cusp of growth.

"While it's too soon to say Alberta's economy turned a corner, there are some hopeful signs that it's stabilizing," he said in a statement. "We are keeping a steady hand on the tiller and sticking to our approach of controlling spending, protecting critical public services, and supporting job growth and the diversification of our economy."

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Ceci said it may take until the next decade to balance the provincial budget, though recovery is expected to emerge with growth in terms of gross domestic product of 2.3 percent for 2017. Unemployment in the province is expected to remain steady at 8 percent while total income taxes are on pace to decline. Revenue from non-renewable resources, meanwhile, is on pace to grow and the government raised its forecast for the price of oil by 7 percent to $45 per barrel.

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The provincial government in September unveiled a $23 million package to help pay for long-term, locally developed projects meant to create jobs and diversify the provincial economy. While much of the region relies in part on the energy sector, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said the core component of economic difficulties was the lack of diversification.

Apart from energy, sectors like forest and agriculture are supporting rural Alberta economies, with agriculture accounting for more than $7 billion in annual exports.

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For the nation as a whole, the federal Bank of Canada said the economy was retooling ,with the service sector -- which includes everything from retail to real estate -- driving growth.

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