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April 15, 2014 - No. 43

Defend the Pensions We Have! Fight for Pensions for All!

Message to Alberta Government:
No Means No! Hands Off Our Pensions!




Defend the Pensions We Have! Fight for Pensions for All!
Message to Alberta Government: No Means No! Hands Off Our Pensions!
Disinformation from Think Tanks of the Rich - Peggy Morton
In the Alberta Legislature

Public Right Yes! Monopoly Right No!
Stand with the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation
Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Protests Gross Negligence in Study of Cancer in Their Community



Defend the Pensions We Have! Fight for Pensions for All!

Message to Alberta Government:
No Means No! Hands Off Our Pensions!

The Alberta government is expected to introduce pension legislation during the week of April 14. Public sector workers, their unions and allies are preparing to go into action to defend their rights. Now is the time for all active and retired workers to step up the fight to defend our pensions, and for all the collectives to join in on the basis that Our Security Lies in the Fight for the Rights of All!

Acting Premier Dave Hancock has declared that it is business as usual following Alison Redford's resignation, and that dictate, extremism and violence against the working class will continue. The austerity agenda has been thoroughly rejected by the people of Alberta but the government refuses to accept the will of the people and serve the public interest. The PC government is going full-speed ahead with its anti-social offensive, its next target the right of public sector workers to security in retirement. The PCs have unilaterally announced changes to public sector pensions forcing workers to work longer for less secure pensions. The vast majority of workers who retire before 65, or with a combined age and years of service of 90, will suffer large pension reductions, making early retirement impossible. Cost-of-living indexation of pensions is also under assault.

The government intends to give itself even more arbitrary powers to impose changes on pension plans without negotiations or even consultation. The legislation will eliminate the requirement of existing legislation for the pension boards to approve changes. Instead, the government executive can simply dictate additional cuts to pension benefits at any time.

In preparation for the introduction of this legislation, parasitic elements funded by the global monopolies are spewing out vitriolic attacks on public sector workers and their organizations. The Fraser Institute, Canadian Taxpayers Federation and others of their ilk are given extensive play in the media to shout that the sky is falling, accusing the unions of failing to recognize reality.

The propaganda of the monopolies and their spokespeople and media is intended to exert pressure on workers to give up their own point of view and accept that even modest security in retirement is no longer sustainable. The working class rejects this retrogressive line and upholds the view that security in retirement is not only possible but necessary in modern society.

The think-tanks for private monopoly interests are in contempt of the modern world of a socialized economy quite capable of guaranteeing the rights of all. The outlook that the well-being of the working class and all other strata of the people, active and retired, must take a back seat to the monopolies and their accumulation of private wealth and building of global empires is a relic of the past. The working people have their own demands and pro-social agenda, in this case their right to security in retirement for all. Not only must the pensions we have be defended, but also, defined benefit pensions for all must be provided.

The PCs recently said the public sector pension plans are not in crisis. But this presents no problem for the PCs, who now admit their sole aim is to cut pension contributions by employers -- end of story. The millions to be stolen from the public sector workers will no doubt be transferred to private monopoly interests in various pay-the-rich schemes.

TML calls on everyone to join in and participate actively in this important fight. The struggle to defend pensions where they exist is crucial to the fight for pensions for all and the right to security in retirement.

All Out to Demand the Government Stop Attacking Public Sector Pensions!
Security in Retirement Is a Right!
Hands Off Our Pensions!

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Disinformation from Think Tanks of the Rich

Neo-liberal pundits from the Fraser Institute, Canadian Taxpayers Federation and other disinformation think tanks of the rich maintain a constant barrage about how pension plans are in crisis. Parasitic elements funded by the global monopolies regularly spew out disinformation and irrational arguments intended to exert pressure on workers to give up their own point of view. The refrain is mostly similar: the well-being of the working class and other strata, active and retired, must take a back seat to the monopolies and their accumulation of wealth and private profit and building of global empires. For some reason, which the neo-liberals cannot explain coherently, even the most modest security in retirement is no longer sustainable. By suggesting the right to security in retirement is not possible, the think tanks and media hope to put the public sector workers on the defensive and force them to give up their just cause and independent politics.

The Fraser Institute's Mark Milke recently wrote an opinion piece in the Edmonton Journal attacking public sector unions for their defence of the right to pensions and security in retirement. He writes, "Denial comes in the form of producing union-funded studies on pensions that claim that no problem exists. (This is akin to the Black Knight in the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail, who loses his limbs but keeps insisting he's fine.) [...]

"Alberta's public-sector pension liabilities are also substantial. The most recent budget pegged just the provincial government's share of pension liabilities -- repeat, just the government's share -- at $10.7 billion in 2014. That high number persists even though Alberta's taxpayers paid ever-higher contribution rates and also made special contributions into these pension plans over the past decade."

