Alberta Government Proclaims Theft of Workers' Pension Fund Legal

Hands Off Our Pensions!

Rally organized by Alberta nurses at the Alberta Legislature, November 20, 2019, during passage of  Bill 22 to say No! to wage rollbacks and "Hands Off Our Pensions!"

The Alberta government of Jason Kenney has rammed Bill 22, the Reform of Agencies, Boards and Commissions and Government Enterprises Act, 2019, a 174-page omnibus bill, through the Legislature. The bill was introduced on November 18 and the United Conservative Party (UCP) imposed "time allocation" after only four hours of debate. The bill received Royal Assent on November 22. Bill 22 amended or scrapped 31 different acts. It abolished the Office of the Elections Commission, which has levied more than $200,000 in fines for violations of the elections act associated with the UCP leadership race, and fired the Commissioner, who is still conducting investigations. Bill 22 also made it "legal" for the Alberta government to essentially expropriate the pension fund of Alberta teachers and put those funds into the hands of the Alberta Investment Management Corporation (AIMCo), the money manager owned by the provincial government.

The bill removes the option for Alberta's biggest public-sector pension plans, the Local Authorities Pensions Plan and the Public Services Pension Plan, to choose their fund manager. Both are presently managed by AIMCo, but had the option to withdraw and choose another fund manager. It removed one of the representatives of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) from the pension board and replaced that representative with a management representative. Bill 22 gives the government a veto over union appointments to the government employees' pension board on the basis that such appointees must be "competent."

Speaking in the Legislature, the Finance Minister made it clear that the Alberta government's reasons for these changes have nothing to do with guaranteeing security in retirement for public sector workers and professionals. He explicitly stated that it was to benefit the government, and further described the workers' pension funds as "public funds." In other words, he does not recognize that these funds do not belong to the governing cartel party.

These decisions were imposed on the entire public sector and the 400,000 members of the pension plans with absolutely no consultation with the unions and no consent, and carried out with lightning speed. Alberta Teachers' Association President Jason Schilling called on the government to "show us the numbers and convince us it is in our interests, instead of unilaterally seizing our pension assets." The government did not respond. Schilling also called for a report from the Auditor-General before the government proceeded with Bill 22, but this also received no response. Instead, the government continues to act to destroy any equilibrium in the social relations between the workers and the employers. It refuses to recognize the right of the workers and professionals to exercise control over decisions as to how the pension funds are to be managed.

The arrogance, hubris and narcissism of Kenney and his government is such that they seem convinced that they are unstoppable. They are continuing their shock and awe tactics based on this outlook, declaring that the fact that they won the election means they have a mandate to do whatever they please, and even that this is what the people want. UCP leader Jason Kenney did not even appear in the Legislature to defend Bill 22. Instead he went to Texas to woo investors, and declared that this was, after all, his most important duty.

Kenney's efforts to silence any opposition to his government's attacks on workers have been a dismal failure. Teachers who have managed their own fund for the past 80 years responded with a resounding No! Not Without Our Consent! More than 30,000 teachers emailed their MLAs or the Premier to express their opposition to this outrageous act of seizing control of their pension fund. They filled the galleries at the Legislature each night.

As well, close to 1,000 nurses from across the province, together with workers from other unions, rallied at the Legislature to say No! to wage rollbacks and Hands Off Our Pensions! Active and retired workers sent thousands of emails telling the government to stop its arrogant abuse of power. Education workers also rallied to express their opposition, and more actions are planned for the coming weeks. Workers from the public sector joined the striking CN workers on the picket lines.

Public sector workers join CN workers' picket line in Edmonton, November 23, 2019.

The UCP government continues to claim that nothing has really changed and that the boards of the respective plans, which are comprised of representatives from the unions and employers, will continue to set direction. But this is pure deception because the option to choose another plan manager has been eliminated. Without the power to withdraw from AIMCo's control, the pension plans have no recourse if they disagree with the management of the retirement funds.

It is also deception that the government has no control over AIMCo. The Alberta Investment Management Corporation Act (Section 19) states: "The Treasury Board may issue directives that must be followed by the [AIMCo], the board, or both." This gives the government the power, for example, to direct the fund to increase its already substantial share of investments in Alberta-based oil and gas corporations.

The government's actions to seize control of pension funds without the consent of the working people to whom these funds belong is a form of theft. The working people demand to know what the government is up to. It is clear that Jason Kenney is seizing control of large pools of capital and has an appetite for much more. He has moved some $30 billion worth of investments under AIMCo control. Kenney has also revived Harper's call for Alberta to withdraw from the Canada Pension Plan (CPP), and establish an Alberta Pension Plan.

It is not accidental that while this legislation was being passed in a manner never seen before in the Alberta Legislature, Kenney was in Texas stumping for the energy oligarchs and making who knows what promises on their behalf to potential investors. Kenney is showing on whose behalf he is ruling and on whose behalf he is prepared to trample on the rights of the hard-working public sector employees. To use dictate in this manner to seize more control over how these funds are managed is an abuse of power and cannot stand.

Defined pension benefits that guarantee a cultured standard of living until passing away are a necessary component of modern life. Security in retirement is an inviolable right which belongs to every member of society. Bill 22 must be repealed!

(Photos: TML, UNA, AUPE)

This article was published in

Volume 49 Number 29 - November 30, 2019

Article Link:
Alberta Government Proclaims Theft Of Workers' Pension Fund Legal: Hands Off Our Pensions! - Peggy Morton


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