By Rod Nickel
WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - The Canadian province of Alberta, blindsided by a revenue crash due to pandemic lockdowns and lower oil prices, tripled its deficit estimate for the current fiscal year to C$24.2 billion ($18.41 billion) from C$7.3 billion previously.
Right-leaning Premier Jason Kenney had warned this week that Alberta would run a record-high deficit.
The province is usually one of Canada's wealthiest, but its reliance on energy revenues left it vulnerable this year when the pandemic triggered a drastic global reduction in air and road travel.
"These numbers are incredibly sobering to all of us," said Finance Minister Travis Toews. "We are facing the most significant economic challenge of our generation."
The province expects its real gross domestic product to plunge 8.8% in 2020 before growing 4.6% in 2021.
Toews said plans to balance Alberta's budget are delayed, and he intends to give a three-year fiscal update in November.
Alberta finished the last fiscal year with a C$12.2 billion deficit. Debt is forecast to reach C$99.6 billion by the end of the current fiscal year.
Revenue for the current 2020-21 year is estimated at C$38.4 billion, down from the previous estimate of C$50 billion, due to reduced income taxes and funds from natural resources and gaming.
The drop included the impact of a 13% cut in oil production, which may slash the government's oil and gas royalties by C$3.7 billion. It forecast U.S. benchmark oil prices to average $35.60 per barrel in 2020-21, down from Alberta's previous estimate of $58.
Kenney's United Conservative Party government boosted its spending forecast to C$62.6 billion from C$57.3 billion.
Alberta announced in June it will accelerate a corporate tax cut and spend C$10 billion on infrastructure to jump-start its economy.
Moody's Investors Service said in July it expected Canadian provinces to shift to stabilizing rising debt burdens once economic growth resumes.
(Reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Manitoba; Editing by Chris Reese)