Alberta Contemplates Withdrawing from Canada Pension Plan: A Deep Dive into the Debate

Alberta Contemplates Withdrawing from Canada Pension Plan: A Deep Dive into the Debate
Alberta Finance Minister Nate Horner speaks to the media at a news conference in Calgary, Thursday, June 29, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

The ongoing debate in Alberta over its potential exit from the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) has seen significant developments this week. The province’s Finance Minister, Nate Horner, has shed light on Alberta’s consideration to potentially hold a referendum on the issue. This comes as part of a broader discussion initiated by the United Conservative Party (UCP) since 2020, spearheaded by Premier Danielle Smith.

In a recent interview with CBC’s Rosemary Barton, Horner stated, “It’s Albertans’ right to have the conversation, but I certainly welcome the conversations with other Canadian leaders — I look forward to it.” The minister emphasized that Alberta is within its rights to contemplate its own pension plan.

Earlier this week, the Albertan government announced a consultation process that could culminate in a referendum on the idea of the province establishing an independent pension system. This would be separate from the national Canada Pension Plan, which currently excludes only Quebec. A report commissioned by the province, conducted by Lifeworks, suggests that if Alberta withdraws, it could be entitled to as much as 53% of the CPP’s assets – a figure that has stirred controversy among economists and politicians alike.

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, House of Common

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed his concerns, stating in an open letter, “The harm it would cause is undeniable…Withdrawing Albertans from the Canada Pension Plan would expose millions of Canadians to greater volatility and would deny them the certainty and stability that has benefited generations.” Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, while advising Albertans to remain with the CPP, pointed fingers at Trudeau for stoking division and constraining Alberta’s economic potential.

Horner, in his conversation with CTV’s Vassy Kapelos, highlighted that at this juncture, the provincial government is essentially “just asking questions.” Interestingly, when Kapelos noted that the online survey doesn’t directly ask Albertans about their preference to stay or leave the CPP, Horner admitted there isn’t an objective metric for the referendum decision. The decision would be based on a “high level feeling from many sources,” Horner added.

Alberta is also seeking feedback from its citizens on this pressing issue. Former Alberta treasurer Jim Dinning has been appointed to head a panel for this purpose, which has been conducting telephone town halls and online surveys. The aim is to gather a holistic sentiment from the populace before forging ahead.

One of the more intricate aspects of this debate is the financial implications of such a move. According to the LifeWorks report, Alberta might be entitled to $334 billion by 2027, a sum that represents over half of the CPP’s total assets. When probed if there’s room for negotiation on this figure, Horner steered clear of specifics, stating it’s “certainly not (his) place to comment there.” He further mentioned that Alberta awaits a counteroffer and analysis from the federal government.

Ontario Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy has also weighed in, voicing concerns about the potential ramifications of Alberta’s withdrawal. He expressed his worries, especially for Ontario workers, citing the CPP’s longstanding stability. Bethlenfalvy called on the federal government to set up a meeting with provincial and territorial finance ministers to discuss Alberta’s proposal in depth.

The discussions and debates continue, and as Alberta moves forward with its consultations, the future of the province’s participation in the Canada Pension Plan remains in the balance.