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Province looks for feedback on potential Alberta pension plan before deciding on referendum

Feedback generated by an engagement panel formed by the Alberta government in the wake of news it is considering forming a provincial pension plan will determine whether the idea will go to a referendum, Premier Danielle Smith said Thursday.

"We want to hear what you believe," she said during a media conference formally releasing a report about the plan to pull out of the national Canada Pension Plan. "It’s your pension, so it’s your choice."

The UCP government has been exploring the idea of taking Alberta out of the national pension plan and forming its own a la Quebec's plan since a May 2020 Fair Deal Panel report recommended the province explore the idea to better assert itself within Confederation.

The panel reported that given Alberta's young population, a separate pension plan could be a multibillion-dollar net benefit. The panel recommended the idea be explored even though only 42 per cent of the respondents in its survey thought it was a good idea.

Nate Horner, Alberta's finance minister, said the report "is just the first step in our commitment to engage with Albertans on all their questions."

"We know that you'll have a lot of questions about a potential Alberta Pension Plan," he said Thursday. "Questions about portability, governance structure and who would make investment decisions to keep an APP stable, sustainable and as safe as the CPP."

Horner said agreements would be needed with both the CPP and the QPP for an Alberta pension plan to work like Quebec's.

"There would be full portability; it would mimic the QPP in that way," he said. "We would need reciprocal agreements with the CPP and the QPP and all of that math would be done whether you’re moving from Alberta elsewhere or from elsewhere to Alberta you would still receive one check but the combined information and benefit, that would be our expectation."

The report leaves University of Alberta economics professor Chetan Dave with a lot of questions, including what he calls "the main thing": "how that money is being invested so I can get a pension?"

Dave says details such as the legality of Alberta taking more than half of the CPP fund is another big question.

The third-party report says Alberta should get $334 billion, or 53 per cent of the national retirement savings program, if it leaves in 2027 following the required three-year notification period.

"By leaving a large fund like the CPP, you’re exposing yourself to non-diversification risk, so how are you compensating for that?" he asked rhetorically. "You’re relying a lot on future demographics and oil revenue and all this kind of stuff being on a very particular path ... Are we even sure that demographics and oil revenues are going to be on that path in the very long run? And if you’re 100 per cent sure, please show me the magic 8 ball which tells you what’s going to happen 20 years from now with certainty."

Over the next few months, Horner said the province will hold a series of town halls via telephone and will launch a public survey to collect feedback on the idea of considering the plan. Former Alberta Progressive Conservative finance minister Jim Dinning will oversee the panel seeking input and answering questions.

"We ask Albertans to read the report, look at the facts, participate in the discussions and then tell us what they think," said Dinning, also a former PC leadership hopeful.

The report estimates the price of setting up the Alberta plan to be between $100 million and $1 billion, depending on how much the province piggybacks on the CPP mechanisms.

The cost of implementing the investment arm of the Alberta plan would be another $75 million to $1.2 billion, again depending on how much the province taps into existing structures and expertise.

The future, says the report, suggests short-term windfalls tapering off as Alberta's population ages and reverts closer to the national mean.

The province would have to change legislation, amend employment laws that touch on the CPP and negotiate pension agreements for Albertans working elsewhere.

It would have to decide who runs the Alberta plan and what its goals would be: strict return on investment or, as in Quebec, whether investment managers would also consider investments that contribute to provincial economic development.

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Amanda Anderson and The Canadian Press Top Stories

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