Milke does not present any evidence to back up his numbers and hysteria. Instead, he just presents fabrications and causes maximum confusion about what his numbers mean.

The facts, which are readily available from the Alberta government, show the four public sector pension plans have a total unfunded liability of $7.4-billion not an "employer's share" of $10.7 billion. Independent actuarial analysis shows that the $7.4 billion is inflated by about $1 billion, which means Milke has exaggerated the unfunded liability by about $4.3 billion to try to overwhelm readers.

Milke's bogus suggestion, which he repeats for emphasis, that the unfunded liability is "just the government's share," is classic disinformation to generate an atmosphere of impending doom and sway the reader into thinking a disaster is imminent unless the government takes action against the public sector unions. Instead of carefully explaining the meaning of an unfunded liability, its implications and how it can be managed, Milke uses the term as a weapon to attack public sector workers' pensions. He leaves readers with the impression that an unfunded liability is a debt held by the Alberta government, on which all taxpayers, including the reader, pay interest to the money-lenders and are saddled with to their personal detriment.

At this time, the champions of private monopoly interests distort the meaning and implications of an unfunded liability. An unfunded liability is determined through a process known as a solvency valuation. This is based on what would happen if an enterprise, in this case the Alberta government, were to go out of business. With the bankruptcy, it is assumed that all workers are fired and the pension plan receives no further contributions from either the employees or employer. The existing plan must pay out all retirement benefits from its existing assets and what those diminishing assets may earn on their own without additional contributions. An analysis is made of what the plan should contain upon bankruptcy to meet all its benefit commitments based on the ages of the workers and other considerations. The unfunded liability represents the shortfall within the fund to meet its benefit obligations in the event of a collapse of the enterprise.

The first question to be posed is why this test should even be used to evaluate the health of a public sector pension plan. The Alberta government is not going to shut its doors and dismiss all its workers in the foreseeable future even with its current neo-liberal anti-social direction. Plan members will continue to contribute to the plan in addition to the plans' earnings from existing assets.

The second question deals with the assumption that the income from a plan's assets is static, which is far from the reality. The funding status of pension plans fluctuates wildly from year to year based on interest rates, earnings from investments and other factors. Most defined benefit pension plans are again approaching fully funded status with many rising into a surplus. Ratings agency AON Hewitt, a human resources consultancy, reports that the median solvency funded ratio in the AON Hewitt pension universe of 275 public, semi-public and private plans was up 25 percentage points in one year. As of December 31, 2013, the median solvency ratio was 93.4 per cent. The Mercer Pension Health Index, which tracks the funded status of a hypothetical defined benefit pension plan, stood at 106 per cent on December 31, 2013 up from 82 per cent at the start of the year and at its highest level since June 2001. Almost 40 per cent of pension plans tracked by Mercer are now considered fully funded, compared to 6 per cent at the beginning of 2012.

Milke's opinion piece shows the arrogance of the ruling circles who are confident that whatever they say and present will not be challenged in the mass media. They can speak whatever nonsense they please and present irrational arguments and disinformation to serve their narrow private interests and they are assured that they will not be held to account in the mass media.

Not to be put on the defensive, the working class and its organizations must step up their own actions with analysis and ensure their voice is heard amongst the people. The Workers' Opposition must hold these governments, monopolies and their think tanks to account and go on the offensive for a pro-social alternative. Public sector workers and their organizations must continue to stand firm in defence of the rights of all to security in retirement and present their own alternative agenda and program serving the public interest.

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In the Alberta Legislature

On April 8, Cal Dallas, Minister of International and Intergovernmental Relations let the cat out of the bag about the government's intentions on pension legislation. Answering a question on behalf of Finance Minister Doug Horner who was not in the Legislature, Dallas, instead of repeating the bogus claim that the government is acting because of a big crisis, admitted that the pension attack is about reducing pension benefits -- end of story.

"Well, Mr. Speaker, the current unfunded liabilities will be paid down over a period of 12 years," Dallas said. "What the changes will do is reduce risk by targeting the cost-of-living increases so that they're paid out when the plans are financially able to do so and by reducing the early retirement subsidies to make the plans more affordable. The government is committed to living within its means, and the changes we're making mean that the public sector pension plans will be doing exactly the same."

With supreme arrogance, the PCs speak of "reducing risk," by which they mean putting more seniors at risk of facing poverty and insecurity in retirement. Seventy per cent of the active and retired workers in the public sector pension plans are women, and it is a well-known fact that women are most likely to live in poverty in their senior years. These retirees have contributed enormous value to the economy and society through their hard work. Society cannot function without their important contribution.

Public sector workers produce enormous value contained within Alberta's infrastructure and services. This value belongs to the public and is more than enough to guarantee the right of public sector workers to security in retirement at a consistent standard of living. Instead, much of the value public sector workers produce is seized by the global monopolies to increase their private wealth and build their empires.

