On Friday, Finance Minister Nate Horner used what was billed an “Alberta Pension Plan engagement update” to announce the United Conservative Party Government will “pause” its effort to persuade Albertans the province should take over more than half the assets of the Canada Pension Plan and use them to set up a homebuilt version.
Mr. Horner tried to make it sound as if Alberta is giving the Chief Actuary of Canada some extra time to come up with an estimate of how much of the CPP’s assets Alberta would really be entitled to if it pulls out, but if you listen carefully to the recording of the news conference, it sure sounds more like a strategic retreat than a mere pause.
Yes, the Alberta pension plan enthusiasts in the UCP hope to regroup and try again. And on Thursday the Legislature passed legislation requiring a referendum to be held before the province could exit the CPP – although the bill doesn’t say the government has to accept the results of the vote.
But, no, Albertans are clearly not buying what they’re selling.
Jim Dinning, the former Progressive Conservative finance minister hired as chief snake oil salesman for Premier Danielle Smith’s plan to hijack Albertans’ CPP savings, sounded positively dispirited as he tried and failed to put an upbeat spin on the government’s efforts to build public support for the scheme.
“It’s fair to say that we heard from may Albertans who oppose the idea of exiting the Canada Pension Plan and moving to an Alberta plan, many of them quite passionate,” Mr. Dinning stated gloomily.
“There is no doubt that this is a sensitive issue for a lot of people, but especially those who worry about a vital source of their retirement income,” he continued, which is surely a colossal understatement.
“We also heard from a number of Albertans who are entirely in favour of an Alberta pension plan,” he claimed, recycling some old talking points. “Some of them supporters of the government taking greater control of the province’s destiny. Some thinking it a good way of enhancing our financial sector. And others supportive of an APP because of the savings it might offer, either higher benefits or lower premiums, or both.”
Alas, the problem with these categories of APP supporters is that the first group is almost entirely restricted to the Q-adjacent lunatic fringe of the UCP, the Take Back Alberta and Free Alberta Strategy fanatics close to Ms. Smith, the second is presumably made up mostly of employees of the Alberta Investment Management Corp., and the third doesn’t really exist. That is to say, as Mr. Dinning soon made clear, almost no one believes the Lifeworks consultant’s report commissioned by the UCP that claims Alberta should be allowed to walk off with 53 per cent of the CPP’s assets.
“There are many people – many people – who still need more information before deciding,” Mr. Dinning continued. “They’re concerned about how an Alberta plan investment fund would be managed, whether their pensions would remain portable, and, of course, the big question is the number: What is Albertans’ share of the Canada Pension Plan assets if an Alberta plan is established. Albertans want greater clarity around that asset transfer.”
Hence the pause.
Mr. Dinning’s problem is that no one believes the UCP’s numbers, almost no one trusts Ms. Smith’s fantastical claims, and his own reputation, as predicted in the space, is well on its way to being left in tatters.
Best just to sit the whole thing on the back burner for a while and see if there’s something in the asset transfer numbers expected from the Chief Actuary early next year. Readers can count on it the figure will be nothing like 53 per cent – a claim ridiculed by economists, politicians in other provinces, and the CPP Investment Board alike.
“From the panel’s perspective, uncertainty around that transfer is a barrier to moving our engagement discussions forward in a meaningful way,” said Mr. Dinning, stating the obvious.
“It is hard for Albertans to provide concrete perspectives when many variables concerning an Alberta plan depend upon the size of that asset transfer,” he added, which is a nice way of saying it’s hard for Albertans to buy into such a dubious scheme when nobody believes the number the province’s consultant came up with.
It doesn’t help either that it’s widely understood the UCP wants to use the money to prop up Alberta’s fossil fuel industry as the rest of the world moves toward electrification.
So the planned in-person meetings to press the issue are off – for now at least. “We believe it would be prudent to schedule these meetings after Albertans have greater clarity about an asset transfer number.”
I’ll say! At this point, they might be risking a lot of seniors showing up with pitchforks and torches!
The horse Mr. Dinning signed on to flog is not yet officially declared dead, but it sure doesn’t look healthy enough to pull this rickety bandwagon!
Rachel Notley – still there … for the moment
As many readers were quick to point out, NDP Opposition Leader Rachel Notley did not confirm the worst-kept secret in Alberta politics on Friday, as predicted in this space that morning.
Your blogger is not prepared just yet to eat a heaping dish of crow, however.
Tout le monde Alberta NDP has been in a swivet for weeks, with would-be candidates testing the water for the as-yet-undeclared race to replace Ms. Notley and some of them going so far as to line up campaign volunteers and staff.
Obviously, the former premier is going to have to say something very soon, and while many New Democrats might be happy with no change, there are going to be some very unhappy ambitious MLAs if the answer is that she’s sticking around.