There are a number of questions the Alberta government is avoiding like the plague. Topping the list is whether Albertans actually want to leave the Canada Pension Plan.
That’s only one of the many glaring faults in the much-vaunted “consultations” with Albertans, a scheme that includes using our money to finance a slick public relations campaign. This includes a survey, readily available online, containing six sections posing a variety of questions. Yet nowhere does it ask the most basic of questions: Are you in favour of leaving the Canada Pension Plan? One would think that should be Question No. 1.
Smartly, the final section asks respondents to add their thoughts — cautioning such replies not to exceed 200 words. (Presumably, that limit includes any choice of four-letter words the writer wishes to add.)
On top of the survey, a bright and cheery full-colour, one-page advertisement arrived in the mailbox last week with a beautiful picture of Canmore’s Three Sisters. It took pains to advertise all the benefits of an Alberta Pension Plan: more money in our pockets; portability across Canada; bigger paycheques; $300 billion in assets; larger benefits for us seniors and savings for business. What’s not to love?
Let me count the ways, beginning with the completely foolish notion that Alberta could strip the Canada Pension Plan of more than $300 billion, or half of CPP assets.
Personally, my question about the whole scheme is simple and you won’t find it anywhere else: Do you want the same people who were in charge of the Heritage Savings Trust Fund to handle your pension? That loud sound is the cries of outrage coming from those of us old enough to remember the promises that were made to Albertans. We would have a “rainy-day” fund to bolster this province in tough times.
One of the most trusted politicians in this or any other province — the late premier Peter Lougheed — promised us that in 1976. Then we got Don Getty followed by Ralph Klein. The latter was one of the most charming drinking buddies but an inept premier who threw $400 cheques at three million Albertans. That cost this province $1.4 billion. Klein grinned for the cameras and remains to this day a revered figure among Alberta’s premiers. Go figure.
What happened to the promise? How did Alberta take its billions in resource revenue, tossing much of it into general revenue to keep our standard of living high and our taxes low? It is to weep.
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We could have bested both Norway and Alaska, both of which have similar plans to the Heritage Fund, but also something we didn’t get — legislation that set the percentage of resource revenue that must be invested. As a result, Alberta’s fund is only worth $21.6 billion and “only” is the appropriate word. That’s about $4,260 for each Albertan in Canadian dollars. By contrast, the total assets of Norway’s fund for 2021 were US$1,180 billion, or about US$220,000 for each Norwegian.
But don’t take my word for the fiasco, take the words of Ted Morton, former Alberta minister of energy and University of Calgary professor. He wrote about Lougheed’s plan for the Heritage Fund: “Realizing that at some future point, Alberta’s oil and gas reserves would begin to be depleted, Lougheed legislated that each year the government must deposit 30 per cent of all annual non-renewable resource revenues in the Heritage Fund. In its first five years, the fund grew to $8.3 billion.
“Early estimates were that it could top $50 billion by 2000. But this was short-lived. As the price of oil dropped and annual non-renewable resource revenues declined, the government reduced deposits to 15 per cent in 1982, and then zero per cent in 1986. To make matters worse, the government also began to use a portion of the fund to support “economic diversification” projects . . . they soon became political slush funds used to support various ministers’ pet projects through loans, equity and loan guarantees. After losing tens of millions of dollars, they were cancelled by premier Ralph Klein in 1994.”
I’m sure the three-person APP “engagement panel” has been thorough in its investigation. But this scheme has “disaster” written all over it.
And that’s before a promised referendum that puts the fate of my pension in the hands of people who are swayed by shiny promises.
Catherine Ford is a regular Herald columnist.