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Finance Minister Nate Horner speaks to the media at a news conference in Calgary on June 29.Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

Alberta has paused its campaign to persuade its residents to abandon the Canada Pension Plan in favour of a homegrown system because the public questions the validity of the calculations offered by the provincial government.

Premier Danielle Smith, in September, released a report that said Alberta would be entitled to $334-billion of the national pension plan’s $575-billion in assets should the province withdraw in 2027.

Ms. Smith launched a consultation panel and advertising effort, with a combined budget of $9.3-million, predicated on the report’s assumptions. Her pension proposal is part of the United Conservative Party’s multipronged argument that the rest of Canada takes advantage of Alberta’s prosperity to the detriment of people living in the province.

But swaths of Albertans doubted the government’s math, stifling momentum for one of the UCP’s key policy aspirations as it tries to limit ties between the province and Ottawa. On Friday, Alberta halted its public consultation process over pensions in light of these doubts, pausing the effort until the federal government discloses how much it believes the province would receive should it leave the national program.

The consultation panel, however, will continue to explore how an Alberta Pension Plan might operate should it come to fruition.

“Albertans wanted more precise information on the value of asset transfer,” Finance Minister Nate Horner told reporters Friday. “We’re listening.”

Other Canadian premiers, the federal government, the federal Conservative Party of Canada and the CPP itself have scoffed at Ms. Smith’s proposal and the UCP’s claim that Alberta deserves 53 per cent of the country’s retirement fund.

Legislation governing the CPP outlines how to divvy up the fund should a province decide to launch its own program, although there is room for interpretation. (Quebec did not join the national plan at its inception).

After politicians in Edmonton and Ottawa exchanged a volley of letters, and Canada’s finance ministers held an emergency meeting regarding Alberta’s math, federal Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland in early November said she would ask the Office of the Chief Actuary to calculate an asset transfer “based on a reasonable interpretation of the provisions.”

Jim Dinning, the chair of Alberta’s consultation panel and a former finance minister, previously defended the government’s claim to $334-billion, but on Friday said “the big question” is how much money the province would receive from CPP if it established its own fund.

“Uncertainty around the asset transfer is a barrier to moving our engagement discussions forward in a meaningful way,” he told reporters. “It is hard for Albertans to provide concrete perspectives when many variables concerning an Alberta plan depend upon the size of that asset transfer.”

Mr. Dinning said the panel planned to hold in-person engagement meetings in December and in the new year. But on Friday, he said it would be “prudent” to wait. Mr. Dinning conceded that figures from Ottawa may not conclusively settle the fight over cash, but could provide additional “context” and make the panel’s meetings more productive.

Alberta is “hopeful” the federal government will provide the chief actuary’s calculations by the middle of February, Mr. Dinning said. Mr. Horner said he asked Ms. Freeland’s office for the terms of reference she provided to the chief actuary, and said speculating on the timeline is too challenging.

Katherine Cuplinskas, a spokeswoman for Ms. Freeland, on Friday confirmed that the federal Finance Minister asked the chief actuary for an estimate on an asset transfer. Ms. Cuplinskas did not answer questions about when Ms. Freeland made the request, what the terms of reference are, whether the minister gave the chief actuary a deadline, or when Ottawa expects to provide Alberta with the answer.

LifeWorks, which has since been acquired by Telus Health, prepared Alberta’s pension report. It estimated Alberta’s slice of the CPP by calculating total contributions from Alberta, plus net investment returns attributable to those contributions, less benefits paid in Alberta and portion of CPP’s administration costs.

Mr. Horner, when asked whether he was surprised Albertans rejected his government’s claim to $334-billion of CPP’s assets, said: “I think they want certainty. They want to understand. It is a big number. It’s hard to get your head around. I know it was hard for me as well, until you dive into how they come to that conclusion.

“So, no. I think it is a challenge for people to think how could this be possible,” he said, adding the report outlines how CPP contributions from Alberta have flooded the fund for decades.

Mr. Dinning also acknowledged that it is difficult to grasp how the province is entitled to $334-billion of CPP’s assets.

“It is a gob-smacking number,” he said. “There isn’t anybody that I know who isn’t surprised by the number.”

The UCP has said it will hold a referendum to determine whether Alberta would proceed with its own pension system.

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