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The key issue in Alberta will be a provincial pension plan, not medicare Print E-mail
Written by Link Byfield   
Monday, 13 March 2006
News media in Alberta think the main issue facing Albertans as Premier Klein prepares to depart will be medicare.

I suspect they’re wrong.

I predict the really big issue will be whether Albertans should replace the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) with an Alberta Pension Plan (APP).

Outside media and political circles, few Albertans actually care if the more prosperous few can buy faster treatment at home, instead of going to Portland or Phoenix to buy it there.

Most people are grown-up enough to accept that rich people get better stuff, and it doesn’t have to mean there isn’t enough for everyone else. Most people don’t worry about it.

What they do worry about is trying to live on $400 a week from the CPP when they get too old to work.

Younger Albertans don’t expect even $400, because they know most of their payments are being passed straight through to today’s elderly claimants, and that the CPP's ratio of givers-to-takers will get steadily worse.

So I suspect the more astute Conservative leadership hopefuls will treat Premier Klein’s “
Third Way
” medicare reforms as a done deal and move on to something that could actually excite Albertans, especially young ones.

That issue could be the Alberta Pension Plan -- a permanent, rock solid, 100% investment-backed, universal retirement fund that’s cheaper than the CPP, and that gets more generous with time rather than less.

Albertans will be invited to create the most awesome public pension plan in the world.

It will require all the province’s budget surpluses for years to come, and the same stern restraints on wasteful government spending that united Albertans ten years ago to end the deficit.

Though an Alberta Pension Plan could start paying out immediately, it would take ten years to fully-fund. But why stop there? The bigger the capital base, the less the premiums will be for the young and the better the benefits for the old.

What finer place for provincial resource surpluses than a capital fund that rewards all Albertans when they retire from building the province, and goes on financing development and earning interest forever?

Is it legal? Yes, any province can opt out of the CPP on three years’ notice to Ottawa.

Is it practical and portable? Yes, Quebec has been running a parallel pension plan for forty years. In fact the QPP has built that province, both politically and economically.

Would existing CPP obligations be honored? Of course. No pensioner would miss a single cheque. The only difference would be that on a particular date the monthly payments would stop coming from Ottawa and start coming from Edmonton.

Other Canadians would accuse Albertans of nation-wrecking. Of course. But they do anyway, every time the international price of oil goes up (though there are no thanks for nation-saving when it goes down). In fact, a large majority of eastern Canadians think petroleum resources should be taken over by the federal government.

Albertans should not expect affection from other Canadians, only respect. They will gain that respect, as Quebec has done, by exercising their rights and responsibilities as a province.

One man who made himself nationally unpopular by advocating an Alberta Pension Plan was Stephen Harper. Today he is Prime Minister of Canada.

Victory is to the bold. Who wants to be the next Premier of Alberta?

- Link Byfield

Link Byfield is chairman of the Edmonton-based Citizens Centre for Freedom and Democracy, and an Alberta senator-elect.
"Just Between Us" is a feature service of the Citizens Centre for Freedom and Democracy. The purpose of the Citizens Centre is to enhance freedom and democracy by enabling ordinary citizens to become active and effective on important issues outside the normal processes of party politics.

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