Dallas' comments confirm that the retrogressive pension changes are a direct attack on public sector workers and their Canadian standard of living, which they receive in exchange for the important work and service they provide in adding value to society. The government changes are part and parcel of the transfer of wealth away from the working class and even out of the economy altogether to concentrate wealth and power in the hands of the energy and other global monopolies.

The PC government has never been concerned about sustainability of the pension plans. The current unfunded liability can be traced to the 2008 financial crisis and the anti-social offensive of the Alberta government including privatization, forced early retirements, and the increasing trend toward casual, temporary and contract employment, all of which have destabilized the pension plans.

Privatization and casualization have reduced the number of active members contributing to the plans compared to the number of retired workers drawing benefits. Dictated changes including two-tier benefits will further destabilize the pension plans. Reversing privatization of public services and expanding public enterprise is a pro-social approach that would benefit public sector workers, the economy and society.

Unfunded liabilities faced by pension plans following the 2008 financial crisis have been used as a pretext to launch a broad attack on the right of workers to defined benefit pensions and security in retirement. Dallas' admission is one more indication that the government seized on the unfunded liability to advance the neo-liberal agenda to destroy defined benefit pensions altogether and replace them with savings plans where seniors have no secure pension and their life savings can be turned to dust.

Defending the pensions we have and expanding the Canada Pension Plan are steps towards establishing pensions as a social program available to all.

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Public Right Yes! Monopoly Right No!

Stand with the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation

Alberta Health Services (AHS) has released a Cancer Incidences Report that evaluates reported cancer in the community of Fort Chipewyan between 1992 and 2011. With regard to the release of the report on March 24, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation said, "The community was not notified or invited to attend. A copy of the report was sent late Friday [March 21] but did not reach key leaders until Monday morning."

TML denounces the racist and colonial handling of this important public matter that is of concern to everyone. AHS, as a public authority, is duty bound to work closely and openly with the people on any matter. In this concern of public health, affecting not only First Nations but also workers and all members of communities in the oil sands' region, the AHS must work under the direction and close cooperation of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and the organizations of oil sands' workers and local municipal authorities. The people's health demands a modern approach that dares to expose the truth and serves the public interest.

Fort Chipewyan is a small community located on the banks of the Athabasca River, 250 kilometres downstream from Ft. McMurray. It has a population of about 1,000 people and is home to the Fort Chipewyan First Nation and the Fort Chipewyan Métis Nation.

The people of Ft. Chip, as the community is known, have long called for action to deal with the growing rate of cancer in their community. Direct experience tells the people of Ft. Chip that while their community used to have a low rate of cancer, this has changed dramatically. The growing rate of cancer has been linked in time with significant changes in the Athabasca River, which in turn coincides with the huge increases in oil sands mining. Pulp mill effluent and the impact from uranium mining are also a concern. Evidence includes a more or less permanent oil slick on the Athabasca River, water in the river that is no longer potable, and deformities in the region's fish.

In 2006, Dr. John O'Connor, a physician working in Ft. Chip cited higher than average rates of cancer and several cases of biliary tract cancer, including the extremely rare cancer cholangiocarcinoma. "Why should I see such illness in such a stunning, out of the way community?" he asked. "It makes absolutely no sense. The rate of smoking is lower there. People walk everywhere. There's no processed foods in their diets. It just doesn't make sense."

Dr. O'Connor faced outright persecution for raising these concerns publicly. In 2007, Health Canada laid four complaints against Dr. O'Connor, including causing "undue alarm" and "engendering a sense of mistrust" in the Canadian government. Three of the charges were quickly dismissed by the investigating body, the Alberta College of Physicians and Surgeons. But Dr. O'Connor was not cleared of the charge of causing "undue alarm" until 2009, when the Alberta Health Services study was published confirming that the community did indeed have higher than expected cancer rates.

AHS studied the period from 1995-2006 and found that Ft. Chip was experiencing more cancer cases than would be expected compared to other communities. The report said that the increased number of cases of biliary tract cancers, cancers in the blood and lymphatic system, and cancers of unknown primary origin seen in the most recent six years (2001-2006) of the study warranted closer monitoring.

Five years later, there have been four reported cases of cholangiocarcinoma in a community of 1,000 people. This form of cancer occurs in one out of 200,000 to 300,000 people nationwide and AHS has admitted that four constitutes a "cluster" and is far outside the normal range. AHS has also confirmed the existence of two other cancer clusters for lung and cervical cancer. In a shocking refusal to take up its social responsibility, AHS has stated that it has no plans to look for the cause and take action to eliminate dangers to the health of the community.

