Ucp-dominated committee votes to kill debate on public-sector pension bill

Ndp-proposed changes would have let pensions plan boards opt out of AIMCO

A bipartisan committee has recommended Alberta’s legislative assembly not debate a bill that would have reversed changes made last year to how public pensions are managed.

In a vote that fell along party lines, the six members of the UCP government on the standing committee on private bills and private members’ public bills voted 6-4 against recommending that the legislature consider the bill tabled by NDP MLA Christina Gray. The bill would also make it illegal for the provincial government to pull out of the Canada Pension Plan — something currently being studied.

“I went into it knowing that the UCP majority on the committee has never let an NDP opposition bill proceed, but I am still profoundly disappointed that they rejected allowing the debate on the floor of the legislature,” Gray said Monday afternoon after the committee’s decision.

The UCP members on the committee also voted to prevent 3,400 responses received from the public related to the bill from being made public, citing privacy concerns.

Gray’s bill would reverse changes made in 2019 when the UCP government passed a bill, which among other things, required public-sector pensions be managed by the Alberta Investment Management Corporation (AIMCO). While some of the pensions were already being managed by AIMCO, prior to this legislation boards had the option to leave starting in the next few years.

Alberta teachers’ pensions is now required to be managed by AIMCO starting at the end of 2021.

The UCP bill changed the balance of power on one pension plan board to have more non-union representatives and gave cabinet the power to approve board appointees.

Five people spoke to the committee ahead of its vote on Monday.

Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil Mcgowan argued that locking pensions into AIMCO creates an unfair monopoly and that decision making for who sits on the boards should be left solely in the hands of those who pay into the plans.

“When there is no chance that AIMCO as the provider will lose the pension plan as the client, there is very little incentive for them to provide good service,” he said.

Greg Meeker, former chair of the teachers’ pension board, told the committee that the government’s bill last year was passed without consultation and that studies were not done to prove that going with AIMCO was the right move.

Earlier this year, AIMCO announced it was bringing in outside investigators to probe its $2.1-billion loss linked to a volatility-based investment strategy amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Athana Mentzelopoulos, Alberta’s deputy minister of finance, told the committee that having AIMCO as the sole manager of funds will save money by avoiding duplication and have the opportunity to make more money due to the economy of scale.

She said that those who contribute to the plans will still be able to nominate people to sit on their boards, but the law now requires that those people show they have a level of competency when it comes to making major financial decisions.

The NDP still has one final chance to convince the government to debate the bill fully in the legislature. Next Monday, one hour will be allocated for MLAS to debate whether they should follow the committee’s recommendation that the bill not proceed.

I went into it knowing that the UCP majority on the committee has never let an NDP opposition bill proceed, but I am still profoundly disappointed.