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Debate continues over an Alberta pension plan—but here’s a key fact

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Debate continues over an Alberta pension plan—but here’s a key fact

According to documents recently obtained by Postmedia, bureaucrats in Ontario’s Ministry of Finance believe the Smith government’s report released last year on an Alberta pension plan overstates what Alberta could withdraw from the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) to start its own plan. The report estimates that the province’s share of CPP assets is worth $334 billion, which is equal to 53 per cent of the CPP.

It’s not surprising that Ontario civil servants are debating this issue. If Alberta leaves the CPP and creates a provincial pension plan, the savings for Albertans would essentially cost workers in the rest of Canada (excluding Quebec, which already has its own standalone provincial pension). Given that Ontario is the second-largest net contributor to the CPP (behind only Alberta), those costs would fall heavily on Ontarians.

Albertans, like all workers outside Quebec, pay a basic mandatory CPP contribution rate of 9.9 per cent, typically every payday. According to the Smith government’s report, that rate would fall to 5.91 per cent for a new CPP-like provincial program for Albertans, which means each Albertan would save up to $2,850 in 2027 (the first year of the hypothetical Alberta plan). Critically, this lower contribution rate (i.e. tax) delivers the same benefit levels as the CPP.

Meanwhile, the basic CPP contribution rate for the rest of Canada (excluding Quebec) would increase to 10.36 per cent. In other words, smaller take-home paycheques for workers in the rest of Canada.

Currently, Albertans contribute disproportionately to the CPP and other national programs because the province has more workers (and less retirees) as a share of its population, higher employment rates and higher average earnings compared to the rest of Canada. In 2020, the latest year of available data, Albertans contributed about 16 per cent of total CPP contributions but received only 12 per cent of total CPP benefits.

And the federal legislation (Section 113(2) of the CPP Act), which governs the withdrawal of any province from the CPP and the asset distribution calculation, focuses on the amount paid into the fund by Albertans and the benefits paid out (taking into account investment returns and administrative costs).

Bureaucrats in Ontario, however, argue there are issues with the report’s interpretation of the formula. They claim, for example, that the asset distribution calculation fails to account for individuals who worked in Alberta but retired elsewhere. And regardless, they feel the formula should be updated. The Smith government has asked the federal government and investment board to respond to the report with its own interpretation and calculations.

While the debate about Alberta’s share of the CPP assets is sure to continue, it should not distract from the key fact that any reasonable split of CPP assets would result in lower contribution rates for Albertans and likely higher rates for the rest of Canada (excluding Quebec). If Alberta’s share of assets were less than half of what the government report estimates ($150 billion) in 2025, the contribution rate in Alberta would drop to 7.8 per cent, equal to an estimated $1,086 in savings annually per Albertan. Even if Alberta’s share of assets were just $120 billion in 2025, Alberta’s contribution rate would drop to 8.2 per cent and save approximately $836 annually per Albertan.

Clearly, Alberta’s withdrawal from the CPP would come with big savings in the province and increased costs in the rest of Canada.

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