Like any teenager acting out, Danielle Smith must be delighted to have the entire country in a swivet about her government’s preposterous claim that even though Alberta has only about 16 per cent of Canada’s population less Quebec, which has its own pension plan, the country owes it 53 per cent of all the money in the Canada Pension Plan investment fund.
But, you say, Alberta’s premier is 52 years old!
All I can tell you in response is that undeniable fact is that Ms. Smith’s plan to pull Alberta out of the CPP and set up her own more expensive and less reliable version of the same thing must mean that some of us are more in touch with our inner adolescent than is normal.
Yesterday, Ontario’s Conservative finance minister, Peter Bethlenfalvy, wrote a letter to his federal counterpart asking her for an “urgent meeting” to discuss the threat Alberta’s plan poses to the CPP – and not coincidentally to literally millions of Canadians and perhaps the country itself.
By the end of the day, Chrystia Freeland, a Liberal, who also happens to be the deputy prime minister, had agreed. She got the support of Nova Scotia Finance Minister Allan MacMaster, a Conservative, seeing as his province is currently responsible for chairing the Council of the Federation.
I guess this is sort of like the neighbours getting together to decide what to do about the frat house down the street where there’s a noisy party every night until the wee hours and beer cans are scattered in the street every morning.
In his letter, Mr. Bethlenfalvy noted that “while we will always maintain our respect for Alberta, our government firmly supports the CPP and shares your serious concerns with Alberta’s proposal to withdraw from it.”
Well, no kidding! But let’s give the man a little credit – that part about respecting Alberta, at least as long as the United Conservative Party clown show is in charge, has to be a diplomatic exaggeration. (And to think, UCP founder Jason Kenney and Ontario Premier Doug Ford used to go around joking about how they finished each other’s sentences!)
For the rest, though, we can take Mr. Bethlenfalvy at his word. “We believe this proposal could cause serious harm over the long term to working people and retirees in Ontario and across Canada,” he said, a point of view that is extremely difficult to dispute.
Plus, he didn’t say but might well have been thinking, our voters would erase us if we allowed you to get away with this shit!
Everybody’s sending open letters these days – it started last week with an exchange between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ms. Smith – so Alberta Finance Minister Nate Horner sent one to Ms. Freeland, too.
“We welcome all good-faith, rigorous analysis of the CPP Act withdrawal formula in advance of that meeting,” he said. This is pretty rich considering the UCP’s mendacious and misleading campaign to persuade Albertans to go along with Smith Government’s screwball plan to get its hands on the CPP and, as the premier used to say before the idea was under so much scrutiny, use it to prop up the fossil fuel industry.
Just what the meeting can hope to accomplish, or even what will be on the agenda beyond eyerolls and headshakes at Albertans for electing this gong show, is not clear.
I suppose it can’t hurt to have finance ministers from a variety of parties and provinces point out to Mr. Horner that even if there was any truth of the ridiculous estimate cooked up by the research firm hired by the UCP Government, politically there is zero chance of their voters allowing them to get away with handing it over to Alberta.
Perhaps they could also point out that 2019 briefing note prepared for then Alberta finance minister Travis Toews, the one that said Alberta’s share of the CPP’s assets would come to about 12 per cent of the pie.
So, they might say, if you go – and rest assured we won’t let you back in – you’ll be getting a sum small enough that all your promises about Alberta pensioners being paid as much or more as they get from the CPP now will be revealed as the deceitful fantasies they are.
Perhaps someone from the New Brunswick could also explain to Mr. Horner in simple terms that if the UCP thinks busting up the CPP is an excellent way to persuade the family that owns that big refinery in St. John to use dirty but ethical Alberta bitumen instead of sweetly fungible but theocratic Saudi crude, it probably won’t work out very well.
At this point, what the UCP is hoping to achieve by sticking with this idea is almost as uncertain as what the finance ministers hope to accomplish by yakking about it.
According to a recent Abacus Data poll, the idea is unpopular everywhere in Canada, and it’s even more unpopular in Alberta than the rest of the country. Of course, that’s just because we’ve had more time to think about it out here in Wild Rose Country.
But it’s interesting that, according to the survey, a 52-per-cent majority of Albertans, 90 per cent of whom had heard of the idea, thought it was a bad one.
When you get to the over-60s – a group known for getting out to vote, and voting for Conservatives when they do – 64 per cent thought it was a terrible idea.
“While Albertans are overwhelmingly aware of the proposal, with 90 per cent having heard about it, the broader Canadian population seems to be largely uninformed,” observed Abacus CEO David Coletto.
But that’s about to change, and Canadians in the rest of Canada are going to hate it too – especially when they learn that part of the UCP’s goal, in the words of Barry Cooper, a University of Calgary political scientist and one of the authors of the strategy that animates the UCP’s pension plans, is “to hurt the rest of the country … to inflict a little pain on Canada.”
At this rate, it seems unlikely that Ms. Smith’s promised referendum on the pension hijacking will ever happen. In the meantime, though, she has everyone paying attention to her.