The UCP are always happy to annoy and challenge Liberal Ottawa. Such fun. But now they’re going too far, making Alberta look like a threat to the whole country.
Ontario wants a crash national meeting of finance ministers to discuss Alberta’s drive to withdraw from the Canada Pension Plan.
“We believe this proposal could cause serious harm over the long term to working people and retirees in Ontario and across Canada,” Ontario Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy wrote to his federal counterpart, Chrystia Freeland.
As a general rule, you don’t want to unite your friends and your enemies. That’s what’s happening with the UCP’s bizarre claim to more than half the national pension fund.
The Progressive Conservatives under Ontario Premier Doug Ford are generally friendly to Alberta. Bethlenfalvy expressed admiration for the province and the energy industry, even as he called for the meeting.
Ontario also said it will launch a court case in support of Alberta’s recent Supreme Court victory over the Impact Assessment Act.
But friendship dies with this pension drive. It’s political poison for Alberta.
The deeply troubled Trudeau Liberals see it as a threat they can rally nearly everyone against. Even sympathetic conservative provinces are starting to swing their own clubs.
“Our government firmly supports the CPP and shares your serious (federal) concerns with Alberta’s proposal to withdraw,” Bethlenfalvy said.
Premier Danielle Smith’s tough stand pleases those Albertans who want to sever ties with the national system, from pensions to tax collection, policing, employment insurance and much else.
The whole controversy will thrill Take Back Alberta types who plan to flood the UCP annual general meeting Nov. 3 and 4, hoping to take over the governing board of the party.
These folks are crucial to Smith but they’re only a fragment of Alberta opinion. The NDP said about 30,000 people responded to its own poll, and 90 per cent were opposed to the pension drive.
The second telephone town hall “engagement” on Tuesday evening brought increasing objections.
The panellists, led by former Treasurer Jim Dinning, say they’re objective, but don’t give that impression when they defend the UCP’s LifeWorks study that says Alberta could leave the CPP with a cash payment of $334 billion.
Dinning likes to say LifeWorks did the only full study, even though Alberta Treasury itself has produced much lower estimates.
U of C economics professor Trevor Tombe has also published his own detailed and rigorous work.
He found that Alberta would be entitled to only $120 billion at a maximum.
Tombe concludes that annual contributions would not drop by $1,425 a year, as the UCP suggests, but only $400.
At the same time, pension payments wouldn’t increase by nearly as much as the government implies. The whole arduous struggle wouldn’t be worth the effort.
Tombe also points out that at some point, Ottawa might say it has to modify the pension law to accommodate Alberta. This would require a national referendum.
Changing a single clause would require support from two-thirds of the provinces and two-thirds of the Canadian population.
That’s an even more difficult standard than a constitutional amendment, which needs approval from seven provinces with 50 per cent of the population.
Many people wonder how much Dinning is being paid to do this work. They’re entitled to ask, especially when Preston Manning gets $253,000 to head up the government’s COVID response study, technically called the Public Health Emergencies Review Panel.
Asked about Dinning’s compensation, Alberta Treasury says he’s paid standard rates for committee work. Treasury passed on orders-in-council dating back to 2009.
How they apply is murky, but it appears that the most Dinning would be paid is $550 for an eight-hour day, and maybe less.
Finance Minister Nate Horner can double this if he feels like it. Expenses can be claimed.
That’s not peanuts for most people; but still, Dinning might be the best deal Albertans get from this pension craziness.
It’s not much consolation.
Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Herald.
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