Alberta bill mandating referendum before CPP exit enters homestretch in legislature

The bill relating to Alberta’s proposal to quit the Canada Pension Plan entered the homestretch Wednesday, with the Opposition NDP demanding changes and Premier Danielle Smith’s government putting a time limit on debate.

The proposed Alberta Pension Protection Act mandates that a referendum be held before Alberta could split off from the CPP and run its own program.

Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley told Finance Minister Nate Horner the bill needs to be amended to spell out that the government be bound by the results of such a vote to avoid the public saying one thing and government doing something else.

“Having a referendum and being bound by the results of the referendum are two separate concepts, but (Horner) has been conflating the two,” Notley told the house during question period.

“Will he accept our amendments that make the results of the referendum binding?”

Horner declined to answer but instead accused Notley’s caucus of hypocrisy.

“They have members on the record saying they wouldn’t recognize or acknowledge a referendum on Alberta leaving CPP, anyways,” he said.

“You can’t suck and blow, folks. Figure out where you’re at.”

Click to play video: Chief Actuary to calculate ‘reasonable’ Alberta CPP exit cost: Freeland

Horner, when he introduced the bill on Nov. 2, said the goal was to provide a process for a referendum while not tying the hands of future governments by binding it to the results.

The exchange came as the house was set Wednesday to continue to debate Opposition amendments at the stage of debate known as committee of the whole — the last stage before the bill is discussed and voted on at third and final reading.

The NDP caucus has said it will vote against the bill no matter its final form, but has been introducing amendments, in the words of finance critic Shannon Phillips, to attempt to “make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”

Along with a change to force governments to honour the results of the referendum, the NDP also wants it spelled out in law that any investment income earned by an Alberta pension plan would have to be reinvested in the plan and not used by future governments for pet projects.

The bill states that any money transferred over from the CPP would have to be invested in the Alberta plan but is silent on what must happen with income gained once the Alberta plan is up and running.

The NDP had hinted it may filibuster the debate Wednesday, which involves scores of members speaking for hours on the amendments around the clock to hold up passage of the bill in order to draw attention to its shortcomings.

Government house leader Joseph Schow derailed any filibuster late Wednesday afternoon, introducing a motion to put a one-hour time limit on any future debate over the amendments.

The motion was passed by the UCP majority.

The NDP had previously tried and failed to thwart the bill.

An amendment at second reading to park the bill on the grounds it won’t keep Albertans’ pensions safe was voted down by the United Conservative majority.

NDP amendments on Tuesday to clarify the rules, discussion and ballot question surrounding any referendum were also defeated by the UCP majority.

Click to play video: Alberta releases report into possible provincial pension plan

The pension debate has been roiling for more than two months, after Smith called in September for consultations based on a government-commissioned report that concluded Alberta deserves 53 per cent of the entire CPP fund and could provide lower contribution costs and bigger benefits if it split off on its own.

Critics have questioned the 53 per cent calculation as wildly overblown and, even if accurate, not something the other provinces of federal government would allow Alberta to inherit.

The federal government has warned of the dangers to the stability of the CPP if Alberta left. Canada’s chief actuary has been tasked by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government to make its calculation on what Alberta is owed.

The legislature debate to date over the bill has been punctuated by insults and ad hominem attacks.

On Nov. 29, Phillips dismissed the pension opt-out as a “fever dream” concocted by “the coterie of self-dealing charlatans surrounding and advising the premier.”

Click to play video: NDP criticizes provincial government for ‘biased’ Alberta Pension Plan survey

UCP backbencher Jason Stephan, on Nov. 23, called the bill “super-duper,” the NDP “weak and hypocritical,” and said it’s time Alberta stop being the sucker-chumps of Confederation.

“Albertans are seeing a pattern of abuse and hostility from a joke of a prime minister who hates Alberta and has demonstrated that he will not hesitate to leverage the terms of a rigged partnership for his own selfish political gain,” said Stephan.

The NDP says the vast majority of Albertans are making clear their desire to stay in the CPP through thousands of submissions to their caucus and hundreds attending NDP in-person town halls on the topic.

Smith’s government has held five telephone town halls to hear from Albertans. It promised there would be in-person town halls in December but did not follow through on that commitment and has declined to say why.

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