Balanced budget tied to Trans Mountain completion, Alberta finance minister says

Finance Minister Joe Ceci posed with virtual reality goggles at a pre-budget announcement, where he revealed the path to balanced books relies on the completion of two major pipeline projects: Enbridge Line 3 and the controversial Trans Mountain expansion.

Ahead of Thursday's budget, Joe Ceci sported virtual reality goggles instead of traditional new shoes

Looking for pipeline development to help balance the books, Finance Minister Joe Ceci donned goggles as part of a virtual reality demonstration at a pre-budget news conference on Tuesday. (CBC)

Alberta Finance Minister Joe Ceci said Tuesday the path to balanced budgets lies in the completion of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

The 2018-19 budget will be released on Thursday, and will lay out a plan for eliminating the deficit by 2023.

Although the government has made efforts to diversify the economy, Ceci revealed the path to balanced budgets relies on the completion of two major pipeline projects.

"We've built those into the budget in anticipation that Trans Mountain expansion and [Enbridge] Line 3 will be operational," he said.

Construction on Line 3 started last year. The Trans Mountain expansion from Edmonton to Burnaby, B.C., is behind schedule and held up by delays.

An upcoming ruling from the Federal Court of Appeal is a crucial step in the process and could determine the future of the $7.4-billion project, which would nearly triple the oil pipeline's capacity to 890,000 barrels a day.

Last fall, a number of B.C. First Nations and environmental groups challenged the project's approval by the National Energy Board and federal government.

The ruling from the Federal Court of Appeal is expected this spring, and could determine the future of the project.

Ceci dismissed concerns that it is risky to pin the government's hopes to balance the books on the completion of Trans Mountain.

"That is definitely the hopes of the companies that are involved," he said. "We've built them into the budget because that's what everybody believes will happen."

If the B.C. court case goes against the project, Ceci said the government can "correct course" through quarterly updates.

'Eggs in one uncertain basket'

United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney said his caucus hopes Trans Mountain will get built but it is high-risk to rely on a project that has the potential to face further delays.

"This is putting a lot of eggs in one uncertain basket, and that's not how you budget," he said. 

Ceci held his pre-budget news conference at Startup Edmonton, which provides space for up-and-coming entrepreneurs in downtown Edmonton.

The minister eschewed showing off new shoes, the usual tradition for Canadian finance ministers.

Instead, he donned virtual reality goggles to show the work of a company that uses the technology for real estate listings. 

The cost to produce a virtual reality video featuring Ceci was $200.