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July 7, 2014 - No. 64

Public Hearings on Alberta's Anti-Pension Bills 9 and 10

Workers Defend the Pensions They Have and Speak Out for Pensions for All!



Calgary, June 23, 2014 (AUPE)

Public Hearings on Alberta's Anti-Pension Bills 9 and 10
Workers Defend the Pensions They Have and Speak Out for Pensions for All!
Proposals for Pro-Social Solutions
Letter to the Editor

By-Election Results in Fort McMurray
A Hollow Victory for Harper
Provide Camp Workers with the Right to Vote
Results of Four Federal By-Elections



Public Hearings on Alberta's Anti-Pension Bills 9 and 10

Workers Defend the Pensions They Have and
Speak Out for Pensions for All!


Lethbridge, June 24, 2014


Poster produced by Labour Coalition on Pensions for hearings across Alberta. 

Workers across Alberta came out in force to take a stand at the public hearings to review pension legislation introduced in the spring session. Bill 9, the Public Sector Pension Plans Amendment Act, 2014, and Bill 10, the Employment Pension (Private Sector) Plans Amendment Act, 2014 have been met with broad opposition from Alberta workers.

The opposition parties in the Legislature agreed to pass Bill 9 at Second Reading providing the two bills not be passed in the spring session, but sent for further study in the Standing Committee on Alberta's Economic Future for public hearings. Following the hearings, the committee will report to the Legislature during the fall session, making recommendations to proceed with the bills, amend them, or scrap the legislation altogether.

The Standing Committee held sessions on June 3-5 where expert and stakeholder witnesses, including union leaders, and the independent actuaries who prepared a report for the Alberta Coalition on Pensions made presentations. The committee also heard from pension plan administrators, representatives of Alberta Treasury Board and Finance, the Alberta Auditor-General and others.

Between June 16 and June 28, public hearings took place in Edmonton, Fort McMurray, Grande Prairie, Calgary, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat and Red Deer. More than 700 workers came out to the hearings, with close to 150 workers making presentations. Workers from health care, municipalities, school boards, provincial government services as well as workers from many sectors of the economy including energy, pulp and paper and other manufacturing sectors, telecommunications and utilities presented a multitude of powerful arguments as to why Bills 9 and 10 should be scrapped. A lively atmosphere prevailed despite an initial attempt to say no applause was allowed, with presenters encouraged and cheered on by their peers. Only three or four presenters spoke in favour of the bills. Alberta workers ensured that these hearings were used to present a powerful stand to defend the pensions they have and to fight for pensions for all.

Questions from the Conservative MLAs on the Committee left no doubt that they had deluded themselves into thinking the problem must be that workers are misinformed and/or ignorant. Otherwise, workers would not be opposing Bills 9 and 10, which the Conservatives had introduced under the self-serving rubric to "save the pension plans." The PC MLAs stuck to their story like a dog with a bone, while time and again the workers put them in their place.

Meanwhile, worker after worker spoke with passion, defending their pensions and the right to security in retirement. They demolished the disinformation of the PCs and ruling elite that pensions are not sustainable. They made mincemeat of the claim that society is incapable of providing the right to security in retirement with a guarantee and that seniors should have to fend for themselves and face poverty and insecurity in old age.


Grande Prairie, June 18, 2014

The workers exposed that the attack on pensions is phony and self-serving. They explained that they had read the bills, participated in information sessions, used the pension calculators, spoken with their co-workers, and fully informed themselves why the bills should be "shuffled into some obscure abyss never to be seen or heard from again," as one worker put it. They also argued out a pro-social response to strengthen existing pension plans and extend them with the goal of providing security in retirement for all.

Workers brought forward that Bill 10 is intended to destroy private sector pensions by converting them to "target" pensions -- another name for savings plans. The opposite should be done. Private sector employers, especially the largest ones, should enroll all employees within a provincial or federal defined-benefit pension plan. The Alberta government should be forced to support an expanded Canada Pension Plan as a first step to security in retirement for all.

Many immediate measures that can be implemented were put forward. This included the fight to stop the privatization of public services and social programs, and restore privatized services as public enterprise with all workers enrolled in a province-wide defined-benefit pension plan.

Workers spoke with one collective voice to say they will not accept dictate, and to demand a real say in governance. They defended the solidarity across the generations and the rights of young workers. They elaborated that by fighting for economic security in retirement they were also defending the future of their communities.

Congratulations to all the workers who made presentations and those who attended the hearings to provide support and encouragement to those who were presenting on their behalf!

(Photos: AUPE, UNA)

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Proposals for Pro-Social Solutions


Medicine Hat, June 25, 2014

Posted below are extracts from some of the 150 presentations made by workers to the government hearings on Alberta's anti-pension Bills 9 and 10.

