Nate Horner's hooked on a pension feeling
More confusing messaging about the Alberta Pension Plan
As Alberta’s United Conservative Party government continues its big $7 million advertising push to convince Albertans to leave the Canada Pension Plan and start a separate Alberta Pension Plan, Finance Minister Nate Horner told CTV’s Vassy Kapelos that the province’s decision on whether or not to hold a referendum on leaving the CPP will be based on a “high level feeling from many sources.”
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Horner also told Kapelos that at this point the Alberta government is just asking Albertans whether they are interested in leaving the CPP, although the online survey promoted by Jim Dinning’s engagement panel doesn’t actually ask Albertans if they want to leave the CPP.
It’s just some of the latest string of confusing and sometimes contradictory messaging coming from the UCP government on its Alberta Pension Plan proposal.
“This is how people choose a restaurant for dinner, not make lifechanging decisions on gambling away retirement security,” Lethbridge-West MLA and NDP finance critic Shannon Phillips shot back in response to Horner’s comments. “Albertans work hard for their pensions. I think the Minister should park his ‘feelings’ and commit today to leaving CPP alone.”
Horner tabled Bill 2: Alberta Pension Protection Act in the Legislature yesterday afternoon.
An afternoon press release announcing Bill 2 says the law would guarantee contribution rates under an APP would be the same or lower than the rates for the CPP and that an APP must provide the same or better benefits to Albertans as the CPP.
It’s hard to take these kind of commitments seriously if they are based on the widely criticized numbers included in the government-commissioned report by Lifeworks. The report claimed that if Alberta left the CPP it would be entitled to half of the funds currently in the national pension plan (University of Calgary economist Trevor Tombe has his own numbers).
The numbers in the Lifeworks report will likely be at the top of the agenda when Horner meets with federal finance minister Chrystia Freeland and other provincial finance ministers in a virtual gathering about Alberta’s pension plans today.
Ontario Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy requested the meeting last week, signalling that Canada’s largest province has big concerns about Alberta destabilizing the national pension plan. He’s not going to be alone with this concern.
While Horner will likely find himself on the defensive in today’s meeting, recent tone deaf comments from federal rural development minister Gudie Hutchings that the prairie provinces should elect more Liberals if they want to be heard by the federal government will loom large.
Staffers preparing their finance ministers for today’s meeting should consider reading the Free Alberta Strategy (co-authored and championed by Premier Danielle Smith’s chief advisor Rob Anderson) and the Fair Deal Panel report, two key political documents promoting the idea of an Alberta Pension Plan and other elements of the UCP’s autonomy agenda.
Both documents were created in response to Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s two re-election victories. The documents also attempted to capture the frustration felt by many Albertans who feel they pay more into the Canadian confederation than they receive back. And many of the most vocal people among this group of Albertans are enthusiastic supporters of Smith’s UCP.
But the big question not answered in either of these two influential conservative political manifestos or the Alberta government’s big advertising campaign is: what’s so bad with the CPP that Albertans would want to risk their retirement security to leave?
The Alberta government has not publicly released its own polling on leaving the CPP, but a poll released by Abacus Data found that 52 per cent of Albertans thought leaving the CPP was a bad idea. Only 19 per cent thought it was a good idea.
UCP executive board elections this weekend
More than 3,500 delegates are expected to attend the United Conservative Party’s Annual General Meeting on November 3 and 4 at the BMO Centre in downtown Calgary.