The questions that need to be answered pertain to not only whether cancer rates now more closely approximate the rate of cancer in other communities, but how the cancer rates have changed and what caused this change. Answering this question is vital to the people of Ft. Chip and would make an enormous contribution to understanding the relation of various forms of pollution to increased rates of cancer. Governments that upheld the public interest would leave no stone unturned to provide the needed answers and take action to safeguard the people's health.

The ACFN has requested repeatedly that its right to be consulted and to participate in any study and its design be upheld. The ACFN insists that the AHS is duty bound to carry out serious study of the causes of rising cancer rates. Instead, in this and other situations where a serious danger to public health has been identified, the Alberta government has tried to silence the community and its supporters and threaten physicians who speak out.

Anything that stands in the way of the rapacious plunder of the energy resources must be swept aside, according to this government and its partner in crime, the Wildrose Party. Such political parties representing private monopoly interests have shown themselves unfit to govern and show the necessity for the people's empowerment and new social forms of governance.

TML calls on the working people to provide full support to the First Nations and Métis to demand that the health and well-being of the aboriginal peoples, the northern communities and the workers themselves be put in first place. The narrow aims of the monopolies are clashing with the aim and will of the people to bring into being a new direction in political and economic affairs consistent with the socialized, interconnected nature of the economy and the modern way we live.

A new direction to political and economic affairs with an empowered people at the centre will put the health and well-being of the people in first place, not the narrow aims of the global monopolies to increase their wealth and power. Importantly, new nation-to-nation relations between Canada and First Nations must be brought into being in which the right to decide is provided with a guarantee.

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Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Protests Gross Negligence in Study of Cancer in Their Community

TML is posting below an important press release of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation issued March 24.

***

Today, the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) learned through media sources that Alberta Health Services (AHS) would hold a press conference to discuss the results of the Cancer Incidences Report that evaluated reported cancer in the community of Fort Chipewyan between 1992-2011. The community was not notified or invited to attend. A copy of the report was sent late Friday [March 21] but did not reach key leaders until Monday morning [March 24].

"This is gross negligence. The leaders of Fort Chipewyan have been requesting a thorough analysis on incidences of cancer in our community for years. Not only was this research and study done without our direct participation we were left in the dark about key findings and the announcement of the release to the public," stated Chief Allan Adam of the ACFN.

The report concluded that cancer in the community was not higher than expected even though it reported on three cancers of concern: bile duct cancer with 3 cases when there should have been zero; as well as higher than expected levels of cervical cancers and lung cancer.

The ACFN, along with the Mikisew Cree First Nation, the Fort Chipewyan Metis Local and the Nunee Health Board had previously cancelled a meeting with AHS in February due to a disagreement about releasing the report prior to the meeting. The community leaders had requested an advance copy of the report in order to more effectively prepare questions for the meeting and this request was not granted.

AHS had since agreed to share their findings with the leaders of Fort Chipewyan and schedule a new meeting date. As of last week a meeting date had not been confirmed and a copy of the report had not been received.

"It's disappointing to know that our requests to be properly informed are repeatedly denied. This information is about our people, our health and our concerns," continued Adam.

The ACFN was notified that a third party, now confirmed to be the Liberal Party Health and Aboriginal Relations Critic Dr. David Swann, had requested a copy of the report through Freedom of information and Protection and Privacy. While a report was forwarded to this source, the Fort Chipewyan leaders and health officials were not granted the same clearance.

A copy of the report was sent to the email of member of the Nunee Board and staff member of the ACFN at the end of the day on Friday March 21, 2014. However, she was not in the office and the information was not shared with leadership until late Monday morning. The message from AHS also gave no indication that a press conference and a full release of the report would be made the following Monday.

"A member of the Liberal Party contacted us this morning to inform us they had received a copy of the report and to confirm that we were aware of the findings, to which we were not. Why is it that opposition leaders are more open to sharing information with our Nation than the current Alberta House leaders? Why are we almost always the last to know?"

While the report recognizes that rare forms of bile duct, cervical and lung cancer were a cause for concern it fails to draw a conclusive result as to cause of these cancers. It should also be noted that this is not research but simply standard reporting and is not peer reviewed.

"It will be good to go through the report in greater detail, however, it's obvious we have some questions around methodology and key findings. Although the report states that cancer is not higher than expected we can't argue the fact that people are getting sick and people are getting cancers. It's time for a real study, that is peer reviewed and done in partnership with our communities," stated Adam.

"Our people are constantly left in the dark about everything from policy, land use applications and research and studies that almost always impact our people. We are leaders, elected and put into power to help our people and communities. If governments aren't willing to work with us as elected officials of our communities how can we serve our communities effectively? This is gross negligence and it's absolutely unacceptable," stated Adam.

Representatives from the ACFN attended the press conference via conference call and will be working to address concerns and questions directly with AHS and Government of Alberta and Aboriginal Relations directly.

For More Information:
Eriel Deranger, Communications Coordinator ACFN 780-903-6598

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