The board of the Canada Pension Plan says Alberta’s consultation with its citizens on quitting the CPP is not a straightforward fact-finding exercise but rather a biased manipulation of public opinion.

Alberta Finance Minister Nate Horner, in response, says he welcomes all feedback but says the CPP is not an innocent bystander given the disproportionately large share of assets it accrues from his province.

The CPP launched its criticisms of Alberta’s pension exit public survey and advertising campaign in a letter Tuesday to Jim Dinning, the head of a panel collecting public input on whether Alberta should leave the CPP.

“We respectfully want to flag to you as head of the panel some troubling elements that in our view undermine the transparency, fairness, and integrity of the consultation process that has been put forward to the public so far,” Michel Leduc, the senior managing director of the CPP Investment Board, writes to Dinning.

Leduc focuses on the government’s online survey that was launched Sept. 21, the same day Premier Danielle Smith announced the debate on creating a stand-alone Alberta pension plan.

That day, Smith released a third-party report from pension analyst LifeWorks that calculated Alberta deserves more than half the $575 billion in CPP assets and could deliver higher payouts and lower contribution rates.

The government survey does not ask Albertans if they want to leave the CPP but rather asks them preferences on setting up the Alberta plan. Dinning told a telephone town hall Monday that this is, by design, saying the first step is to find out what Albertans want to see in a stand-alone plan.

Critics, including callers on Monday’s town hall, called the approach unfair.

The CPPIB, in its letter, said a third-party market research firm it contracted to analyze the survey also determined it failed to meet the basic standards of public consultation.

Canada Pension Plan board says Alberta pension exit consults are biased, manipulative. #CDNPoli #ABPoli #CPP #AlbertaPensionPlan #CPPIB

The report by Innovative Research Group said the survey gives respondents an uncontextualized rosy picture of benefits for Albertans based on one report while failing to report the risks or potential downside of Alberta going it alone.

“In the absence of providing any information surrounding the potential risks of a proposed APP to Albertans, the (Dinning) panel has failed to meet their mandated commitments and does not meet the basic principles for meaningful public consultation,” wrote Innovative.

Leduc added, “The survey is unfortunately formulated to direct opinions rather than seek them.”

Leduc said the same problem arises with the government’s $7.5-million advertising rollout to educate Albertans on the pension debate. Again, he said, the advertising promises great returns while not mentioning the risk, calling it “undisguised in its bias toward the (Alberta Pension Plan).”

He told Dinning, “To ask people their views informed solely by this one-sided presentation is, we hope you would agree, incompatible with the honest and open survey of public attitudes we hope you will undertake.”

The Innovative Research Group said recent comments by Horner have contributed to the question of whether the process is fair. It noted Horner said last week the government would not accept an Alberta pension plan using the Quebec investment model despite Smith saying it would be considered.

Horner’s department now says the Quebec model is back on the table but hasn’t said why.

The Innovative report said Horner’s comment suggests the fix is in on how the pension plan will be structured and “implies the Alberta government is not taking the consultation process seriously.”

The CPPIB is asking to speak to Dinning’s panel and to Albertans to present its views, numbers and risks linked to Alberta leaving CPP. The CPPIB has estimated if Alberta left, it would receive about 16 per cent of the CPP’s assets.

Horner, in a statement, said he encourages debate but wants to see some hard, verified numbers.

“The CPPIB has a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, given Alberta’s significant share of the assets they invest,” said Horner.

“I am frustrated that while the CPPIB has not hesitated to publicly criticize the LifeWorks report, they have yet to provide any evidence refuting its findings.

“If CPPIB has its own expert actuarial analysis on the creation of an Alberta pension plan, I would be eager to see it.”

Dinning’s panel is to gather public opinion for the next few months, then submit a recommendation to Smith in the spring on whether there is a public appetite in Alberta for a stand-alone pension.

If there is, Smith said the issue will go to a referendum.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 17, 2023.

