Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre had to say it. Premier Danielle Smith knew he’d say it.
Poilievre encourages Albertans to stay in the Canada Pension Plan rather than backing the Alberta scheme in some future referendum.
No national leader could possibly endorse Alberta’s pension drive.
The UCP presents the dream in its most extreme form — the prospect of pulling $334 billion out of the CPP, more than half its value.
The whole public approach is so unreasonable it smacks of a political setup.
There’s no earthly way Smith and her UCP would do anything to hurt Poilievre.
His gentle rejection of the idea, without criticizing Smith, could actually help him with Canadians in other provinces who wonder if he’d somehow go along with this wacky scheme.
In a statement to Postmedia’s Tyler Dawson, Poilievre laid it all on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“The division today on the CPP is entirely the result of Justin Trudeau attacking the Alberta economy,” he said.
“His unconstitutional anti-development laws and painful carbon taxes have forced Albertans to look for ways to get some of their money back.
“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.
“I encourage Albertans to stay in the CPP.
“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.”
Poilievre manages to respect the provincial right to withdraw, which clearly exists in law, while promising to “protect and secure” the national pension fund.
Notably, he doesn’t actually say he’d reject a less aggressive proposal from Alberta.
Smith responded: “I appreciate the tone and sentiment expressed by Conservative Party Leader Pierre Poilievre regarding the multiple destructive policies the Liberal-NDP coalition have imposed on the Albertan and Canadian economies.”
She doesn’t deal at all with Poilievre’s vow to protect the CPP. Suddenly, it’s all about Trudeau as much as the plan itself.
CPP Investments, which manages the fund, has come out hard against Alberta’s messaging. They’re right on nearly every point.
The province is not really consulting — it’s promoting. The $334-billion fantasy is front and centre in all the government’s pitches.
CPP investments has no choice but to recognize this as an existential threat to Canadians’ pensions.
Then Trudeau piled on. “I have instructed my cabinet and officials . . . to do everything possible to ensure CPP remains intact,” he said. “We will not stand by as anyone seeks to weaken pensions and reduce the retirement income of Canadians.”
The Smith crew were delighted. They think Trudeau affirmed their claim that Alberta’s “over-contribution” to CPP is massive, so vast that its removal would be a disaster. (At the same time, the UCP claims the impact wouldn’t be so serious.)
The UCP has a visceral understanding of the passions boiling in its anti-Ottawa base. And on Nov. 3-4, there’s a crucial annual party convention at which the only pressure on Smith will come from the right.
As for Trudeau, he has abundant troubles of his own. An Angus Reid poll shows most Canadians want him to quit. Almost half of his own party’s adherents agree.
The PM is desperately trying to find traction and not doing it well. The dispute with India over allegations of state-sponsored murder may have merit, but now Canada is forced to negotiate just to keep delegates in the country.
Four days before Trudeau blasted the pension scheme, the Supreme Court ruled that the Impact Assessment Act was largely unconstitutional.
It was the biggest slapdown of federal overreach in a generation, proving that Ottawa has enforced an improper law for at least four years at great expense to the resource economy.
For Trudeau, blasting the pension plan must have looked like a handy deflection from that defeat.
The creation of an APP wouldn’t happen for at least five years and probably much longer. Successive Alberta governments, even the UCP brand, are unlikely to keep pushing the shaky scheme uphill.
This is far more about today’s politics than tomorrow’s pensions.
Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Herald