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Albertans still not sold on provincial pension plan, new poll suggests

Jim Dinning watches as Premier Danielle Smith speaks at the Sept. 21 release of a report about an Alberta pension plan. Dinning, a former provincial finance minister, led a panel that held a series of of telephone town halls across Alberta to gauge support for the proposed plan. (Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta - image credit)
Jim Dinning watches as Premier Danielle Smith speaks at the Sept. 21 release of a report about an Alberta pension plan. Dinning, a former provincial finance minister, led a panel that held a series of of telephone town halls across Alberta to gauge support for the proposed plan. (Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta - image credit)

A recent poll asking Albertans about a provincial pension plan shows people are skeptical.

Fifty-seven per cent of those surveyed in the Viewpoint Alberta poll, shared with CBC News, said they oppose the province's proposal to adopt an Alberta Pension Plan. Meanwhile, 22 per cent support the idea and 20 per cent neither support nor oppose.

Thirty per cent said they believe Albertans would receive more money by jumping ship.

Common Ground, a University of Alberta research project, questioned 1,123 Alberta residents about hot-topic issues using an online survey between Jan. 22 and Feb. 25.

"Overall support for an Alberta pension plan has decreased since the last time we polled six months ago. It's dropped about six percentage points," said political science professor Jared Wesley, who leads Common Ground.

"What's really interesting is that the views on the pension plan are highly determined by a person's partisan identification."

Wesley says the poll's findings show that the provincial government tends to make policy moves that are popular among UCP members — with the exception of pension.

While UCP supporters are more in favour of a provincial pension plan, the numbers show that only 36 per cent of UCP supporters polled agree that it would be better than the CPP, compared with four per cent of NDP supporters.

"Even United Conservative identifiers are firmly against abandoning the Canada Pension Plan, and yet the government still is wanting to proceed. It doesn't make much sense from a public opinion standpoint," he said.

Jared Wesley is a University of Alberta political science professor who leads the research initiative Common Ground. (Jared Wesley)

In September 2023, the provincial government released a report it commissioned suggesting Albertans are entitled to more than $330 billion in pension contributions if Alberta were to withdraw from the CPP. Critics have called that calculation overblown.

More than half — 53 per cent — of Albertans polled by Common Ground said they disagree the province is entitled to half of the national plan's assets if it were to withdraw. Twenty-six per cent agree.

The province's finance minister Nate Horner said in February he was told Canada's chief actuary plans to deliver a federal estimate of Alberta's share of the pension plan in the fall.

Support for proposed student pronouns policy

The survey also shows the majority of Albertans want schools to require parental consent before students aged 15 or younger can use a name or pronoun at school other than what they were given at birth.

The proposed legislation, announced by Premier Danielle Smith in January, has the support of 56 per cent of Albertans polled — compared with 30 per cent against it.

Nearly 85 per cent of UCP backers polled are in favour of the policy. NDP supporters were less likely to support required parental consent at nearly 25 per cent.

Wesley said Common Ground surveyed Albertans about the issue a year ago, before the province proposed the policy.

He said the number of people who haven't made up their mind about the issue is shrinking.

"Folks that want to reverse that policy have got to change a shrinking number of people's minds in order to sway public opinion," said Wesley.

Premier Danielle Smith's proposed gender policies would also ban gender-affirming surgeries for minors aged 17 and younger. Puberty blockers and hormone therapies also would not be permitted for children aged 15 and younger.

The province is expected to introduce the legislation on the planned policy changes affecting transgender and non-binary youth and adults this fall.

Province unlikely to win pension referendum: political scientist

Lisa Young is a political science professor at the University of Calgary, not part of the Common Ground team. She said the findings confirm previous research on these issues.

On the topic of pensions, Young said it's possible the provincial government is taking comfort in the fact that some — but not the majority — of UCP backers are resonating with the proposal.

Lisa Young is a professor of political science at the University of Calgary.
Lisa Young is a professor of political science at the University of Calgary.

Lisa Young is a professor of political science at the University of Calgary. (CBC)

"None of this, to me, looks like it adds up to a win," said Young.

"It's possible that the government's objective here is not to move forward with a referendum, but rather to keep the pension plan alive until the leadership review within the party next fall."

She said given the fact that most of the support for the idea comes from the provincial government's party, abandoning the idea before the leadership review might not go over well with that group.

Meanwhile, on the pronouns policy, Young said it's evident opinions are highly polarized.

"There are relatively few people who are in the middle or indifferent on this policy, so this is going to be an issue where people have strong feelings, where they are deeply divided in many ways, and I think that we should expect to see a lot of controversy when this does come forward as legislation."