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As Alberta threatens to pull out of CPP, Freeland calls a meeting with other finance ministers

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said Tuesday she would convene a meeting with her provincial and territorial counterparts later this week to discuss Alberta's proposal to pull out of the Canada Pension Plan.

'The CPP has been the bedrock of a secure and dignified retirement,' says Freeland

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland holds a press conference in Ottawa

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said Tuesday she would convene a meeting with her provincial and territorial counterparts later this week to discuss Alberta's proposal to pull out of the Canada Pension Plan.

Alberta's threat to go it alone has prompted anxiety in Ottawa and provincial capitals.

An Alberta exit could put the CPP on shaky ground and prompt a sizeable increase to contributions paid by workers and their employers in other parts of the country, experts have said.

In a recent letter to Freeland, Ontario's finance minister, Peter Bethlenfalvy, said the proposal could "cause serious harm over the long term."

To address that angst in the federation, Freeland will huddle with her provincial finance ministers on Friday.

"The CPP has been the bedrock of a secure and dignified retirement," Freeland said at a news conference. "I have heard the concerns of many Canadians, including many Albertans."

Freeland said an Alberta pullout could compromise labour mobility — it's not clear if a future "APP" would be portable if people move out of the province — and she's heard from critics who say an exit would threaten the stability of businesses, communities and torpedo "investor confidence."

"Protecting the pensions of all Canadians is a priority for our government," she said.

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith has touted a report compiled by an outside firm that suggests the province could be entitled to an eye-popping 53 per cent of CPP's $570-billion fund if it were to leave the plan.

She said that money could then be used to reduce contributions and boost pension payouts in Alberta.

The provincial government has launched an ad campaign to sell the plan, which will be put to a vote in a future referendum before being implemented.

In an interview with CBC's Rosemary Barton Live on Sunday, Alberta Finance Minister Nate Horner said the province wants to cash in now because it believes it's been over contributing to the plan for years because of its younger and wealthier demographics.

"Does a population of four and a half million have to prop up every program in the country? I'm just throwing it out there," he said.

"It doesn't leave CPP, you know, insolvent or inoperable. It means that the costs will have to go up somewhat. But my main task is having this conversation with Albertans," he said.

Speaking to reporters at the legislature on Tuesday, Horner said he's hoping Freeland comes to the meeting with something "substantive."

She has criticized the proposal, he said, and now Alberta expects Freeland and her team to "show us their work. If they take issue with an analysis, we'd like to understand what the issue is."

The plan has been panned by business groups, labour unions, the Liberal federal government, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, pension experts, some academics and other provincial leaders.

Different take on what Alberta could get

The CPP Investment Board, the Crown corporation that manages the pension plan, has also said Alberta's math is way off — with the fourth-largest province entitled to something closer to 16 per cent of the CPP funds if it were to ever pull out.

The Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL), which represents 21 public and private sector unions in the province, has called the plan "harebrained" and "crazy" because it could threaten the retirement security of Albertans.

The rock-solid CPP shouldn't be tinkered with, AFL president Gil McGowan said in an interview with CBC News.

He also doesn't want the Alberta government to use the pension funds for risky investments that could tank people's retirement savings.

"All these experts, the people who know pensions — they're horrified by the proposal," McGowan said.

"It's madness, pure madness. We have a premier and a government that are willing to use the retirement security of millions of Albertans as a bargaining chip in some other political game that they're trying to play with Ottawa; it's completely outrageous and unacceptable," he said.

While there's opposition, the Alberta government is pressing ahead.

A bill in the legislature to get the ball rolling on a CPP exit is expected this week.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John Paul Tasker

Senior reporter

J.P. Tasker is a journalist in CBC's parliamentary bureau who reports for digital, radio and television. He is also a regular panellist on CBC News Network's Power & Politics. He covers the Conservative Party, Canada-U.S. relations, Crown-Indigenous affairs, climate change, health policy and the Senate. You can send story ideas and tips to J.P. at john.tasker@cbc.ca.

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