Alberta promises $1.2 billion in flood funding, won't balance budget

TORONTO (REUTERS) - Alberta Premier Alison Redford on Monday promised C$1 billion (S$1.2 billion) in initial funding to help pay for damage caused by major flooding this past weekend, and said the oil-rich province would no longer be able to balance its operating budget this year.

Ms Redford said funding was a preliminary contribution to pay for the initial cost of cleaning up the floods in southern Alberta that began last week and for those that affected the oil sands centre of Fort McMurray earlier this month.

The province said some of the money would be used to provide cash to thousands of evacuees and to help home and business owners anxious to begin reconstruction after the worst floods in the province's history.

Ms Redford said the initial funding would come from the province's contingency fund. The fund once held C$11 billion but has dwindled since the financial crisis.

Ms Redford, who was speaking to reporters at a news conference overlooking the still-swollen Bow River and the closed towers of Calgary's downtown, said the fund could handle the expense because of her government's plan, introduced in the March budget, to tap financial markets to fund infrastructure spending.

However, the government had planned to balance the operating side of its budget in the current fiscal year. Now, with the prospect of paying at least C$1 billion to repair flood-damaged infrastructure, Ms Redford backed away from that promise.

"Are we sticking to plans to balance the budget?" Ms Redford said at a news conference in Calgary. "No we're not."

The costs of the flood, which killed at least three people, has not yet been tallied. But much of the bill for reconstruction will come from the federal government under a complex funding formula. However, Redford warned that work could stretch out for as long as a decade.

"I don't want to scare people," she said. "But when we talk about what's going to happen, we're talking about a 10-year plan."

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