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Danielle Smith's plan looks like a strategy to have an Alberta Pension Plan so that it can be invested primarily in oil and gas. Then, when oil and gas become stranded assets, no longer generating financial returns, hard working Albertans will be hooped. This is dangerous and shameful.

That is pretty much what I thought about it.

Having completed the questionnaire, I can vouch for it being biased! Nowhere is there opportunity to just say no.
And trying to say no at the comments allowed at the end was limited to 2 short sentences
To me this is my government trying to misinform me, true gaslighting by making any answer a degree of supporting the Alberta Pension plan
Absolutely unacceptable

The core idea of creating an APP could be called a typical Alberta self centered concept. But to manipulate, inflate and contort known CPP numbers and remove fairness in public consultation processes indicates Alberta's particular brand of hubris has gone from a loudmouth rural clique back in the 70s to a well fed Frankenstein's monster dwelling in the halls of the legislature.

The step that naturally follows an actual APP, which in reality would never be as well run or as diversified as the QPP or the mother CPP given the proponent's character, would be a referendum on separation preceeded by new heights of gerrymandering and propaganda.

But what is the end game here? Continue pounding on the name Trudeau? That's been done continuously since the 70s. Invest pension revenue in oil & gas? Yes, but that doesn't make sense as anything but a temporary bridge as the transition is already happening, as proven in the data that Alberta routinely ignores.

One thing that does make sense is the idea of placing the Alberta alt right at the pinnacle of power of a conservative theocracy, using Big Oil as the primary financial stepping stone. Danielle Smith is just the trailblazer; the people behind the curtain probably envision her as Danielle the Great. In that trajectory both the carbon oligarchs and the Christians stained with the corruption of right wing conservative conspiracies, xenophobia, chauvinism and lust for power get what they want out of this partnership.

I believe Albertans will reject the APP and any notion of true separation if the consultation and referenda processes are fair and open. If the referenda are seen as manipulated, 'No' will be the word of the day. Go as far as to monkey with the results, and a political crisis will emerge where the monster will be uncloaked at long last.

Conservatism has a place in Alberta, especially the calm, rational Lougheed brand. But an ultra right theocracy led by lying, cheating zealots interested only in building walls? That would be a formula for a mass exodus.

So there are two big issues around an Alberta pension plan, one about brute reality, one about political stupidity.

The political stupidity one is, the Alberta government would certainly turn their shiny new pension plan into a combination political football and crony reward machine, both resulting in heavy investment in the Alberta oil patch. And these investments would be worthless in 15 years at most. Sorry, but they will. The shift to electric power and renewables is ongoing no matter how much Alberta squalls, demand for oil is about to peak, and as demand drops, the most expensive oil to produce will be ditched first, and that's tar sands oil. When that happens, the value of investments in the tar sands will drop through the floor, and an Alberta Pension Plan heavily invested in them would become insolvent.

The brute reality one is that Alberta is one province out of nine, plus three territories, who are invested in the Canada Pension Plan. Even the federal Conservatives would never dare support the idea of handing 50+% of the CPP fund to one province, because if they did they would be able to watch their vote totals in all the other provinces drop towards zero. Even if they stayed quiet and then did it shortly after attaining a majority government, that's the kind of issue that could kill a political party permanently, the way the National Energy Policy killed Liberals in Alberta. People forget scandals, but nobody would forget the party that killed their fucking pension for a bunch of fucking Albertans. There is no way anyone outside of Alberta is going to go for Alberta grabbing more than their share of that fund, and there is no way Alberta is tough enough to bully us all into it. Even Alberta plus Big Oil wouldn't be tough enough, and this isn't on Big Oil's agenda so they won't care.

So if Alberta were to start a pension plan, they'd do it with an amount of the CPP that everyone they were pissing off considered fair, not the ludicrous gobs of cash they're pretending they can grab. This is incredibly obvious and anyone in Alberta claming they can walk away with more than half the CPP is incredibly obviously lying.