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Nathan Gross | CBC | Canva

Why Isn’t the UCP Government Listening to the Vast Majority of Albertans Who Don’t Want Changes to Our Pension Plans?

Why has Premier Smith flip-flopped on her election promise not to touch “anybody’s pension?”

Unless you’ve been residing in a remote area of Alberta without internet or cell phone coverage, you’re likely aware of Premier Danielle Smith’s claim from last fall that if Alberta were to exit the Canada Pension Plan (CPP), the rest of Canada would owe Alberta 53 percent of the program’s total current assets.

That amounts to about $334 billion!

No wonder our Premier is pumped about getting a massive windfall from Ottawa.

Who wouldn’t be?

One big problem with Premier Smith’s magic math is that the amount to be transferred is not up to her or anyone else in Alberta.

In consultation with other provinces, the federal government determines the final amount of CPP money transferred to a province, and there is no chance the other provinces will let Alberta take over half of the CPP! 

And so, now the province awaits an actual federal estimate of Alberta’s share of the pension plan in the fall.

Everyone seems to forget Premier Smith’s pension proposal is a massive flip-flop. During the 2023 provincial election, Danielle Smith emphatically told voters that “no one is touching anybody’s pension.”

While we are all too familiar with election promises broken by politicians, this is a major about-face. 

It’s reminiscent of former BC Premier Gordon Campbell’s flip-flop on HST, and we know how that turned out.

During the 2009 election campaign, Campbell promised he wouldn’t bring in the HST, only to reverse his position soon after the election. This flip-flop was Campbell’s ruin. He was forced to resign, and a successful Citizens’ Initiative forced the BC government to repeal the HST.

Premier Danielle Smith and Finance Minister Nate Horner at a press conference on the Alberta Pension Plan in September 2023 |
Premier Danielle Smith and Finance Minister Nate Horner at a press conference on the Alberta Pension Plan in September 2023 |

A Hasty Retreat

The UCP asked Albertans for their opinion on a made-in-Alberta pension plan using an online survey and telephone town halls

Former Progressive Conservative Finance Minister Jim Dinning was the appointed spokesperson trying to sell the idea of an Alberta-run pension at the town halls. He was met with skepticism thicker than an Alberta beef steak. 

Dinning, sounding more disheartened than a cowboy who’s lost his horse, finally admitted the APP proposal faced stiff opposition from Albertans worried about their retirement income security.

In a somewhat deflated tone, the province’s Finance Minister, Nate Horner, announced in December a ‘pause’ in engaging Albertans on the Alberta Pension Plan (APP) under the guise of giving the chief actuary of Canada time to crunch some numbers.

And so, the APP has been flying under the radar ever since. Or has it?

Albertans Not Divided On This One

One thing is certain, Albertans of all political stripes are pretty much united in disapproval of Smith’s Alberta Pension Plan proposal.

Using an online survey in January and February, a Viewpoint Alberta Poll from Common Ground, a University of Alberta research project, questioned 1,123 Alberta residents about hot-topic issues. 

One of the topics was the Alberta Pension Plan.

Fifty-seven percent said they oppose the province’s proposal to adopt an Alberta Pension Plan

Only just over two in ten Albertans supported the APP, about the same number as “neither supported nor opposed” the idea.

“Overall support for an Alberta pension plan has decreased since the last time we polled six months ago. It’s dropped about six percentage points,” said U of A  professor Jared Wesley to CBC News.

There are differences in support of an APP based on political affiliations. 

Only 4 in 100 NDP voters support an APP, while just over a third of UCP supporters agree that an APP would be better than the CPP. 

But even among the UCP, 6 in 10 don’t think the APP is a good deal.

“Even United Conservative identifiers are firmly against abandoning the Canada Pension Plan, and yet the government still is wanting to proceed. It doesn’t make much sense from a public opinion standpoint,” said Wesley

Jared Wesley from Common Ground at the University of Alberta | Jared Wesley
Jared Wesley from Common Ground at the University of Alberta | Jared Wesley

Opinions Be Damned!

The UCP government’s version of ‘listening to Albertans’ | William Krause | Unsplash
The UCP government’s version of ‘listening to Albertans’ | William Krause | Unsplash

The government has yet to release its poll and town hall results, even though several reporters have tried to gain access through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIP).

Sean Holman, a former Mount Royal journalism professor and former investigative journalist, told the Tyee that the ‘freedom of information systems across the country, and in particular in Alberta, were never meant to serve the public interest. They were meant to protect the government. And what we now see is the use of the [FOIP] act as a shield against accountability, as opposed to an instrument of accountability.”

However, other independent polls have reached the same conclusion as the Viewpoint Alberta Poll: Albertans are not interested in abandoning the CPP.

To appease Albertans that they are indeed listening, the UCP passed a law requiring a referendum before any CPP exit.

Sounds great. We get to vote on it, say no… and put the issue to bed.

Except… there’s a catch – the UCP are not mandated to listen to the vote results

It’s like asking for your opinion and then plugging their ears. 


So What Gives?

So why does the UCP government still want to pursue its APP dreams even when the majority of UCP supporters don’t like it?

That is the $334 billion question!

Some suspect the government plans to use the newfound mythical wealth to bolster Alberta’s oil and gas industry. The industry has been trying to attract new capital to grow the oil sands since international investors pulled out over the last few years.

Lisa Young, a political science professor at the University of Calgary, told CBC News, “It’s possible that the government’s objective here is not to move forward with a referendum, but rather to keep the pension plan alive until the leadership review within the party next fall.”

The Alberta Pension Plan has significant backing from Take Back Alberta (TBA), a group with right-leaning, Christian Nationalist views, and TBA holds considerable influence on the UCP Board of Directors. 

Discontinuing the APP push before the leadership review could upset this group.

In March, Take Back Alberta and The Alberta Prosperity Project held ‘information’ meetings about the APP in several communities, including Westlock, Innisfail, Lethbridge, Barnwell, Valleyview, Rocky Mountain House, and Camrose.

The Alberta Prosperity Project describes itself  as a not-for-profit, non-partisan project to “educate and unite all Albertans to protect their prosperity, freedom and self-determination by empowering the Alberta government to restructure Alberta’s relationship within or without Canada.” 

Their website pushes for a referendum on Alberta’s independence.

Nicole Kimpton, the moderator of the panel discussions, said the goal of the meetings was to obtain 200,000 signatures on a petition to hold a referendum on the APP.

“I think there’s a lot of fear that’s going around, around leaving the Canadian Pension Plan to come to an Alberta Pension Plan,” she said.

Her group argues that going to an APP would mean more money in the pockets of Alberta’s seniors.

They are one of the few supporters in the province for the APP, but like the TBA, they seem to have influence in the inner circles of Smith’s party. 

So, although all is quiet now, but we have not heard the end of the pension debate.

Stay tuned.

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