The first of five Alberta government telephone town halls will begin next Monday to gather feedback about a controversial proposal to establish the province’s own pension plan, but the UCP so far hasn’t announced any in-person engagement sessions.
In a news release Thursday, the Alberta government said the virtual events are about inviting Albertans to discuss a report by the independent pension expert consultant LifeWorks, first released Sept. 21.
That report estimates that Albertan retirees could reap bigger benefits and workers could pay lower contributions if the province took $334 billion — some 53 per cent of total Canada Pension Plan (CPP) assets as of 2027 — and established its own pension plan. However, critics, including economists, actuaries, CPP Investments, and the Opposition NDP have said the report is based on an unreasonable ask. Alberta represents only 16 per cent of CPP contributions.
The engagement panel is gathering feedback from Albertans “on the implications, opportunities and challenges of establishing a provincial pension plan,” Thursday’s news release said.
Postmedia asked the Treasury Board and Finance Ministry why the conversation won’t seemingly include discussion about the implications of other, much lower potential transfer amounts, including those proposed by University of Calgary economist Trevor Tombe. In a recent research paper, Tombe estimated the province could reasonably ask for between 20 per cent and 25 per cent of assets should it exit the CPP.
The ministry did not respond by deadline to Postmedia’s request Thursday.
‘Albertans deserve the benefit of a rational, adult conversation’
Former provincial treasurer Jim Dinning, who has in the past been opposed to the idea of a stand-alone provincial plan, will be leading the engagement panel. His work is set to continue into the spring, but the government didn’t provide details Thursday about whether that work will eventually include in-person engagement sessions beyond the telephone town halls.
“Now that the LifeWorks report is out for discussion, our panel has been tasked with listening to Albertans and hearing their thoughts, views and concerns about a provincial pension plan. For something this big, Albertans deserve the benefit of a rational, adult conversation,” Dinning said in the Thursday release.
The announcement of town halls comes after an online survey was launched by the government in September. Critics have been quick to point out that the survey doesn’t bother to ask Albertans whether they approve of ditching the CPP, instead asking only how they would prefer the windfall to be spent.
The cost of the final version of the LifeWorks report has been pegged at about $1.8 million, while the government’s ad campaign will cost $7.5 million.
Shannon Phillips, Opposition NDP critic for finance, pensions and insurance, said in a statement Thursday the absence of any planned in-person town halls is “a move of pure cowardice.”
“The UCP refuses to look Albertans in the eye and tell them why they’re moving aggressively to gamble their pension away,” she said.
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The Alberta NDP has launched its own counter survey, which it has said has already generated overwhelmingly negative feedback on the pension proposal.
The government has promised that an Alberta Pension Plan would have to be approved by referendum before it could be implemented.
Business groups, including the Canadian Federation of Independent Business and the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, have warned the provincial pull out could be risky and destabilizing.
For details on how to participate in the town halls beginning Monday, Albertans should visit AlbertaPensionPlan.ca/Engagement.
Regardless of where they live, Albertans can listen to five sessions, slotted to run from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. The Edmonton and surrounding area will see its town hall on Nov. 16, and Calgary and the surrounding area are scheduled for Nov. 9. For northern Alberta, the town hall is next Monday, for southern Alberta Oct. 24 and for central Alberta it is Nov. 22.