A white paper on the consultation process the Alberta government is using to determine whether to go to a referendum on exiting the Canada Pension Plan showed that process is falling short of its own objectives.
And the investment board that handles the CPP is offering to help.
Innovative Research Group reviewed the material around the proposed Alberta pension plan, including the Lifeworks report, the engagement panel’s website and the open-access survey.
Despite the survey’s goals of providing Albertans information about a potential APP and gauging their thoughts, Innovative found the survey “fundamentally fails to meet its objectives to effectively consult the public on the matter.”
In a letter to the APP engagement panel chair Jim Dinning, CPP Investments (CPPIB) senior managing director Michel Leduc said there are elements of the province’s engagement that “undermine the transparency, fairness, and integrity of the consultation process,” as shown in the white paper CPPIB commissioned.
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The research group held Alberta’s engagement up against principles for deliberative democracy, in which informed and reasoned discussions are used for democratic decision-making. Innovative found Alberta’s process failed to uphold the principles of transparency, access to information, unbiased information, agenda setting by participants, representation and equality, and providing sound reasons.
The model presented to Albertans was already determined before the public consultation is completed, Innovative found.
“This implies the Alberta government is not taking the consultation process seriously and is not transparent about how they respond to the concerns and preferences raised about the potential APP,” the research group wrote.
It also did not provide balanced information and works on the assumption that all affected Albertans will have read the 95-page Lifeworks report and all associated actuarial, economic and legal implications of creating an APP.
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The presentation of only the most optimistic outcomes of leaving CPP, without the possibility of downsides, “runs the risk of manipulating opinions.”
“When participants have access to only one-sided information, their ability to make independent and informed choices is compromised,” the white paper notes.
Listing all of the questions in the survey, Innovative found the survey does not gauge Albertans’ thoughts on the matter, holding back Albertans from engaging actively and taking the process seriously.
“When participants are asked to discuss topics that they are not equipped to address, not only would participants feel frustrated and disengaged, but it would also undermine the legitimacy of the deliberative process. Policy makers would run the risk of drawing ill-informed decisions from the survey results,” the research group wrote.
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Innovative also noted that open-access surveys “are not representative of the public” in three ways:
- Inherently skewed towards special interest groups who have predisposed motivations to express their opinions;
- Unrepresentative of the public to which they are intended to represent; and
- More recently, inadmissible as evidence as consultation in regulatory and legal public policy filings across Canada.
In his letter to Dinning, Leduc proposed CPPIB provide information to Albertans, highlighting the benefits of CPP, the shortcomings of the Lifeworks report commissioned by the Alberta government, and risks in an APP proposal.
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Leduc also asked to be able to testify before the engagement panel to provide that information and allow the three-member panel to ask any questions they may have of the CPP administrator.
“The CPP is one of the best examples of cooperative federalism, stewarded by provincial and federal finance ministers of all stripes since its formation. Beyond our borders, many jurisdictions around the world are envious of what has been achieved by pooling resources and setting aside short-term political considerations for the long-term benefit of 21 million contributors and beneficiaries,” Leduc wrote on Tuesday.
“Leaving the CPP is an irreversible decision that will have lasting consequences for Albertans, as well as past and future Canadians with pensionable earnings in Alberta.
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“It is critical that the debate concerning Alberta’s future relationship with the CPP be open, honest, and unbiased.”
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In a prepared statement, Finance Minister Nate Horner claimed CPPIB had a “vested interest in maintaining the status quo.”
“I am frustrated that while the CPPIB has not hesitated to publicly criticize the LifeWorks report, they have yet to provide any evidence refuting its findings,” the statement reads.
When the Lifeworks report was released on Sept. 21, along with the supposition that Alberta is entitled to 53 per cent of CPP funds if it exited, Leduc said that amount “does not add up.”
“References to how much a province might claim from the CPP Fund should be regarded with caution and a high degree of skepticism until many issues are resolved between federal and provincial governments,” Leduc said at the time.
“If CPPIB has its own expert actuarial analysis on the creation of an Alberta Pension Plan, I would be eager to see it,” Horner’s statement said.
“CPPIB has made it clear it is opposed to the creation of the Alberta Pension Plan, however it has also not yet provided its official position on the interpretation of the CPP Act withdrawal formula or asset allocation methodology to Alberta’s government.
“If the CPPIB wishes to engage in this conversation in good faith, I would welcome that,” Horner said.
On Monday, Opposition House Leader Christina Gray announced the Alberta NDP will be hosting online and in-person town halls, methods of engagement the government is not using.
“There is a real concern that telephone town halls can be used to control the message, to control who’s asking questions, to only let certain voices through. Whereas in an in-person room, there is far more of an opportunity for everyday Albertans to know that their opinions, their voices, their perspectives are being reflected in the conversation,” Gray said on Monday.
Gray noted their online survey, which was not part of the CPPIB-commissioned review, had 90 per cent of the 26,000 respondents rejected the idea of a provincial pension plan.