By Trevor Busch
As Alberta’s UCP government toys with the idea of an Alberta Pension Plan, the battle lines are being drawn with Ottawa while provincial voters are being left to decide who to believe.
A Lifeworks report released in late September by the province on the idea of an APP suggests Albertans could contribute less and receive more in benefits, but a rejection of the Canada Pension Plan could also see lengthy and bitter withdrawal negotiations, high operating costs, and most critically would rely on receiving 53 per cent ($334 billion) of the CPP’s assets, a threshold many critics say is almost wholly unfeasible.
Taber-Warner MLA Grant Hunter believes the Lifeworks report makes a convincing enough argument for Alberta to consider leaving the CPP.
“From my perspective, I do. I’ve read the report, and I’ve asked, as we’ve certainly fielded a lot of phone calls on this issue. But here’s the reality – if you haven’t read the report, please read it and take a look at the evidence provided. And then I highly recommend to everybody to read both sides of the story. But as you read through the different parts, you’ll notice that the Lifeworks report is a very in-depth study of this issue. And for those who are the naysayers, all I hear is you coming up with stuff that is just amped up. And I would prefer them to come up with counter arguments. And I haven’t heard any that have convinced me not to do an Alberta Pension Plan.”
Hunter wants Albertans to make their own assessment of whether the CPP has been a fair deal for Alberta since its inception in the 1960s, and assured voters that no one will be laying hands on their federal pension assets without a provincial referendum.
“This is the business, the key is in Alberta, whether or not this has been a good agreement, good arrangement with Canada or whether or not we can have a better arrangement with Alberta. And that’s really where it comes down to. And then at the end of the day, what’s important to note is that Alberta and Albertans will decide whether we move forward or not, we will have a referendum on this issue.”
In the latest artillery exchange across the political no man’s land between Ottawa and Edmonton, the federal Liberals have weighed in questioning the numbers in the Lifeworks report and the potential chaos an Alberta withdrawal might precipitate for CPP pensioners in other provinces.
“So I keep on hearing different numbers, or different from the federal government for the Canada Pension Plan, making statements like, ‘how dare you’ or ‘why would we choose such a thing, this is terrible’,” said Hunter. “But I guess what I think is ask them. Ask Prime Minister Trudeau why it’s so important for Alberta to be in for the stability. And so I just hope that the rhetoric comes down a bit, and then we just start looking at numbers and looking at what’s best in terms of numbers. And that’s all I’m asking.”
In the opposite camp, the CPP Investment Board has estimated Alberta is only owed about 16 per cent of the fund total. Despite the disparity in numbers, Hunter believes an APP would eventually pay dividends for Albertans.
“Well, I think if Albertans read it, they will be convinced that this is the right approach. So this is just really about whether Albertans will read the report or not. And I think if they don’t read the report then they’re going to be kind of tossed to and fro with this person said this and that person said that. Unfortunately, a lot of people are just kind of in their little bubble. Now they’re getting information from one side of it, and they don’t really hear both sides. So I hope that that doesn’t happen. I hope that they will read the report and then hear both sides of the arguments, but I want the arguments to be sound.”
One of the key bills during the fall session of the legislature, which opened on Oct. 30, will be the Alberta Pension Protection Act.
The legislation is designed to provide a legal framework for a potential APP, and will ensure that transferred pension assets will stay in the plan, benefits will be equal or better than the CPP, contributions would be the same or less, and an APP must be approved by a provincial vote.