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Editorial: In oil we trust

The province's somewhat improved fiscal outlook is due to an increase in the price of oil. —
The province's somewhat improved fiscal outlook is due to an increase in the price of oil. — 123RF Stock Photo

It’s hard to find joy in any aspect of yesterday’s announcement about the state of the province’s finances.

Yes, we will end the year hopefully owing a little less than we expected to owe.

But we’ll still add plenty to our ever-growing debt. This year’s mid-year financial statement, issued Tuesday by Finance Minister Tom Osborne, suggested that, at the end of the fiscal year, we’ll only have $547 million in additional debt, instead of the $682 million that was forecast in the provincial budget.

So, we’re still standing in a hole, but it’s shallower than expected.

Did we tighten our belts and save money? No.

Did we find new ways to keep spending inside this province instead of sending money out of province? No.

Did we do anything at all? No. Not appreciably.

Instead, rising world commodity prices — oil prices — meant more money turned up on the government’s balance sheet.

We depend on an environmentally damaging business to keep our economic lights on.

Think about that for a moment.

We owe $136 million less than we were expecting to.

And we owe virtually all of that change to the chance location of a non-renewable resource that we can’t claim to even have a hand in processing, a resource that we are merely draining and spending the proceeds from. Not only that, but it is a resource that, on the whole, is far from healthy for the environment.

Whether you’re talking greenhouse gases from the production or consumption of oil, or whether you’re looking at plastic pollution in the oceans — plastics made with petroleum — petroleum products from this province are some small part of the problem.

We depend on an environmentally damaging business to keep our economic lights on.

We are in a strange spot — hurting fiscally, but not hurting enough.

We don’t even qualify for equalization in this country, because, all things being equal, our resource revenues mean we outstrip the revenues of other provinces.

But we sure don’t like to point out how many of our financial eggs are in the oil basket.

The quote Osborne sent out in his news release on the change in this year’s deficit numbers? “The balanced approach we established with The Way Forward is working, and economic indicators are showing that our economy is improving. We have reduced the overall annual deficit by nearly $2 billion since the situation we faced in December 2016. We have done this while maintaining public access to services and promoting economic development. We will continue to act as responsible stewards for the public purse, improving our fiscal situation while building for our future.”

The quote doesn’t even mention increased oil prices.

So let’s keep our current fiscal position in context.

We’re broke.

We’re just slightly less broke than we expected to be, with virtually no credit to our own actions.

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