Alberta finance minister Travis Toews believes that the country's energy industry can help drive Canada’s recovery following COVID-19, even as the pandemic and collapsing oil prices drive the province toward a record deficit.

The province said in its fiscal update on Thursday that its deficit is on track to hit $24.2 billion this fiscal year, more than triple the province’s estimates from February, much of it stemming from Western Canadian Select (WCS) crude prices that spent much of late March and early April hovering below the US$10 mark.

“We expect a prolonged road back to normalized energy prices,” Toews told BNN Bloomberg in an interview on Thursday.

“It will take some time to get there. However, we believe there is a future for the energy industry in Alberta and certainly in the nation.”

The pandemic was not the only reason oil prices fell in recent months, with an OPEC+ standoff between Saudi Arabia and Russia sending crude prices tumbling as the world began its descent into the throes of the pandemic.

WCS reached US$31.50 on Thursday, which is still a far cry from its 12-month peak of US$50.49 in September.

The province has also been rattled by recent rhetoric out of Ottawa, especially from new federal finance minister Chrystia Freeland, who proclaimed in her first day of her new role that “all Canadians understand that the restart of our economy needs to be green.”

Toews said he sees no reason why that can’t include the energy industry, as long as the federal government is willing to ensure that the sector can thrive.

“We absolutely, in my view, need to ensure that we are implementing policy that will encourage that sector,” Toews said, shortly before singling out the feds’ Bill C-69 as a hindrance to the sector’s potential growth.

“Our recovery as a nation is going to be somewhat dependent on the recovery of the energy industry.”