Here’s why the rest of Canada doesn’t want Alberta to leave the CPP

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Appeared in the Edmonton Sun, November 15, 2023
Here’s why the rest of Canada doesn’t want Alberta to leave the CPP

Provincial and territorial finance ministers recently met with federal Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland to discuss a hot topic—Alberta’s potential withdrawal from the Canada Pension Plan (CPP). According to Nova Scotia Finance Minister Allan MacMaster, “there was real consensus” from his peers that they want Alberta to stay in the CPP. This is unsurprising; while an Alberta pension plan would benefit Albertans, it would come at great cost to the rest of Canada.

Why might Albertans want to leave the CPP?

Albertans pay a basic CPP contribution rate of 9.9 per cent, typically deducted from their paycheques. According to a report commissioned by the Smith government, 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) while maintaining the same retirement benefits. In sharp contrast, to keep the CPP afloat without Alberta, the basic contribution rate for the rest of Canada would increase to 10.36 per cent. In other words, smaller paycheques for the rest of Canada.

The report’s calculation is based on several assumptions, which some analysts have criticized, arguing that Alberta’s estimated share of CPP assets—$334 billion—is not fair or realistic. To be clear, this share (equal to 53 per cent of the CPP) is based on specific legislation that governs the withdrawal of any province from the CPP. But, even if the share of assets to Alberta were much lower, the province would benefit from reduced contribution rates with an Alberta pension plan.

For instance, if Alberta left the CPP and received merely 25 per cent of the CPP’s assets in 2025 ($150 billion), the contribution rate in Alberta would fall from 9.9 per cent to 7.8 per cent, which would mean $1,086 in savings annually per Albertan. Meanwhile, the contribution rate for the rest of Canada would have to increase. If you dropped Alberta’s share to 20 per cent ($120 billion in 2025), Alberta’s contribution rate would fall to 8.2 per cent, equivalent to approximately $836 in savings annually per Albertan.

Put differently, even if Alberta’s share of assets were less than half the report’s estimate, Albertans would benefit from lower contribution rates for the exact same benefits while the rest of Canada may pay higher contributions to maintain current benefits. Why does Alberta mean so much to the CPP? Because Alberta generally has higher employment rates and a comparatively younger population, which means more workers pay into the fund and less retirees take from it. Albertans also have higher average incomes, which means there’s a higher level of premiums paid into the fund. As such, Albertans have paid significantly more into the CPP than its retirees have received in return.

It’s not surprising that the rest of Canada doesn’t want Alberta to leave the CPP for an equivalent provincial plan because—even if Alberta’s share is less than $334 billion, Alberta’s withdrawal would come with big costs for other Canadians across the country.

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