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Alberta NDP promises to axe proposed plan to quit CPP if it wins next election

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith speaks to the media in Calgary, Monday, Sept. 18, 2023. Smith announced her government will consult with Albertans over the coming months with an eye to holding a referendum on whether to leave CPP and create a separate Alberta pension plan. Opposition finance critic Samir Kayande says as a last resort, an NDP government would cancel the plan at that late date, regardless of whether Albertans vote in favour of ditching the CPP in a referendum. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

EDMONTON — Alberta’s long road to quitting the Canada Pension Plan would run smack into the scheduled 2027 provincial election, with Opposition New Democrats promising to kill the idea if they win.

Opposition finance critic Samir Kayande says an NDP government would cancel the plan at that late date as a last resort, regardless of whether Albertans vote in favour of ditching the CPP in a referendum.

Kayande says Albertans have already made their voices heard that they don’t want Premier Danielle Smith's United Conservative Party government touching Canada’s $575-billion retirement nest egg. 

“We’re not going to support the cancellation of the CPP,” Kayande told reporters Friday.

“We don't need a referendum. People have already spoken. They don't like the idea.

“If it is still alive in 2027 when we're having the next election, I would absolutely love to fight an election on this issue.”

Kayande’s comments come a day after Smith announced that her government will consult with Albertans, with an eye to holding a referendum on whether to leave the CPP and create a separate Alberta pension plan.

The Alberta government website timeline suggests at this point that any referendum would come sometime in 2025.

Leaving CPP requires three years’ notice, and the next Alberta election is set for May 31, 2027. 

Smith’s government wants to take more than half the CPP fund with it if it leaves, based on a third-party report it commissioned that says the province is due $334 billion should it pull out in 2027.

But analysts say that number is based on flawed mathematical assumptions and interpretations of the underlying legislation.

They say even if it were accurate, Ottawa and other provinces wouldn't agree to 12 per cent of Canada’s population exiting with 53 per cent of the CPP assets.

Michel Leduc, head of public affairs with the CPP Investment Board, has said his agency "can't find any legal or actuarial reasons'' that support the report's $334 billion figure and that its estimate of Alberta’s share is closer to 16 per cent.

University of Calgary economist Trevor Tombe, in his analysis of the report, pegged Alberta’s share at 20 to 25 per cent.

Kayande said the government is bamboozling Albertans with pie-in-the-sky projections of higher payouts and reduced contributions tied to a payout it can’t hope to attain.

That's why any referendum has no validity, he said.

“(It’s) a referendum based on a lie of $350 billion or whatever it is, $500 billion, maybe it'll be a trillion dollars by the time we get there,” he said.

“At that point, it's just not an informed decision, unfortunately.”

Finance Minister Nate Horner responded in a statement, saying, "It is unfortunate and frankly disappointing that the NDP,  if in power, would take the decision away from Albertans.

"Our government has been clear all along: Albertans will choose what happens with their pensions. Unlike the NDP, we will put the interest of Albertans first and respect whatever choice Albertans make."

The next step in the process is consultation.

A panel headed up by former Alberta finance minister Jim Dinning is to engage with Albertans in the coming months and deliver a report in the spring on whether residents are keen to vote on going it alone on pensions.

The government has also set up a survey on its website. The survey highlights the report numbers, stresses that an Alberta pension plan would be secure and would deliver cost savings and higher payouts. It asks Albertans to weigh in on how to structure the plan rather than whether the plan is a good deal to pursue.

“The survey is all about how to design a pension plan,” said political scientist Duane Bratt with Mount Royal University in Calgary.

“It assumes that we are leaving the CPP and going to an (Alberta pension plan) and it assumes that we have 53 per cent of CPP assets. And then the rest of the questions are all (about), 'What should we do with all this money?'"

Bratt said the survey and consultations are in keeping with the government’s aim of countering opinion surveys showing Albertans don’t want to leave the CPP.

“Pulling out of CPP has been a consistent, unpopular idea in Alberta. So the purpose of the report, the purpose of the survey, the purpose of Jim Dinning’s panel is to change public opinion,” he said.

Bratt said even a failed Alberta pension bid can still serve Smith’s overarching political narrative of an ungrateful federal government helping itself to Alberta’s wealth while imposing rules and policies that hinder its wellspring oil and gas industry.

“If (the Alberta pension plan) doesn't work, then you have ramped up anti-Ottawa sentiment,” said Bratt.

“If there’s a dispute over this $334 billion, well then you (as Alberta) just say, ‘See, they're not letting us leave.’

“So I think (Smith and her government) are looking at this going, ‘If it works, great. If it doesn't, that's just another data point about how we're being screwed over by the rest of the country.'"

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 22, 2023.

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

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