Benefits & Pensions
Albertans demand details, risk assessment in telephone town hall on quitting CPP
By Dean Bennett
The provincial panel gathering feedback on whether Alberta should quit the Canada Pension Plan heard arguments for and against the idea in a telephone town hall Monday, but the overriding theme was a demand for details in order to make an informed decision.
The panel, headed up by former Alberta treasurer Jim Dinning, was also taken to task by two callers for focusing their public opinion surveys on how an Alberta pension plan should be set up rather than clearly asking Albertans whether or not they even want to leave the CPP in the first place.
A caller identified as Harvey said the panel’s online survey, launched almost a month ago, and an impromptu survey it ran during Monday’s town hall, were designed to deliver a predetermined outcome.
“Nowhere in those questions were we allowed just to say flat `We disagree with this (leaving CPP),”’ said Harvey, who added he does not favour quitting the federal nest-egg fund.
“There seems to be an unwillingness on the part of the of the people who are presenting this idea (that) they don’t want to be told `We don’t want this.”’
Dinning told Harvey the surveys are purposely designed to not ask Albertans whether they want to quit CPP because that would be premature.
“Rather than pop the question too early, the purpose of these town hall meetings is to hear from Albertans, hear their concerns (about an Alberta plan), so that we can make note of that for the government, so ultimately they will be obliged to address them.”
Dinning reiterated Premier Danielle Smith’s government won’t leave CPP without putting the question to voters.
“You’re going to get your say,” Dinning told Harvey.
“This will go to a referendum. The government has said as much.”
The panel took questions from residents in northern Alberta for more than 90 minutes. It’s the first of five regional telephone halls scheduled to run over the next six weeks.
Callers sought answers on how an Alberta stand-alone pension would handle the issue of portability, death benefit issues, disability issues, de-indexing, management structure and management investment mandate.
One caller asked how Old Age Security factored in.
Would the fund maximize returns or would it become a government slush fund to invest in boutique programs or oil and gas ventures, another queried.
Still others wondered what would happen if more people move to the province to take advantage of an Alberta pension plan, or what would occur if demographics shift and Alberta’s young population paying into a pension plan becomes an older one taking money out.
“I’m undecided because I don’t have enough information. And we need to know the information before you ever go to a referendum,” said a caller named Ed.
“We need to know how much money you need to get. We need to know what the premiums will be, what the returns will be in intimate detail.
“So coming out now with this type of forum, without the detailed information, I think it’s very premature and inappropriate.”
Ed also called the panel out for its survey questions that don’t allow respondents to say whether or not they even want to go down the path of a stand-alone pension plan.
“Only allowing us to select one answer, I think that was inappropriate,” he said.
Dinning said the panel doesn’t have answers for detailed questions, but said any stand-alone provincial pension by law must provide equal or better benefits.
“That’s the law that the government would have to and would be obliged to support,” he said.
The government said it took 37 calls and comments, with 10,000 people online or on the phone at one point.
The discussions are based on a report commissioned by the government and completed by pension analyst LifeWorks. It was released by Smith on Sept. 21 to launch the debate.
The LifeWorks findings are critical to the province’s claim that a stand-alone Alberta plan is workable. To make it work, says LifeWorks, an Alberta plan needs _ and is entitled to _ more than half of the $575 billion in the CPP fund.
Some callers questioned the math and how a province with 12 per cent of Canada’s population deserves 53 per cent of the pension fund. One caller suggested Alberta should get a second opinion.
“The only actuarial study that’s been done is the one that the government has released. Clearly there will be negotiations,” said Dinning.
Dinning’s panel is to report back in the spring on whether there is a public appetite for a stand-alone pension plan. If so, Smith says she will call a referendum, with a majority vote needed to leave CPP.
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