Pensions and Security in Retirement for All

• "I would like to say that everyone has the right to have a job that pays a living wage. Everyone has the right to good benefits. Everyone has the right to quality health care and not-for-profit health care. Everyone has the right to a retirement pension that they can live on. Everyone has a right to live in dignity and enjoy a good life. Remember: we are ready to fight, and we are fighting. If we lose, we will win at the ballot box."

• "When we look at the retirement age for seniors as well, where this could affect seniors, we need to look after all Albertans, not just those currently paying into the plan, those receiving the plan, and the younger generation who will get the plan."

• "Alberta is one of the richest provinces in Canada. It shouldn't just be the public employees that have a pension. All Albertans should have a pension."

• "The point here is that we need good pension plans. Everybody in this country should be in a pension plan, not just 30 per cent. Thirty per cent isn't enough. Even the CPP (Canada Pension Plan) has been talked about lots of times. Let's get this thing rolling. Let's help the people...."

• "Recommendations: I believe that government should legislate that there should be a 2 per cent defined-benefit plan for all employees, regardless of whether it's a fast - food industry or CEOs. It's not the end-all, be-all for senior citizens and for retirement problems, but it is a good place to start, and it will make the difference for some."

• "Retirement security affects all of us. All workers have a right to a defined-benefit pension. Savings plans are a sham and retrogressive. They force workers to pool their savings into becoming social capital, which is then stolen and misused by the international financial oligarchy. No retirement benefit is guaranteed through savings plans. The Alberta government must support an expanded Canada Pension Plan as a first step to security in retirement for all."

• "With Bill 10, retired workers who have defined-benefit pension plans face increased insecurity and the possibility of poverty in retirement. In my opinion, instead of passing laws allowing companies to threaten the right to security in retirement, this government should be passing laws forbidding companies from touching the defined-benefit pension plans, and this government should be getting on board with plans to expand the CPP. Bill 10, if passed, makes workers the target of the greed of corporations who want to seize more and more of the wealth produced by the working people of this province. To me this is not acceptable, and for this reason alone this legislation should never see the light of day."

Stop Paying the Rich -- Increase Funding for Social Programs

• "Alberta is a rich province, and if the government is having trouble balancing its budget, it needs to go to the resource sector rather than again trying to balance its budget on the backs of hardworking public sector health professionals. I and many other people in 1995 paid for the balancing of the budget personally out of my own salary. It took me until 2001 to be paid the same hourly rate that I was being paid in 1994, before Mr. Klein made his adjustments."

• "My second draft [of this presentation to the public hearings] focussed on the bitter irony of my relocation to Alberta from Ontario and how when I first arrived, in 2005, I was greeted by a $400 Ralph bucks cheque. Now, nine years later, the government is claiming that the cupboard is bare, not to mention the government's royalty giveaways, low corporate tax, and flat income tax regime leading to a structural deficit, which unfairly benefits super-wealthy elites and compromises the services desperately needed by working class Albertans like schools, roads, and hospitals. A very small group is becoming extremely rich as a result of Alberta government policies while public servants are now having their very modest retirement security threatened."

• "My final question is: why don't you place a 10 per cent royalty on the oil companies and get your money that way and leave my pension alone? This way I will not have to collect pop bottles."

• "Fact: Alberta, if managed appropriately, has plenty of royalty income to share with its citizens. In my opinion, we can keep giving oil companies royalty rebates so they can build pipelines and elaborate skyscrapers, or we can redistribute that royalty so that each and every Albertan would have a pension benefit or an annual income."


Red Deer, June 26, 2014

(Photos: AUPE, UNA)

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Letter to the Editor

Re: The Destruction of Pensions

Bill 10, the Employment Pension (Private Sector) Plans Amendment Act, 2014 was not passed in the spring session of the Legislature, but is being discussed during the summer in public hearings. Bill 10 would allow employers to retroactively convert defined benefit pension plans into target pension plans. In the legislation, the government claimed that it will consult the workers first and will require "significant agreement." But all the details about who it will consult and even if a majority is required are left out of the legislation. They are contained in regulations that would be written behind closed doors by the executive without any legislative or public oversight, and they are subject to change at any time. One thing is for sure, and that is that they are not going to ask the retirees!

The experience of workers in my plant is quite important to this discussion and to alert workers to what is being planned and what must be stopped. The government says it is enacting this legislation because the employers asked for it. What do the employers intend to do with it? Clearly those workers in Alberta who have defined benefit pension plans but no unions will not have any choice, they will be forced to "agree." Organized workers are definitely in a different situation because changes will have to be negotiated. For this reason some unionized workers feel the bill won't really affect them.

