What could Alberta's own pension plan look like?
EDMONTON -- As the province begins studying whether it should withdraw from the Canada Pension Plan, some experts have mixed ideas as to what Alberta's own fund would mean for residents.
Premier Jason Kenney announced he was tasking a panel to explore the move earlier this month, introducing it as "an idea worth serious consideration."
He estimated Alberta could repatriate $40 billion from Ottawa by doing so.
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According to conservative think tank Fraser Institute, Alberta disproportionately contributes to CPP, partly because of its younger population and higher wages.
"The last year that we have data for 2017, Alberta workers contributed $2.9 billion more than Alberta retirees received in benefits," Fraser Institute economist Jason Clemens told CTV News Edmonton.
But while some agree a provincial pension plan could benefit Albertans in the short term, one expert isn't as certain about what it would mean further down the road.
"We will be paying less per capita for the pension plan and we'll be withdrawing less," acknowledged MacEwan University economist Rafat Alam, speaking to the immediate effects Alberta could see from creating its own fund.
However, Alam said a decrease in demand for oil, its price, or Alberta's ability to export could result in the province losing young workers—and with them, money for the pension plan.
"The issue is once we pull back out of it, we can never go back. It will be hard to go back. It will be very costly to go back," he commented.
Mount Royal University political scientist Lori Williams echoed the sentiment, saying a provincial pension plan could cause hesitation amongst laborers moving to Alberta for fear of losing CPP contributions or not being able to collect from Alberta's fund if they leave.
She believes Albertans will be slower to support a provincial pension plan than some of the other ideas the "Fair Deal" panel has been directed to investigate.
"The reality is that there is a much larger pool of contributors Canada wide than there is in Alberta. We are less than half the population of Quebec and less—much less—than the third of the population of Ontario. And the pension plan is one of the things that the federal government actually does a very good job of," Williams said.
"The question is: Is this going to be advantageous to Albertans? If you're investing in an economy that has huge peaks and valleys, as the Alberta economy historically has, is that were you want your pension funds to be invested? Particularly, perhaps, if you want to retire in another province besides Alberta?"
That fear was expressed by one Albertan who is five years away from receiving her first CPP cheque after contributing to the fund for decades.
"I hate the idea of starting to mess around with things when it's sort've a gold standard," Jan Seeckts told CTV News Edmonton.
Alam also pointed out there would be costs to set up, administer and manage the plan—perhaps as much as between $34 million and $92 million.
The price, though, could be what Alberta pays for leverage in Ottawa, Williams said.
"Anybody who's watched Canadian history for any length of time at all knows that Quebec, in threatening to separate, wanting more sovereignty, has actually gained advantages," she noted.
"So there's absolutely no question it's been successful in increasing Quebec's leverage, and those who are using this as a bargaining tactic are hoping they can have the same kind of leverage in making changes that are favourable to Alberta."
Quebec established its own pension plan in 1965, the same year the CPP was created.
When announcing the Fair Deal panel, Kenney said the government would not establish its own pension plan—or other changes—without the support of a majority of Albertans via referendum.
The panel is expected to report back to the government in March.
With a report from CTV News Edmonton's Sarah Plowman