In his first public comments on Alberta’s proposal to withdraw from the Canada Pension Plan, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre says that Albertans are seeking to “get some of their money back,” and says “I encourage Albertans to stay in the CPP.”
The statement, sent exclusively to the National Post, marks the first time Poilievre has explicitly addressed the issue of Alberta’s proposal to withdraw from the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) and set up its own pension fund.
“The division today on the CPP is entirely the result of Justin Trudeau attacking the Alberta economy. His unconstitutional anti-development laws and painful carbon taxes have forced Albertans to look for ways to get some of their money back,” Poilievre said in the statement sent to the National Post.
“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.”
Poilievre’s statement comes one day after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sent a fiery open letter to Alberta Premier Danielle Smith saying that his government would defend the CPP against Alberta’s withdrawal.
In an emailed statement to National Post Friday morning, Smith said “I appreciate the tone and sentiment” of Poilievre’s statement “regarding the multiple destructive policies the Liberal-NDP coalition have imposed on the Albertan and Canadian economies.”
“As it relates to the Alberta Pension Plan; this is an opportunity Albertans are discussing that has potential to improve the lives of our seniors and workers without risk to the pensions of fellow Canadians,” Smith said. “After this broad consultation and discussion are complete, Albertans will ultimately decide whether or not to pursue this opportunity further.”
Last month, Smith released an independent report from LifeWorks, a human resources company. That report concluded that Alberta could be entitled to $334 billion if it withdrew from the CPP — more than half the national pension fund’s total assets.
That figure, which has been hotly debated by economists and politicians, is based on what LifeWorks deemed to be “equal to Albertans’ contributions less benefit payments and expenses accumulated with net investment earnings.”
The Alberta New Democrats have been fierce opponents of such a proposal and the Alberta Federation of Labour, a major grouping of unions, vowed on Thursday to fight against the proposal. Additionally, CPP Investments, the board that manages the CPP, has slammed the Alberta government’s consultation process as it seeks feedback from Albertans on leaving the CPP.
Advocates for creating an Alberta pension plan have argued that the province’s young population, relative to the rest of the country, would end up paying less in CPP contributions from their paycheques, and an independent pension fund would see increased retirement benefits paid out to seniors.
In his open letter to Alberta’s premier, Trudeau vowed to defend the CPP “against any actions that would threaten its certainty and stability.”
“Alberta’s withdrawal would weaken the pensions of millions of seniors and hardworking people in Alberta and right across the country. The harm it would cause is undeniable,” Trudeau wrote. “We will not stand by as anyone seeks to weaken pensions and reduce the retirement income of Canadians.”
Smith shot back with her own open letter, raising concerns that Trudeau had threatened to block Alberta’s withdrawal.
“Any attempt to do so will be seen as (an) attack on the constitutional and legal rights of Alberta and met with serious legal and political consequences,” Smith’s letter states. “If Albertans choose to withdraw from CPP, I expect that you will respect their choice.”
Duane Bratt, a political scientist at Calgary’s Mount Royal University speculated that Trudeau’s open letter was meant to force Poilievre’s camp to say something about his views.
“It’s not going to help (Trudeau) in Alberta,” said Bratt. “But I think Trudeau did that, in part to call out Poilievre — like what’s Poilievre going to do? Because Scott Moe hasn’t said anything. Doug Ford hasn’t said anything.”
While there has been some backlash from other premiers, notably Newfoundland and Labrador’s Liberal Premier Andre Furey, who said the idea was “punitive,” conservative politicians and premiers have largely been silent on the issue.
Poilievre and his Conservative party are highly popular in Alberta. Just four members of Parliament representing Alberta are Liberal or NDP MPs. Recent polling from the Angus Reid Institute shows that 55 per cent of Albertans have a favourable view of Poilievre.
“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,” said Poilievre.
Smith’s statement concludes with a similar sentiment, saying the UCP government “very much (looks) forward to working with Pierre Poilievre … to restore respect for the constitutional rights of provinces to the economic benefit of all Canadians.”
Said Bratt: “It matters in the rest of the country. If you’re going to be prime minister of Canada, how can you not support the Canada Pension Plan?
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