The experience at my workplace shows just what the employers are up to and that this will have a big impact on workers with negotiated pensions. My workplace manufactures materials for the housing industry for western Canada and the U.S. Several years ago in the wake of the economic crisis and downturn in the U.S. housing market, the U.S. owner began to make threats about closing down our plant and moving all production to the U.S. Needless to say this caused a lot of stress and anxiety about our future, especially when we have governments who refuse to act to protect manufacturing jobs in Canada and tell these arrogant U.S. companies that this is no private business decision.

It was within these circumstances that the employer demanded that the workers give up their defined benefit pensions. The negotiating committee recommended acceptance in the atmosphere of uncertainty about the plant's future, saying the fight could not be won, and a new three-tier system was set up.

Under this three tier system, a small number of workers with many years of seniority were grandfathered and continued with a full defined benefit pension until retirement. All other workers in the plant at the time have a hybrid pension, with a defined benefit pension for years of service prior to 2011 when the new arrangements came in, and a defined contribution after. Workers hired after 2011 have only a savings plan known as a "defined contributions" plan which guarantees them nothing as their savings can go up in smoke in the next financial meltdown.

We are now faced with a situation where very few workers have a full defined benefit pension plan and the number decreases each year as the older workers retire. The solidarity across generations has been broken, and the younger workers have already been deprived of security in retirement. Who is going to fight for the retirees and the few workers left with defined benefit pensions?

Our experience shows how employers, especially these arrogant U.S. monopolies are acting to destroy security in retirement step by step. They asked for and got legislation opening the door to attack the pensions of those already retired as well as coming generations of workers. It is important that workers discuss what this legislation means so as to be fully prepared for the fight that is to come, work out all our options and see together how to go all out to resist this attack. We must defend the pensions we have and fight for pensions for all!

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By-Election Results in Fort McMurray

A Hollow Victory for Harper

On June 30, federal by-elections were held in four ridings: two in Ontario -- Trinity-Spadina and Scarborough-Agincourt; and two in Alberta -- Fort McMurray--Athabasca and Macleod. Today TML is posting an article on the results in Fort McMurray--Athabasca.

In Fort McMurray--Athabasca, the Conservative candidate won the by-election receiving 6,945 votes, or 8 per cent of registered voters. This represents 46.8 per cent of the total votes cast, down from the 71.84 per cent of votes cast for the Conservatives in the 2011 election. To put these results in context, Diane Benson, a spokesperson for Elections Canada, told the Globe and Mail on July 1 that the Fort McMurray and Macleod (19.6 per cent) turnouts are the lowest in modern Canadian history. She added that a manual check of paper records would be needed to confirm by-election turnouts going back to Confederation. Generally speaking, however, lower turnout is a relatively recent trend, she said.

The Liberals, who were third in 2011 with 10.42 per cent of the vote, increased their vote share to 35.3 per cent, an almost 25 per cent increase. The NDP vote went down slightly in percentage terms, from 13.24 per cent in 2011 to 11.4 per cent.

Only 12,708 people cast a ballot in the Fort McMurray--Athabasca by-election. This represents 15 per cent of the 83,647 registered voters. Workers living in the work-camps in the riding, who number at least 40,000, are not included in the number of registered voters.

The increased Liberal vote mirrored what took place in the three other June 30 by-elections, especially Trinity-Spadina. However, in Fort McMurray--Athabasca, the Liberal increase came almost entirely from the Conservatives, rather than from the NDP base. Not only did Harper's candidate win with the votes of just 8 per cent of registered voters, but also the low number shows that many Harper voters from the last election stayed home.

Turnout in by-elections is normally low. Even so, to have a candidate declared a winner in an election with only 15 per cent voter participation, and where the leading candidate receives only 8 per cent support from the registered electorate shows how deep the crisis of democracy has become in Canada.

The Harper dictatorship loves to refer to the oil sands as the "economic engine of Canada." Yet the workers who create this wealth through their hard work, skills and knowledge and who do so under very difficult conditions are completely marginalized from the political process. In this case, they are not even counted automatically as registered voters and provided the opportunity to vote.

What conclusions should workers draw from these results? The first is that the Harper dictatorship can be defeated. A 25 per cent decrease in their vote, and a seat won with less than 7,000 votes, shows that Harper no longer has the workers of Fort McMurray in the bag.

The second conclusion is that the Harper dictatorship was able to win because the working class was not activated to be effective in a manner which favours its own interests and those of society to block the anti-social agenda. How to activate the working class to intervene in a manner that blocks the anti-social offensive is the challenge for the next federal election, not just in Fort McMurray but also for workers all across Canada. The overwhelming majority of workers and small business people did not vote at all, but stayed at home. Of course, the Conservatives are suspected of deliberately calling the by-elections for the long weekend to suppress the vote, calculating that a low turnout was in their best interest.

