NDP labour critic calls for rollback of pension plan changes

pension plan

Alberta should have a law preventing governments from pulling the province out of the Canada Pension Plan, says Christina Gray

Alberta should have a law preventing governments from pulling the province out of the Canada Pension Plan, Opposition NDP labour critic Christina Gray said.

As a provincial-government appointed panel tours the province to hear citizens’ ideas about how Alberta could seize more control over its destiny, Gray said Wednesday the government is not providing enough context about the risks of establishing an Alberta Pension Plan.

Premier Jason Kenney has said he’d hold a referendum on the issue.

Yes, Albertans are frustrated, but no one wants politicians meddling in their pensions and risking their retirement, Gray said at a Wednesday news conference.

She plans to introduce a private member’s bill in the legislature’s spring sitting that would prevent a Canada Pension Plan (CPP) withdrawal and reverse controversial changes the provincial government made last fall to public-sector pension plans.

The United Conservative Party government stands by the changes, saying they make the best use of taxpayer dollars.

Government contributes to each pension plan, and so Alberta taxpayers are partners and have a vested interest in the health of the plans, said Jerrica Goodwin, press secretary for Finance Minister Travis Toews, in a Wednesday email.

Government also pays the plans’ premiums and is responsible for plan liabilities, she said.

Bill 22, an omnibus bill introduced and passed within four days last November, will move investment control of 82,000 practicing and retired teachers’ pensions to the Alberta Investment Management Corporation (AIMCo) from the Alberta Teachers’ Retirement Fund (ATRF) by December 2021.

The legislation also made changes to the oversight of three public-sector pension plans for 351,000 employees, including municipal employees and health-care workers.

The bill changed the balance of power on one pension plan board to have more non-union representatives, gave cabinet the power to approve board appointees and locked the pensions into having AIMCo as their investment manager.

MLAs have received about 40,000 emails from Albertans upset about the changes, Gray said Wednesday.

New rules ensuring pension board directors meet “competency requirements” is crucial given they are responsible for more than $60 billion in assets, Goodwin said. Pension plans can still nominate directors, she said.

Gray’s forthcoming private member’s bill to prevent CPP changes and reverse other pension changes might be fruitless — an all-party committee could recommend it never make it to the legislature, or government-majority MLAs could vote it down.

The former labour minister is trying to rouse public pressure by launching the yourpensionisyours.ca website, where people can sign an electronic petition voicing opposition to the changes.

Also Wednesday, the Alberta Federation of Labour published a document in which president Gil McGowan argues the government may direct AIMCo to invest public pensions disproportionately in Alberta oil and gas. Some financial agencies are divesting of Alberta oil and gas stocks, worried they’re too risky.

Despite conservative allegations while in opposition that AIMCo was at risk of political meddling, Goodwin said a clause in legislation that allows government to issue directives to AIMCo has never been used.

AIMCo is legally required to manage money in the best interests of its clients, she said.