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!
Pensions We Have! Fight for
Pensions for All!
• Message to Alberta Government: No Means
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
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.
Out to Demand the Government Stop Attacking Public Sector Pensions!
Security in Retirement Is a Right!
Hands Off Our Pensions!
Disinformation from Think Tanks of the Rich
Neo-liberal pundits from the Fraser
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
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
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
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
and also made special contributions into these pension plans over the
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
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
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.
In the Alberta Legislature
On April 8, Cal Dallas, Minister of
Intergovernmental Relations let the cat out of the bag about the
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
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
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
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.
Public Right Yes! Monopoly
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]
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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.
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
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