By Erika Mathieu
Alberta’s President of Treasury Board and Minister of Finance, Nate Horner addressed rural media outlets on Oct. 17 during a virtual roundtable.
The discussion centred around the Province’s Alberta Pension Plan (APP) idea, and the meeting provided details on the ongoing and upcoming public engagement efforts, citing figures from the Alberta Pension Plan – Analysis of Costs, Benefits, Risks and Considerations Report from LifeWorks, which was made public Sept. 21, 2023.
During the roundtable, Minister Horner answered reporter’s questions concerning the transferability of an Alberta Pension Plan, and used Quebec’s provincial pension plan as an example of feasible transferability within the framework of a provincial pension plan.
Horner noted, “many Albertans have a lot of questions about a potential Alberta Pension Plan, and many are wondering about how portable an APP would be.”
Noting many people, including temporary foreign workers choose to work in Alberta, Horner said, “we would make sure an APP would work seamlessly for everyone, in much the same way the Quebec Pension Plan works there.”
If the plan goes forward, Horner said agreements would be put in place to coordinate benefits, “and make sure no matter where you work or live, you would contribute to and receive benefits from the right pension plan.”
“Albertans have been paying billions more into the Canadian Pension Plan (CPP) than they have received back in pension and benefits. If that large pool of money was transferred from the CPP to launch our own plan, an Alberta Pension Plan would be able to cover the benefit payments for decades and generations.”
Horner said an APP would, “provide significantly more security,” than a federal pension plan, with up to $5 billion in savings in the first year for Albertans.
Horner said the LifeWorks report is the first step in the process to potentially establish an APP but told reporters, “we won’t move forward with an Alberta Pension Plan unless it benefits all Albertans. It must provide the same or better benefits with the same or lower contribution rates than the CPP.”
Horner also told media the government does not intend to move forward on APP, “unless Albertans vote in favour of it in a referendum.”
“We encourage everyone to take the public survey at albertapensionplan.ca, and participate in regional telephone town halls, ask questions, and share feedback.”
The first town hall, targeted at Northern Albertans, was held on Oct. 16.
A Southern Alberta Telephone Town Hall took place on Oct. 24, with Calgary and Edmonton Telephone Town Halls scheduled on Nov. 9 and Nov. 24, respectively. All upcoming telephone town halls will be held from 6:30 to 8 p.m.
With respect to a timeline for public engagement, Horner said “in the terms of reference, when we stood up the engagement panel led by Mr. Dinning, we have asked them to take until May, so that is our expectation of the timeline. This is just the first round of these telephone town halls and there will be more, and different types of engagement until May (2024).”
Although some residents will receive automated calls inviting them to join the telephone town hall, Albertans can also preregister for the upcoming Town Halls, or listen online by visiting albertapensionplan.ca on the day of the scheduled town halls.
When asked whether in-person engagement was on the table, Minister Horner responded, “I believe Jim (Dinning) is committed to doing some in-person engagement at a later time in the timeline. I don’t know if they have details yet,” and said in the initially stages, the telephone town halls, “provide a lot of reach.”
According to Horner, if the idea had enough support to take the next step, a potential option could be to include the referendum question on an election ballot, which depending on the timeline, could be as early as October 2025 as a question included on municipal ballots.
“Something that is very certain is that it takes a year to get it on to a referendum, so at any point from the point we have decided that we want to proceed with a referendum, we need a full year.”
Horner said he has requested a one-on-one meeting with the federal Minister of Finance, Crystia Freeland, and told reporters “we’re waiting to hear back.”
“We are confident in what the legislation says but it is a federal statute, so obviously we want to have that conversation with the feds as soon as possible.”
In an open letter dated Oct. 18, from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to Alberta Premier Danielle Smith, Trudeau cautioned against Alberta backing out of the CPP, and said he is, “deeply concerned” Alberta’s formation of an APP would have a negative impact on the pensions of seniors elsewhere in Canada.
Although the LifeWorks’ report states Alberta is entitled to 53 per cent of the $575-billion CPP fund, Page 31 of the Province’s Fair Deal Panel report to government, published in 2020, provided a substantially lower estimate: “Alberta’s current proportion of the $400 billion CPP reserve fund has been estimated to be between $40-$70 billion.”
The Canadian Pension Plan Investment board (CPPIB) has also voiced concerns. On Oct. 17, the Financial Post reported in a letter addressed to former provincial treasurer and leader of the APP Engagement Panel, Jim Dinning, the CPPIB said “advertising and a survey to solicit the views of Albertans (is) ‘unbalanced and incomplete’ and thus favours the notion [Alberta] go it alone with its retirement plan.” This letter was made available to select media outlets last week.
“This is a policy discussion of great consequence, so we really want to make sure it’s completely fleshed out and well-understood, I think that’s that’s the big takeaway for me after this first session,” Horner said.