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Alberta NDP to hold in-person Calgary town hall response to province’s phone-only pension sessions

The Alberta NDP, in response to the Government of Alberta’s decision to hold phone-only town halls regarding a potential Alberta Pension Plan (APP), has decided to hold its own in-person events.

The in-person plan from the official opposition followed the first phone town hall held by the province on Oct. 16, which took callers from Northern Alberta.

Engagement for that town hall was reported by The Canadian Press to be high, with at times 10,000 callers on the line to listen and 37 individuals given the opportunity to speak and ask questions.

“We’ve had so many communities from across the province reach out to us to say, ‘I would like you to come and meet with my seniors association,’ ‘I would like you to come and meet with my community association,'” said Shannon Phillips, Alberta NDP Finance Critic for Pension and Insurance Issues.

“There’s a great deal of appetite across different demographics of the population to be heard on this topic because ultimately the CPP is our own retirement savings.”

Phillips invited Minister of Finance Nate Horner to join an NDP-led in-person town hall to be held in Calgary. Details on that event, said the NDP, will be released in the coming days.

“If they’re comfortable with hearing from three dozen Albertans, I will leave that to them. From our side, we’re going to make sure that we hear from the tens of thousands of Albertans who have already engaged with us on this topic, and that we give them an opportunity to have that in-person engagement,” said Philips.

The Calgary phone-only town hall is set to be held by the Government of Alberta on Nov. 9, with information on how to pre-register to be chosen to speak available on www.albertapensionplan.ca/engagement.

NDP says Albertans upset with phone-only engagement

Philips said that she and her NDP caucus colleagues have heard from Albertans who had found the phone-only town hall format unsatisfactory.

“This sort of cowardly approach of hiding from in-person engagements with Albertans, Albertans are very, very disappointed about that.”

She said that other criticisms that have been levied against the format are the cost of the phone town halls and associated advertising for an Alberta Pension Plan, along with the feeling that the format is leading to a predetermined conclusion.

The Canadian Press reported similar concerns from the Northern Alberta town hall, quoting an individual who was able to speak to the APP saying that he was upset that the format wasn’t designed to allow Albertans opposed to an APP to tell the government that.

Jim Dinning, Chair of the APP, said in response that “rather than pop the question too early, the purpose of these town hall meetings is to hear from Albertans, hear their concerns, so that we can make note of that for the government, so ultimately they will be obliged to address them.”

Premier Smith, speaking on her Saturday radio call-in show Your Province. Your Premier, defended the use of phone-only town halls calling them the most effective way to hear from thousands of Albertans who would also not have to travel to have their say.

Speaking to a question about whether the phone-only format is a break from the precedent set by the Government of Alberta to hold in-person town halls on contentious issues, such as Bill 6 during an Alberta NDP-led government, and the Fair Deal Panel town halls under the then-Premier Jason Kenney led UCP government, she said that the UCP party had refused to address the issue during the last provincial election.

“They refused to do it during the election campaign, and that is the time to have a referendum of all sorts on contentious issues.”

Philips said that the opposition also took issue with the cost of advertising for the APP and the cost of the engagement.

“These expenditures can be far better invested, and if they want to advertise about something, they could advertise the Utilities Consumer Advocate as people’s electricity bills go through the roof,” she said.

NDP said that they’ve received thousands of negative responses to APP

The Alberta NDP said that their own online survey launched in response to the government’s had garnered over 26,000 responses, with 90 per cent of those not in favour of an Alberta Pension Plan.

Phillips said that the NDP would not be backing APP plans made by the government.

“We believe that this is a waste of time and energy. This is causing far too much unnecessary uncertainty among seniors, among business, among small business. We believe that the CPP is well managed and well invested,” she said.

“This is our money… everyone gets the same benefit and everyone pays the same amount based on income throughout their lives. And so this idea that somehow we are different from our cousins over there in New Brunswick, or our uncle in British Columbia, or our aunt who still lives in Cape Breton is manipulative. It is false.”