A pension in and of itself is a promise: if you work now, you’ll have money when you’re old and frail. As a result, people are protective of their pensions. The opinions of those impacted matter more than anything else — any changes made need approval from them first. But, what happens when a government wants to ignore its constituent’s opinions, especially when there is backlash?
The Government of Alberta is currently facing this struggle with their proposal to leave the Canadian Pension Plan (CPP) and create an Alberta Pension Plan (APP) in its place. We’re told the decision is ours. However, biased surveys and campaigns, as well as inaccurate information, are making it seem otherwise.
A week before the 2023 provincial election, Premier Danielle Smith said that “no one is touching anybody’s pension.” In fact, Smith said rumours surrounding changes to the pension plan weren’t concrete ideas planned by her party. Instead, she said it was just “another example of misinformation that the New Democratic Party (NDP) keeps running.”
However, on September 21, the Government of Alberta released an independent third-party report that suggests otherwise. The goal of the report is to provide insight on what a future APP could look like. Importantly, the report states that Alberta is entitled to an estimated $334 billion of CPP assets — 53 per cent of the CPP fund’s estimated total net assets. There is a major issue with this assessment — it’s based on only one interpretation of the CPP Act. The report may call the interpretation reasonable, but experts disagree.
Only a small portion of Albertans will read this 95-page report in its entirety. As well, not all that do will understand it — it is long, and packed with jargon.
What they will take away is what the report wants them to — that Alberta will supposedly receive this massive sum of money from the CPP if it leaves. If this is a major deciding factor for Albertans, we deserve an accurate number. Not only that, but an amount confirmed by experts who have no clear biases.
Now, the government isn’t pushing through with the APP without consultation — they released a survey for Albertans to give their thoughts on what an APP could look like. However, there are a few striking issues with this survey.
Firstly, anyone can take it — the survey only asks for the first three letters of your postal code, which are unverified. Perhaps after the survey closes, only responses with a valid Alberta postal code will be considered. But, since it isn’t currently verified automatically during the survey, anyone can take it. If the government wants to show that it’s taking the survey responses into account, this is not a good way to start.
As well, the survey is inherently biased. It assumes that the person taking it supports an APP. “As you indicated, you are in favour of increasing pension benefits under an APP. What form would you like that to take?” one of the questions asks.
But, there are no questions in the survey that directly ask if the person taking it supports an APP. This survey tells Albertans that they don’t actually have a say, contradicting the plan’s slogan: “your pension, your choice.” Instead, the government offers Albertans a superficial survey that makes it seem like they’re listening.
On October 17, Michel Leduc from CPP Investments sent a letter to Jim Dinning, the chair of the APP Engagement Panel, on behalf of the CPP Investment Board.
Leduc said the survey “fails to meet key principles of effective and meaningful consultation with the public.” Regarding advertising, Leduc said that the advertising campaign for APP is “similarly unbalanced and incomplete.” His expert concerns about the government’s problematic consultation and advertising should be cause for change from the government. However, no change happened. Instead, Albertans were only further shown that they can’t truly give an official opinion.
Saying that someone has a choice doesn’t mean they actually do. The overuse of the slogan “your pension, your choice” makes me think that not only is the aim to convince Albertans, but the government is trying to convince itself as well.
During a media event, Smith said that if the CPP Investment Board has a problem with the report, “then it’s up to them to tell us what the appropriate numbers are.” This is a deflection of responsibility, and dismisses the very real concerns Albertans and experts are trying to share. It also puts the onus on concerned Albertans, without giving them any real way to share their opinions.
Even though the government has made it difficult, amidst these issues, Albertans are expressing their concerns in other ways. According to a survey done by Abacus Data, 52 per cent of Albertan respondents think the APP is either bad or very bad. A mere 19 per cent of Albertans say that it’s a good idea, which is not a great sign.
Additionally, Corey Hogan, the chief communications officer at the University of Calgary, filed a Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy (FOIP) request. It shows that the Premier’s Correspondence Unit received 5,464 emails between September 18 – 24. Of those emails, 2,418 fall under the special topic “no APP,” with many strongly opposing the idea. Even less surprisingly, many of these emails showed concern about the supposed $334 billion estimate. This FOIP request shows that Albertans know the survey isn’t the best way to give feedback. This is problematic, as the survey is the main main consultation method.
Albertans are aware that something doesn’t add up, especially as more issues with the idea of an APP come to light. The situation has even received national attention, as both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Federal Conservative Party Leader Pierre Pollivre oppose an APP. Yet, the provincial government is not listening nor directly acknowledging these glaring concerns.
Albertans voted for a government that assured they wouldn’t touch the pension. Now that’s not the case, and the government is wrongly assuming that everyone’s on board. If the government calls a referendum, can we trust that it’s because the majority actually wants change?
Whether you support an APP or not, this issue affects all Albertans. Smith’s words, as well as the government’s report and survey, show that our opinions don’t actually matter. Arguably, by complicating information and writing one-sided questions, there will be enough perceived support from Albertans to make the APP a reality. We need to question why properly informing Albertans is not the priority.
As students, we are constantly taught and encouraged to do our civic duty and participate in elections. We did our part, but it doesn’t stop there. Now, we have to hold the government accountable to their election promises. When a government is not listening to the concerns of its constituents, its constituents need to get louder. No matter what you think about an APP, fair consultations are necessary. Information must be accessible and understandable. Both sides must not only be heard, but listened to.
So, speak up. Because right now, the Government of Alberta is making it clear that it is neither your pension, nor your choice.