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UCP's dream of grabbing the CPP won't be as easy as they claim

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Alberta Premier Jason Kenney. Image: Government of Alberta/Flickr

How much of the United Conservative Party's radical project to transform Alberta into a dystopic firewalled statelet, most of the details of which were revealed by Premier Jason Kenney for the first time at Preston Manning's Red Deer clambake on Saturday, was predicated on a Conservative victory in last month's federal election?

A lot, by the sound of it.

You'd almost think ideas like Bill 207, the legislation to restrict reproductive rights usefully described on social media yesterday as the "Abandoning Patients Act," and the scheme to replace the trustworthy Canada Pension Plan with an Alberta version more vulnerable to mismanagement and misappropriation, were prepared in advance on the assumption Andrew Scheer would be prime minister by now.

No wonder Alberta's federal and provincial Conservative politicians are so furious that Canadian voters seem to have cottoned on to what they were up to and let the Liberals hang onto a minority government on October 21 despite Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's very bad year.

Bill 207, as has already been argued here, has the look and feel of legislation drafted in the premier's office and handed to Peace River MLA Dan Williams, one of many anti-abortion hardliners in the UCP caucus, to present as if it were his own private member's bill.

But it was Kenney's pension machinations, accompanied by noisy cheerleading from mainstream media and in particular Postmedia's plethora of market-fundamentalist pundits, that really got me thinking about this.

It turns out this isn't as easy to do as the right-wing commentariat would like you to believe. So while Albertans need to remain on guard against Kenney scheming to hijack their CPP, it's too early to despair that their pension funds are about to disappear into thin air like 50 years of Alberta's oil and gas royalties.

In a useful thread on Twitter last night, University of British Columbia economist Kevin Milligan pointed out that Section 3(1) of the Canada Pension Plan Act includes a deadline after which provinces that don't wish to participate in the CPP can no longer easily set up their own pension plan, as Quebec once did.

That deadline, Milligan noted, was on May 3, 1965 -- so if you're mad about Alberta politicians bowing to the will of Ottawa, you'd need to take it up with Preston "secession needs to be part of the strategy" Manning's late daddy, Social Credit premier Ernest Manning, who may not have been a raging commie but apparently wasn't quite the Alberta sovereignist junior turned out to be either.

As Professor Milligan noted, "you can't do like Quebec without a time machine."

The CPP act does allow provinces to pull out, he explained, but the mechanism for doing so requires the departing province to prove it has a comprehensive and comparable plan.

As an aside, any such scheme had better be comparable, or Ottawa should tell the UCP to keep its grubby paws off our pensions. Unfortunately, this doesn't apply if you're an Alberta teacher, nurse or other public employee whose pension savings Kenney covets for use as a pork barrel to convert into welfare payments for fossil fuel billionaires.

Milligan's Twitter thread continued:

"Some have asked if the Canada Pension Plan Act can be changed in order to make it easier for AB to get out. Of course this is possible -- but CPP amendment requires 2/3rds of provinces with 2/3rds of population to agree. So, not an easy path."

My point here is that Canadian Conservatives almost certainly thought that with friendly majorities in populous provinces like Alberta, Ontario and perhaps even Quebec, this destructive goal might just have been within reach with a Conservative majority in the House of Commons.

This suggests to this Albertan that Conservatives must never again be allowed to govern Canada, whether they're led by Scheer or some other Stephen Harper clone -- a concept that a majority of voters in most other provinces seem to have grasped, thank goodness. This would be true, it's said here, even if we didn't face a planetary climate emergency.

Meanwhile, at least one group of Alberta physicians has started to organize to fight Bill 207. The neurology section of the Alberta Medical Association presented a motion to the physicians' advocacy and bargaining association urging it to "take a strong stance in opposition to this bill" on the grounds that to do otherwise "opens the door to allowing physicians to discriminate freely and deny care along any number of 'conscience' lines, such as gender, religion, ethnicity, or sexual orientation."

Further, the neurologists' motion says, "our patients are entitled to choose for themselves with respect to legally approved medical procedures and that health-care providers do not have the right to deny access to care for those patients or any others."

Speaking of motions, though, the UCP will consider one at its annual general meeting at the end of the month in Calgary to implement a full "voucher" system to fund education -- providing 100 per cent funding for private schools and presumably bringing down hard times if not ruination on the public and Catholic systems.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on David's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Image: Government of Alberta/Flickr

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