Discussing the significance of the election results is important to see how to go forward. A success of the work in this by-election was that the concerns of the workers of Fort McMurray were brought forward and discussion began. Congratulations to all who participated in this work! The fact that the Harper dictatorship, despite the massive resources at its disposal received such a dismal result is a hollow victory indeed. It shows that a Harper defeat can be organized!

The aura of invincibility of the Harper dictatorship and its anti-worker, austerity agenda has been smashed. Harper can be defeated! But governments which advocate the neo-liberal anti-social, anti-worker and anti-national agendas will not fall by themselves. For this to happen, it is crucial to develop the independent voice of the working class and activate the workers to take a stand in defence of their own interests and to participate in setting their own political agenda.

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Provide Camp Workers with the Right to Vote


Wapaso Creek Lodge in Fort McMurray, a work camp with at least 5,174 rooms, providing housing primarily for workers
at Imperial Oil's Kearl oil sands operation. (J. Woodhead)

At least 40,000 workers live in work camps throughout the Fort McMurray--Athabasca region. Given the lack of housing in Fort McMurray and elsewhere in the area, work camps have become a fixture. The very term "work camp" implies a temporary state of affairs, but for many workers, living in the camps and moving from project to project is a way of life. Should these workers not have the right to elect and be elected to defend their interests in the region where they work and spend the majority of their time?

The Canada Elections Act says that an individual has the right to vote in a riding if they are "ordinarily resident" in the riding. A worker may work for three out of four weeks and live in a work camp and then return home for the remaining week. Can it not be said that someone who spends 75 per cent of their time in Fort McMurray--Athabasca is "ordinarily resident" in that riding?

A university student may spend 8 months out of 12, or 66 per cent of the year living in a student residence or university town. Their right to vote in the riding of their choice, either in the riding where they go to school or where they live when school is out of session, has been well established. A letter issued by a student residence along with another piece of authorized identification such as a student ID card is sufficient to vote.[1] Why should it be any different for workers living in work camps? Polling stations should be set up in the camps, and work camps should be required to issue letters establishing one's residence for the purpose of voting.

This is a problem that needs to be sorted out before the next election scheduled to take place in 2015 unless Harper calls it earlier.

Note

1. At present, to be allowed to vote, one must

A) Present a photo ID with name and address (drivers' license, health card, provincial ID card).

B) Present two pieces of identification/documentation, one with an address. For example, a debit card and a phone bill.

C) Take an oath and have an elector vouch for you.

For a complete list of acceptable identification and for the details on who can vouch for another candidate, click here.

When the Harper dictatorship's Fair Elections Act comes into effect, the requirements will change, most notably eliminating the option to take an oath and have an elector vouch for an individual.

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Results of Four Federal By-Elections

Fort McMurray--Athabasca

Name Party Votes % of votes % change from 2011
Brian Deheer Green Party 449 3.5 -1
Kyle Harrietha Liberal 4491 35.3 24.9
Lori McDaniel NDP 1449 11.4 -1.8
Tim Moen  Libertarian 374 2.9 n/a
David Yurdiga Conservative 5945 46.8 -25.1
Voter turnout: 12,708 of 83,647 registered electors (15.19 %)

Macleod

Name Party Votes % of votes % change from 2011
Larry Ashmore Green Party 1042 5.8 1.1
John Barlow Conservative 12394 68.8 -8.7
David Reimer Christian Heritage 763 4.2 3.7
Dustin Fuller Liberal 3062 17 13.3
Aileen Burke NDP 766 4.2 -6.1
Voter turnout: 18,027 of 92,007 registered electors (19.59 %)

Scarborough--Agincourt

Name Party Votes % of votes % change from 2011
Trevor Ellis Conservative 6344 29.3 -4.9
Kevin Clarke Independent 315 1.5 n/a
Arnold Chan Liberal 12829 59.3 13.9
Elizabeth Ying Long NDP 1844 8.5 -9.6
Shahbaz Mir Green Party 307 1.4 -0.9
Voter turnout: 21,639 of 73,705 registered electors (29.36 %)

Trinity--Spadina

Name Party Votes % of votes % change from 2011
John Turmel Independent 141 0.4 n/a
Benjamin Sharma Conservative 2000 5.8 -11
Camille Labchuk Green Party 1919 5.6 1.2
Linda Groce-Gibbons Christian Heritage 174 0.5 n/a
Joe Cressy NDP 11823 34.3 -20.2
Adam Vaughan Liberal 18434 53.4 30.1
Voter turnout: 34,491 of 109,114 registered electors (31.61 %)

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