Pierre Poilievre, leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, is encouraging Albertans to stick with the federal pension plan, rejecting one of Premier Danielle Smith’s signature policy aspirations for her province.
Mr. Poilievre, in a statement Friday, blamed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s environmental policies for Alberta’s desire to split from the Canada Pension Plan while claiming half of its assets for itself. But while pointing to Mr. Trudeau as the source of the Western province’s angst, he also sided with the Prime Minister in the fight over the future of the $575-billion safety net.
“I encourage Albertans to stay in the CPP,” Mr. Poilievre said. “As prime minister, I will protect and secure the CPP for Albertans and all Canadians, by treating every province fairly and freeing Alberta to develop its resources to secure our future.”
Ms. Smith and her governing United Conservative Party have made leaving the CPP and establishing a provincial pension plan a key policy issue. They argue that Albertans are paying more than their fair share into CPP and that the plan is another example of how the rest of Canada rides high on the province’s prosperity. The UCP released a report in September that said Alberta would be entitled to $334-billion from CPP should the province decide to leave and establish a separate system. The figure, while calculated by a third-party, is widely disputed.
The move put Mr. Poilievre in a difficult political position. If he supported Alberta’s idea, he would be agreeing to give 53 per cent of CPP’s assets to 15 per cent of the plan’s representative population. And it is unclear whether Albertans themselves are sold on the UCP’s pension proposal. (Quebec has its own pension system.)
Ms. Smith has said Albertans will vote on the idea in a provincial referendum.
The federal conservatives, who hold 30 of Alberta’s 34 ridings, stayed quiet on Ms. Smith’s plan until Mr. Trudeau, on Wednesday, said he would fight to protect CPP for all Canadians. Mr. Poilievre, in his statement, ignored Alberta’s decades-long flirtation with the concept of a provincial plan and pinned the disagreement exclusively on Mr. Trudeau.
“The division today on the CPP is entirely the result of Justin Trudeau attacking the Alberta economy. His unconstitutional anti-development laws and painful carbon taxes have forced Albertans to look for ways to get some of their money back,” Mr. Poilievre said. “We would not be having this CPP debate if I were today prime minister because Alberta would be free from carbon taxes, unconstitutional anti-energy laws and other unfair wealth transfers.”
Ms. Smith responded to Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Poilievre. And although both federal leaders oppose Alberta’s plan, she had much sharper words for the Prime Minister.
“It is disingenuous and inappropriate for you to stoke fear in hearts and minds of Canadian retirees on this issue,” she said Wednesday in an open letter addressed to Mr. Trudeau.
Ms. Smith said Alberta could leave CPP and the fund’s current benefits and stability would stay the same for the remaining Canadians if employee contributions increased by $175 a year.
Any attempt to prevent the province from relying on the withdrawal provisions would be considered an “attack on the constitutional and legal rights of Alberta, and met with serious legal and political consequences,” Ms. Smith told Mr. Trudeau.
In response to Mr. Poilievre, she repeated her claim that Alberta taking half of CPP’s assets would not threaten pensions across the country, but did not note that in order to keep benefits in tact the remaining contributors would have to pay more annually.
“This is an opportunity Albertans are discussing that has potential to improve the lives of our seniors and workers without risk to the pensions of fellow Canadians,” she said in a statement.
Mr. Smith noted she and Mr. Poilievre are aligned in their distaste for Mr. Trudeau’s government. She also pointed to the rights of provinces, but without the threatening tone deployed in her letter to the Prime Minister.
“We very much look forward to working with Pierre Poilievre and the Conservative Party of Canada caucus to restore respect for the constitutional rights of provinces to the economic benefit of all Canadians.”
Using Ms. Smith’s preferred math, University of Calgary economist Trevor Tombe calculates that if British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario withdrew from the plan, 128 per cent of CPP’s assets would have to be paid to those provinces. The CPP has rejected Alberta’s calculation.