Glen Argan suspects the oil industry’s hands are all over calls for an Alberta Pension Plan. CNS photo/Angus Mordant, Reuters

Include me out of Alberta pension plans

  • October 5, 2023

Count me among the significant majority of Albertans opposed to our government’s proposed Alberta Pension Plan (APP). Despite our serious concerns, the province would like us all to support the plan. So we are headed to a season of “public relations” aimed at convincing us that a patently preposterous proposal is both realistic and in the interests of the people of this province.

Nothing major in Alberta politics happens without an eye to the interests of the petroleum industry. You can be sure that those interests lie in the background somewhere. Most likely, the government hopes to use the money in an APP to invest in the oil and gas companies working here. That’s not a wise investment strategy, to use a pension fund as a political tool and to invest a disproportionate amount of its money in one’s own economy.

Along with the reasons given in the mainstream media, three other major reasons militate against the establishment of an APP. First, Albertans are Canadians first with many current residents here hailing from other parts of Canada. Second, the Alberta government cannot be trusted to look after taxpayers’ money or to oversee the provincial economy. Third, Albertans did not earn the bounty of natural resources in our territory. We have a duty to use the revenues from those resources for the good of all.

Many Albertans believe we are in effect a separate country. Yet one of Canada’s strengths is that the provinces are creatures of the country as a whole. Alberta and Saskatchewan, for example, were carved out of the great Northwest in 1905 with an arbitrary line drawn between them. Those who live on the west side of the line have, until recently, benefitted vastly more from petroleum revenues than have those on the east side of the line.

It is a sad irony that the greater wealth of Alberta has contributed to an attitude here that is more grasping, more jealous of its particular rights and benefits, than found elsewhere in Canada. The recent pension report exemplifies that attitude by claiming that an Alberta pension plan would be entitled to 53 per cent of the assets of the CPP although Albertans have made only 16 per cent of the contributions to the national plan.

Second, the Alberta government has proven itself incapable of governing its own household. The worst example of this is the March 2020 decision to buy equity and provide loan guarantees to the Keystone XL Pipeline worth about $10 billion. This came during an American election year when the likely Democratic Party presidential candidate, Joe Biden, was staunchly committed to killing Keystone XL, something he did before he had even warmed up his chair in the Oval Office.

Then there was the Alberta Heritage and Savings Trust Fund launched in 1976 by then-Premier Peter Lougheed. When Lougheed retired nine years later, the fund was valued at $14 billion. Hard times had already hit the oil patch, and the portion of petroleum revenues going to the fund was cut from 30 to 15 per cent in 1983. In 1987, those contributions were eliminated altogether. In 2014, the fund was valued at $17 billion, having languished over the intervening 29 years.

The Fraser Institute blasted management of the fund, pointing out the government had received more than $101 billion in petroleum revenues between 2005 and 2014 while putting only $4.5 billion into the Heritage Fund.

I could go on about other government financial failures, but space is limited.

Third, a little-discussed, but central principle of Catholic social teaching is that of the universal destination of all goods. The principle holds that everything is a gift and should be shared equitably. The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church states, “God gave the earth to the whole human race for the sustenance of all its members, without excluding or favouring anyone.”

Catholics should be active in proposing this principle as the foundation for economic and political life. Pope John Paul II called the universal destination of all goods “the first principle of the whole ethical and social order.” If the Alberta government took the principle seriously, it would not attempt to run off with more than a fair share of the CPP.

St. Paul addressed the sin of financial greed directly: “Those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction” (1 Tim 6:9). Albertans and all Canadians deserve better than that.

(Glen Argan writes his online column Epiphany at

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