Alberta Finance Minister Nate Horner.
Alberta Finance Minister Nate Horner wants you to know it’s not too late to say something nice about the UCP’s plan to grab more than half the CPP fund. Credit: Alberta Newsroom / Flickr Credit: Alberta Newsroom / Flickr

Just because Albertans have overwhelmingly rejected the idea, don’t imagine for a moment Alberta’s United Conservative Party (UCP) has lost interest in getting its hands on its citizens’ share of the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) fund, whatever that may turn out to be. 

On Valentine’s Day last week, Albertans learned the province had refused to release responses from members of the public to its online survey about the government’s pension scheme to a Postmedia reporter who had filed a freedom-of-information request. 

“Treasury Board and Finance has decided not to give you access to the records you requested,” the government told Matthew Black in a letter that pretty much sums up the state of “freedom of information” under the UCP. 

“The records you requested are part of that larger analysis and will feed into the panel’s report, therefore they cannot be released,” the letter said, referring to a section of the Freedom of Information and Privacy Act that has not troubled the government in the past when the information requested supported whatever it’s up to. It is also, arguably, a misinterpretation of the scope of the law. 

Well, Postmedia, which has troubles of its own, may or may not have the resources to challenge the arbitrary decision, but it’s fair to conclude that the UCP doesn’t want mere citizens like us to know just how unpopular its planned pension grab is, or how articulate and angry Albertans are about it.

The UCP doesn’t really know the meaning of shame, but it must have concluded there was some political risk. At any rate, the next day Finance Minister Nate Horner put out a press release in which he claimed, “during the first phase of our engagement on a potential provincial pension plan, we heard loud and clear that Albertans want more information on the value of the asset transfer Alberta would be entitled to if we were to withdraw from the Canada Pension Plan.” (Emphasis added.) 

Even though the case is a circumstantial one, we can be pretty sure that isn’t quite what most Albertans were telling the government when they wrote to say, “keep your #@&%* greasy paws off my pension,” as I know for certain at least one of them did. 

Horner – who always looks a bit like a kid wearing his dad’s jacket, tie and shoes – went on to whine about how the Chief Actuary of Canada, Assia Billig, is taking so long with her assessment of how much of the CPP’s assets Alberta would be entitled to walk off with in the event the province pulled out of the plan.

Count on it, though, however long it takes, it won’t be the 53 per cent claimed by that consultant the Alberta government hired to cook up a report on its pension pipedream last fall.  

Then, tellingly, Horner encouraged Albertans “to continue submitting their thoughts on a potential Alberta Pension Plan. The engagement panel is still accepting workbook submissions until the end of February while they do their analysis of the town halls and online survey.”

What’s with that, you ask? 

Well, it means that behind the scenes dubious UCP allies are hard at work ginning up late submissions to the “engagement panel” in a desperate effort to tilt the responses back the government’s way. 

For example, recent emails to supporters from the Alberta Institute and Project Confederation, a couple of organizations of the sort that operate out of mail boxes in a shabby Calgary UPS store, said the groups wanted “to help Albertans have their voices heard.”

“To that end, we’re hosting two virtual Government Engagement Workshops,” said one email, signed by Josh Andrus, who describes himself as executive director of Project Confederation, “to walk you through the government’s feedback process.

“We’ll be filling out the ‘Alberta Pension Plan Public Engagement Panel Workbook’ together, and answering any questions you might have while doing so,” said Andris, a former director of the Wildrose Party’s Drumheller-Stettler Constituency Association. 

Readers of this blog are pretty sharp, so they will certainly get the idea. 

“We’re hosting these (free) events online so that it’s quick and easy for busy Albertans to attend, regardless of where they are in the province,” he added – and also so there’s no need to make the trek to the group’s Calgary headquarters presumably. 

Horner will need all the help he can get if he hopes to pull the fat from the fire, though.

Even rural MLAs are getting a hard time from normally credulous constituents when they try to defend the UCP pension scheme. 

Roasted by citizens attending a UCP town hall in St. Albert on February 8, Lac Ste. Anne-Parkland MLA Shane Getson found himself admitting that, OK, the Canada Pension Plan’s a pretty good deal, but, as the summary of his remarks by the St. Albert Gazette’s reporter put it, “53 per cent of Canada’s pension assets seemed too good a deal to pass up without first checking in with Albertans.”

No doubt. But Getson need not worry. The chances of Alberta walking off with that much are zero. 

Plus, the MLA and Coutts border blockade apologist assured his listeners, “There’s no flippin’ way that we would do this unless there was a referendum.” Horner made much the same pledge in his press release. 

But with the amount of money at stake, dear readers, it is said here there is no way you can count on this government to keep that promise if it sees an opportunity to go for the main chance. 

David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...