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Commentary: Alberta pension plan a nip and tuck, two-horse race

Trudeau didn't need to comment on Alberta's possible departure from CPP; he could have let it die a natural death

It was dead at birth. The last rites were almost read. But then, up pops Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Yes, we’d all discreetly rolled our eyes when told the rest of the country should hand over more than half of its current Canada Pension Plan pot because it’s what Alberta deserves as seed money to start our own plan.

Now that’s a lot of seed - $334 billions-worth to be precise – so, even if we actually wanted to risk future retirement benefits by going out on our own, most of us had long ago heard the expression ‘possession is nine-tenths of the law’. 

So, as the Canada Pension Plan currently has all the moolah, what would entice it to hand over 53 per cent of those copious funds to a province with about 12 per cent of the population?

OK fair enough, Quebec shouldn’t really count in that previous equation, as it’s had its own plan from the get-go. But that’ll be numerical semantics as far as the rest of this country is concerned. To them Alberta will appear outlandishly greedy and, if push comes to shove, not a single MP outside our province would ever vote for such a seemingly lop-side deal. Not if they seek re-election.

And, as for support within Alberta itself, that too looked on very shaky ground, even amongst those who’ve been true-blue Conservatives since the days when a youngish fellow named Peter Lougheed was first elected to the Legislature.

So many Albertans are already getting those pension benefits, alongside others looking forward to collecting this monthly stipend, that putting these important payouts in limbo with talk of jettisoning the status quo is as hard a sell imaginable. Politics is one thing, paying the bills during your retirement entirely another.

No doubt Premier Danielle Smith understood this before first pushing an Alberta pension plan. Call me cynical, but maybe the whole ruckus was more about insider Tory party politics rather than any genuine desire to split from the CPP.

We know how potentially tenuous the united adjective is in today’s provincial Tory party. Anyone requiring a refresher course could call Jason Kenney for suitable enlightenment.

So far Smith has done well in preventing those PC and Wildrose factions within the UCP from causing much trouble during her premiership. Fighting Ottawa is the surest way of ensuring this big tent approach continues to hold. And, given the current federal government’s disdain for our province’s energy industry, it’s an opponent that keeps on giving when it comes to fostering party unity. 

But, just to add a little more firewood to this age-old Alberta-Ottawa conflagration, the idea of a provincial pension plan – a type of separation, without the bother of calling ourselves an actual country – suddenly looked quite appealing. Hey, it appeases the hardliners but doesn’t bother the other lot too much because they know it is doomed from the start.

All well and good: at least until Justin Trudeau stepped up to the plate. Because, when it comes to annoying Albertans, this fellow bats a thousand.

He couldn’t help himself: warning everyone the CPP must remain intact otherwise such a split would cause undeniable harm.

Why did he need to comment? Just let it die a natural death. Does Trudeau not understand he’s despised in this province? If he said the sun sets in the west Albertans would keep a solar dusk watch on the eastern horizon for a week, just to be sure.

He breathed life into the corpse, connected power to Frankenstein’s monster. He turned some future provincial poll on a separate Alberta pension plan into a nip and tuck, two-horse race. 

Chris Nelson is a syndicated columnist.


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