Federal Employment Minister Randy Boissonnault says he is against any attempt by the Alberta government to leave the Canada Pension Plan.
“I can tell you that the federal government and I are very clearly committed to working with Albertans to keep them in the Canada Pension Plan,” Boissonnault told CTV’s Power Play on Friday. “It’s simply wrong to politicize pensions.”
Alberta’s governing United Conservative Party contends that the province’s workers put more into the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) than they get back, and that Alberta could make billions if it managed its own pension plan.
Canada’s chief actuary is now looking into the matter, including calculations in a report commissioned by Alberta that said the province would be owed $334 billion if it leaves the CPP, which is more than half the total amount in the federal fund.
“By the math that the Alberta government put on the table, if Alberta, B.C. and Ontario were to all three decide to step out of the CPP, they would somehow be owed over 120 per cent of the funding – we’d be paying them to leave the CPP,” Boissonnault said. “It’s just nutty, doesn’t make any sense, and so we will take the time that we need to get those numbers.”
Boissonnault, who represents Edmonton Centre for the Liberals, says he’ll be leading the charge against the proposal from Premier Danielle Smith’s government if it comes down to a possible referendum in Alberta.
“So, question to the premier and finance minister, why are you doing this? Why are you going after pensioners? Its wrong,” Boissonnault said. “Take your job seriously and get on with the real issues of housing and opioid addictions, and actually growing up our economy, and focusing on oil and gas and greening our economy.”
Alberta Finance Minister Nate Horner spoke to CTV’s Power Play on Friday after meeting with Federal Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland and his provincial counterparts on the issue. Horner emphasized that his government is exploring the matter and has not made a final decision.
“All we’ve ever sought is clarity,” Horner said. “That’s all we’ve done and we’ve thrown it out there to the public to have a conversation about, is this something Alberta should pursue?”
Pushing back against Boissonnault’s jabs, Horner also showed willingness to compromise on his party’s staunch opposition to Ottawa’s carbon tax and suggested that he would help Albertans take advantage of a recently announced three-year carbon tax break on home heating oil.
“I heard him say to take my job seriously and take policy seriously, so considering you just said that, an idea just came to me,” Horner said on Friday. “I’m going to work diligently and quickly to come up with a subsidy for Albertans to convert from natural gas to home heating oil. If that’s the last card out on the federal carbon tax, I want to make sure that Alberta citizens can enjoy it.”
Gil McGowan, the president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, which represents 28 unions and 170,000 private and public-sector workers across the province, spoke to Freeland right after her meeting with provincial finance ministers.
“Based on my meetings today, it’s clear that the Alberta finance minister got a rough ride when he was meeting with other finance ministers today, and that they sent him a pretty clear message, and that message was that Alberta could not expect to walk away with $344 billion from the CPP fund,” McGowan told CTV News. “There would be a negotiation and it would be a bare-knuckle one because the other provinces understand that if Alberta were to secede from the CPP, it would have huge financial implications for people living in other provinces.”
McGowan characterized the Alberta government’s proposal as a “crazy notion” that would impact all Canadians.
“This idea of pulling Alberta out of CPP has been kicking around for about 40 years, and it’s always been on the fringes of political debate in our province, but with the election of Danielle Smith as premier it’s been moved into the centre, but no one wants it,” McGowan said.
“The workers don’t want it, the business community doesn’t want it, ordinary Albertans clearly don’t want this. So the question is, why they’re doing it? We think that they’re using it as some kind of bargaining chip to play political games with Ottawa, which, from our perspective is an inappropriate use of the retirement savings of millions of Albertans.”
With files from CTV News Channel Anchor Todd Vanderheyden and CTV National News Ottawa Correspondent Judy Trinh