UCP quietly passed order that Alberta teachers say takes away their power over pensions

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UCP quietly passed order Alberta teachers say takes away their power over pensions
The Alberta Teachers' Association is angry with recent changes the UCP government has made that it says take control away from teachers when it comes to their pensions. Sarah Komadina reports – Jan 13, 2021

The Alberta Teachers’ Association says it is “incensed” by recent changes the United Conservative government has made that it says take control away from teachers when it comes to their pensions.

An order signed by Finance Minister Travis Toews on Dec. 23 outlines terms around the transfer of management of teachers’ pensions from the Alberta Teachers’ Retirement Fund Board (ATRF) to the Alberta Investment Management Corporation (AIMCo).

The decision for AIMCo to take over the pension management came after the passage of Bill 22, also known as the Reform of Agencies, Boards and Commissions and Government Enterprises Act.

Bill 22 made sweeping changes that were meant to reduce red tape in several different ministries.

While the bill said ATRF was required to use AIMCo as its investment manager, teachers were told the ATRF would still have the final say.

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The new order includes a term that says if the ATRF and AIMCo cannot agree, the minister of finance can intervene and create an agreement.

It comes after the two groups failed to come to an investment management agreement (IMA) in 2020. They began negotiations after Bill 22 was passed in 2019.

“Extensive negotiation between ATRF and AIMCo to establish a mutually agreeable IMA occurred throughout much of 2020,” said a news release from ATRF this week.

“Single focus during the negotiations was on ensuring terms were established in the IMA that protected the best interests of our plans over the long-term, and that carefully considered and addressed the variety of issues that could arise in managing the assets of our plans.

“Through the course of the intensive discussions, we reached agreement with AIMCo on many important matters.

“However, AIMCo was not willing to agree to certain key terms that we felt appropriately protected ATRF’s role and responsibility and the interests of our plans.”

ATA President Jason Schilling said Wednesday teachers are mainly concerned about the fact this could take away all of their rights to be consulted in the management of their pensions.

“Teachers have always had control over their pensions in this way. Now it’s been taken away from them without consultation, and that has made them angry,” Schilling said.

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“If AIMCo were to do bad investments, if they were to lose money, that could impact teacher’s contribution rates down the road,” he said.

“That’s the concern that teachers have — that they have some autonomy and input into the investment of their pension. And now that has been taken away.”

The Official Opposition said the new order is a betrayal.

“The UCP asked teachers to trust AIMCo with their pensions,” said Alberta NDP Critic for Labour and Immigration Christina Gray. “Teachers were blindsided by the introduction of [Bill 22]. Thousands of teachers expressed their concerns over the bill.

“But the UCP ignored their concerns and promised them that the ATRF would still maintain control over its own investment decisions.”

Read more: Bill 22 passes 3rd reading at Alberta legislature; ethics commissioner cannot ‘delay proceedings’

Gray says that the ministerial order that gives AIMCo a veto was quietly signed over the holidays, on Dec. 23, but the ATRF says it was not informed about the order until Jan. 4, 2021.

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“This is the UCP ripping up contracts with doctors all over again. They used the cover of pandemic to sign the order,” Gray said.

“They waited until teachers were swamped with the return of students, to online learning and back to school, to even mention that they were giving coercive control of the pensions to AIMCo.”

Read more: Alberta government asking for proposals to study feasibility of provincial pension plan

A statement from the office of Minister Travis Toews said Wednesday that the order was necessary.

“An agreement was originally required by June 30, 2020. An extension was granted to Oct. 31, 2020,” the statement read. “Since an agreement was not reached, even in the months after the deadline, the ministerial order was necessary as a temporary measure to ensure that the pension plan remains appropriately managed.

“We are confident that ATRF and AIMCo will be able to come to an agreement.

“Once the parties agree to a final investment management agreement the ministerial order will no longer be in effect.”

Toews’ press secretary Jerrica Goodwin added that the current pension benefits will not be affected for members.

However, Gray says she believes the UCP needed to be more open about the order’s signing.

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“This government has a serious deficit of trust with the public,” Gray said. “And this is a terrible track record that they are now continuing, of secrecy, of not telling Albertans about the changes that impact them.

“The minister is forcing terms that give AIMCo a veto on those investment decisions.”

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