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Smith says pension exit debate awakened national recognition of Alberta's grievances


Premier Danielle Smith says, if nothing else, her government's proposal to have Alberta quit the Canada Pension Plan has started a national conversation on her province's grievances.

Smith also says leaving the CPP is not a bargaining chip for a better deal with Ottawa on equalization or on federal rules her government believes are undercutting energy development.

“I keep the two of (the issues) separate,” Smith told host Shaye Ganam on Wednesday on his Corus talk-radio show.

“What I do like is that we now have the entire country finally talking about our grievances.

“We've been ignored for a long time.

“I think Albertans are constructive members of Confederation, yet we have a federal government that continues to disadvantage us in so many ways and are now actively trying to destroy our (energy) industry.”

Smith's government launched the CPP-exit debate on Sept. 21 by releasing a report by analyst LifeWorks that calculates Alberta is entitled to 53 per cent of the Canada Pension Plan - about $334 billion - if it leaves to set up a stand-alone program.

The LifeWorks number is calculated on compounded investment earnings from Alberta-based workers since the CPP's inception in the mid-1960s.

Other economists, including those with the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, calculate Alberta's share closer to its percentage of the CPP membership, at about 15 per cent.

The issue has raised concerns across Canada on what an Alberta pullout could mean. Earlier this month, federal Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland convened a virtual meeting of provincial and territorial finance ministers to discuss the proposal.

Freeland says she has asked the chief actuary to calculate what Alberta would be owed.

Alberta, meanwhile, has started a $7.5-million campaign that includes public consultations led by former Alberta treasurer Jim Dinning.

Dinning's panel has held three telephone town halls and the fourth is set for Thursday night, taking calls from residents in and around Edmonton.

Smith's government had planned, depending on public interest, to hold a referendum in 2025 on whether Alberta should set up its own pension program.

That timeline may change, given that Smith announced three weeks ago that, based on early feedback from Albertans, she will wait until Alberta and Ottawa, or the courts, settle on a firm asset-transfer number.

Ganam asked Smith why Alberta didn't get the firm number nailed down before launching the pension debate on Sept. 21.

“Wouldn't it make sense to have that (asset-transfer) number before we started this conversation and before we started telephone town halls?” said Ganam.

“I mean, you're asking Albertans to weigh in on a deal when they don't know the terms of the deal. What's the point to this?”

Smith declined to answer directly.

Instead, she reiterated that her government would act on concerns from Albertans who want a firm asset-transfer number along with more details on how a provincial plan would mesh with the CPP, particularly for those who leave Alberta for another province or move abroad.

Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley said close to 500 people came Tuesday night to an in-person town hall in Edmonton organized by her caucus.

“Periodically, we would just ask people to give us a show of hands, and I will tell you that there was one hand that went up out of almost 500 people when asked whether people want to leave CPP,” Notley told reporters in Calgary.

“The other thing that was a bit inspiring - and maybe slightly bit of a surprise to me - was the level of support that everybody in that room had for their fellow Canadians and their belief that they didn't want to do something that was going to undermine the retirement security of Canadians all across the country.”

Public opinion surveys have consistently suggested a majority of Albertans want to stay in the CPP, but Smith has said the amount of money due to Alberta should it leave and go it alone requires her government to at least have a public conversation about it.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 15, 2023. Top Stories

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