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Central Alberta pension town hall hears worries about impact on Canada

Telephone town hall last of five held by government panel

If Alberta pulls out of the Canada Pension Plan what will happen to other Canadians, asked concerned callers to an Alberta Pension Plan Central Alberta telephone town hall on Wednesday

“I’m a Canadian and I served in the Canadian military and I’m having a tough time coming around to how this is going to work,” said a Wetaskiwin man. “Because I look at if we take as much as the government here claims we have a right to what happens to the rest of Canada?

“What happens to their pension plans?” he asked, adding he has relatives and friends all over Canada and wonders if they will see their pensions cut in half because of Alberta’s move.

Pat from Rimbey earlier shared a similar sentiment.

“I believe in Canada as a whole and as a whole and we need to support each other right from one end to the other end,” she said.

Like a number of callers, Pat wanted to know what happens to an Albertan working in another province and paying into the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) there.

Panel member Mary Ritchie, who has a background in corporate management and auditing, said out-of-province workers would pay into CPP and there would be a formula to ensure pension payments were transferred back to the APP. Likewise, someone who worked and paid into the APP but retired to another province would have their Alberta pension contributions transferred to the CPP.

Steve from Barrhead said, “I’m a Canadian first” and asked what would happen if Alberta pulled 53 per cent out of the CPP’s pot, an estimated $334 billion.

“What happens to the people in the rest of the country from the Maritimes to the West Coast and right through to the North?”

If Alberta pulls out a big chunk of money maybe Ontario would want to do the same and then where would that leave the remaining CPP contributing provinces.

“My comment is leave it alone. It’s done well for us. It will continue to do well for us. It is for the good of all Canadians that this fund was put in place.”

The Central Alberta town hall was the last of five held by a government panel led by former Alberta finance minister Jim Dinning. The panel is to advise Premier Danielle Smith in the spring on what Albertans think of a stand-alone provincial plan. Smith will then decide whether to take the proposal to a referendum.

One caller zeroed in on the chair of the panel, Jim Dinning’s opening comment acknowledging some of the numbers backing the Alberta Pension Plan Report report are “debatable” and his call for a “rational, adult discussion” on the issue.

Roger from Red Deer also questioned the premier’s suggestion that the pension report’s conclusion that Alberta could be entitled to 53 per cent of the existing CPP.

“I’m hesitant to repeat the number as it seems entirely unrealistic and it seems like misinformation. Anyone outside the Alberta government who’s heard this number finds it completely infeasible, yet that number is now out there and it’s a point of information that people refer to.”

Roger asked how are “we supposed to have an adult conversation when we don’t have accurate numbers? In fact, we have such a laughable starting point as 53 per cent.”

Dinning agreed that the math seems “implausible,” adding “I must admit I was gobsmacked when I saw the number.”

Dinning said the $334 billion was based on calculations showing Albertans paid more $60 billion into CPP from 1966 to 2022 than they received in benefits.

“The wonders of compound interest applied to that $60 billion line by line over 55 to 56 years. That is the number came up by the actuarial scientists who did the report.”

The federal government has agreed that the country’s chief actuary will do her own calculations, he said.

A referendum would not be called until it is clear what the end number is, he added.

A number of callers asked what guarantees they would have that an Alberta pension would deliver the same benefits as CPP. Panel members pointed out that under pension plan legislation the benefits and contributions must be on par or better than the CPP.

The benefits of an Alberta plan were questioned by Walker from Lacombe, who pointed out that Quebec’s pension plan returns less than the CPP to pensioners.

“Why would this concept be any different?”

Not all thought a made-in-Alberta pension plan was a bad idea.

“If you look at the fiscal responsibility of Alberta versus what is happening federally I have a lot more faith in what we do in this province,” said a Wetaskiwin caller.

Penny from Red Deer said she doesn’t trust the federal government and had heard there was a move to introduce legislation forcing plans such as CPP to “strictly choose woke, green investments.”

Fair Deal panel member and University of Alberta professor Moin Yahya said similar sentiments were shared by others during that panel’s consultation and in the previous APP town halls.

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