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'No-brainer': Alberta panel hears callers urge split from Canada Pension Plan

EDMONTON -

The panel hearing feedback on whether Alberta should quit the Canada Pension Plan heard multiple callers tell them Thursday it’s time to embrace a “no-brainer” provincial program.

“I think it’s time we start looking after Albertans,” a caller identified as Gary from Sherwood Park told the panel led by former provincial treasurer Jim Dinning in its fourth telephone town hall.

“We already send (away) billions of dollars in equalization payments. Here’s an opportunity for Albertans to be winners.”

Caller Darlene said Alberta is taken for granted by Ottawa and that other provinces will oppose an Alberta pension plan out of self-interest.

“Albertans should stand up for themselves,” she said.

She said Premier Danielle Smith’s government has to do a better job of reassuring Albertans who are “scared of change.”

Caller Keith said Albertans are paying in more than they are getting back, and that lower contributions and higher benefits from an Alberta plan are appealing.

“It’s a no-brainer,” said Keith. “Any little extra bit would help.”

Dinning’s panel took calls and online questions for 90 minutes from callers in and around Edmonton.

Seven callers supported an Alberta plan while six spoke against it. 

Three of those six naysayers asked why the province wanted to leave CPP; in short, "Why fix something that isn’t broken?"

Caller Patrick from St. Albert, who was against leaving the CPP, also asked the panel: “Has there been a survey done among the general public just to even find out if this is something of interest to Albertans?”

Dinning replied to Patrick that the government’s consultation stems from Alberta’s Fair Deal panel, which talked to Albertans and urged the province in 2020 to explore a stand-alone plan.

Dinning told Patrick that Albertans will get their say in a referendum if it comes to that.

Neither Dinning nor fellow panel member Moin Yahya – who sat on the Fair Deal panel – mentioned to Patrick that the Fair Deal panel did conduct a telephone survey of 1,000 Albertans.

That survey found two-thirds of those who responded said Alberta deserves a better deal in Confederation, but well under half – 42 per cent – said quitting CPP would help Alberta improve its place in the federation and ranked it near the bottom of ways to secure a better deal from Ottawa.

They also didn’t mention the Fair Deal panel survey to caller Dennis, who told them, “I agree with Patrick that to save time and effort and money, why not do a survey as to whether people want an Alberta pension plan or not?”

Also Thursday, Yahya, a law professor at the University of Alberta, clarified a statement he made a week earlier at the Calgary telephone town hall, in which he said the Fair Deal panel had heard from the public “some support, strong support'' for an Alberta pension plan.

Yahya said the Fair Deal panel did hear strong support for an Alberta pension plan but also heard arguments against it.

“I was fumbling a little bit with my words, and I realized later on (that) it came out not the way I intended it to,” said Yahya. 

“What I may have said was that there was no opposition to the idea (of leaving CPP) and that is incorrect.”

The remaining 12 questions revolved around technical concerns about an Alberta plan: who would run it, would there be a seamless transition from the CPP, what about portability and how would it mesh with other retirement benefits?

The final telephone town hall is set for Nov. 22, taking calls from central Alberta. The panel has promised in-person town halls next month.

The consultation was launched Sept. 21 by Smith. It is based on a government-commissioned report that calculates Alberta, with its relatively higher incomes and younger population, could set up its own plan and is owed $334 billion, more than half the assets of the CPP, on its way out the door.

Dinning's panel is to advise Smith in the spring on what Albertans think of an Alberta stand-alone plan, and based on that advice Smith will decide whether to take the issue to a referendum.

Other provinces have expressed concern about what would happen to the plan if Alberta left. In response, federal Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland has asked the chief actuary to provide an estimate.

Smith has said if Ottawa and Alberta can’t agree on an exit number, the issue may have to be decided by the courts – a process that could take years.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 16, 2023.

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