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Opposition urges Alberta to drop CPP-exit ads, premier says campaign will continue

EDMONTON — Alberta’s Opposition leader is calling on Premier Danielle Smith to dump the province’s multimillion-dollar ad campaign touting the benefits of quitting the Canada Pension Plan.

NDP Leader Rachel Notley says the $7.5-million advertising and engagement campaign is rife with false facts and coupled to a delusional demand that the province is owed half the assets of the CPP on its way out the door.

“Both the premier and the finance minister have admitted that the (report’s) pension estimates are unconfirmed and not yet final,” Notley said during question period Thursday.

“Nonetheless, this (United Conservative Party) government continues spending millions and millions of public dollars on ads full of misinformation. 

“Why won’t the premier pull these misleading ads off the airwaves, stop wasting Albertans’ money and apologize to them for this abuse of their taxpayers’ dollars?”

Smith’s government, citing a third-party report from the analyst Lifeworks, said it’s entitled to $334 billion from the CPP, a number that represents 53 per cent of the CPP’s total assets.

Economists and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board peg the number at about 15 per cent, closer to Alberta’s share of people in the CPP. 

Smith said they’ll stick by the $334-billion figure, but she welcomes a federal government number. Federal Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said last week Ottawa will have its chief actuary come up with a calculation of how much Alberta should get.

And Smith said the ad campaign will continue.

“It’s because the members opposite spread fake news that we’ve had to correct the record with an advertising campaign,” Smith told the house.

“They were telling poor seniors, vulnerable people, that their pension would be stolen. Shame on them.”

The exchange came hours before a pension engagement panel headed by former provincial treasurer Jim Dinning was to host its third telephone town-hall session to hear from Albertans about whether to start an Alberta pension plan.

The panel is part of an engagement campaign that has been criticized as a lopsided push-poll designed not to seek Albertans’ opinions but to sway them to accept an Alberta pension plan.

Critics say a government online survey doesn’t ask Albertans if they want to leave the CPP but how they would like an Alberta plan structured. 

The advertising also highlights potential benefits, not the drawbacks, listed in the Lifeworks report.

The town-hall sessions mandate the discussion revolve around the report and its numbers.

The campaign was launched Sept. 21 and has reverberated across the country, prompting a national virtual meeting of finance ministers last week amid concerns over what an Alberta pullout would do to the CPP.

Dinning is to gather feedback and tell Smith in the spring whether there is interest in an Alberta plan. 

Based on that advice, Smith would decide whether to hold a referendum on leaving the CPP. 

Should a referendum be held, the government said it would be in 2025. 

That date was thrown into doubt two weeks ago, when Smith announced her government would wait for a final asset-transfer number to be hashed out with the federal government or settled in court.

On Monday, Alberta Finance Minister Nate Horner said the base number is up for debate. 

“The information may change,” Horner told the house.

References to the issue have disappeared in recent speeches by Smith and her government.

It was absent from the throne speech and not part of Smith’s keynote speech at her UCP’s annual general meeting.

Smith also didn’t mention it Thursday in a keynote speech to delegates at the Rural Municipalities of Alberta’s convention.

Smith recently broadened the criteria for holding a referendum.

She had previously stressed the decision would turn on what Albertans think of going it alone. Last week, she said her government would also consider the impact on the rest of Canada.

“We don’t want to do anything that is going to put at risk the viability of the Canada Pension Plan,” Smith said Saturday on her Corus radio call-in show.

“We just want to be able to see what the numbers are.

“If it’s sufficient for Albertans to have a comfort level that not only are we going to be taken care of, but it’s not going to put the rest of the plan at risk, then we’ll see if they are interested in going to a referendum.”

The government has been discussing the viability of an Alberta plan for years, despite consistent public opinion polls suggesting a majority of residents are happy with the CPP.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 9, 2023.

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press