Gil McGowan, Opening Remarks on Bill 208 Hearing - March 08, 2021

I’ve been asked here today because I’m the president of the Federation of Labour; chair of the Labour Coalition on Pensions; and chair of the sponsor board of Alberta’s largest pension plan, the Local Authorities Pension Plan.

As such, I represent literally hundreds of thousands of working Albertans who count on plans like CPP and LAPP for their retirement security. My experience and my responsibilities also mean that I know a thing or two about pensions.

The first thing I’d like to say this morning is that there are few issues more important to Albertans than retirement security. Whether it’s CPP, LAPP or any other pension, Albertans pay into these plans every pay period, month after month, year after year, with the goal of ensuring some measure of security and stability in retirement. CPP is particularly important because it’s the only pension that many Albertans have.

If you want to rile people up – if you want them marching in the streets and banging on your doors – then mess with their pensions. That’s what happened when Allison Redford poked the pension bear in 2014, and it’s what will happen today if you follow her example.

Simply put, it is politically unwise – and morally wrong – to make big changes to the pensions that people rely upon without their direct consent. It’s also imperative that the ordinary working people who set money aside in CPP, LAPP and other pension plans have a say in the way those plans are managed.

One of the rallying cries in the American War of independence was “no taxation without representation!” It’s the same with pensions. There should be no pension deductions without representation.

That’s why I like Bill 208.

It would require that a referendum be held before pulling Alberta out of CPP. It would also require that Albertans be asked whether AIMCo should be the investment manager of a prospective Alberta Pension Plan.

Polls show that the vast majority of Albertans don’t want to leave CPP. They understand that CPP is stable and secure – and they don’t have confidence putting their retirement savings in the hands of a government that can’t shoot straight or who might use their retirement nest eggs to prop up risky oil and gas investments. Many Albertans have also expressed serious reservations about AIMCo, especially after it gambled and lost billions on its now infamous volatility strategy.

So, it is entirely reasonable to pass a bill requiring a referendum on both the question of withdrawal from CPP and the question of using AIMCo as the investment manager. It is also reasonable, as this Bill would require, to remove the power of Treasury Board to issue investment directives to AIMCo.

Current legislation creates a conflict. On one hand it says AIMCo should invest independently from government. On the other hand, the Act also allows Treasury Board to issue specific investment directives.

If members of the UCP caucus on this committee truly believe your talking points about your government’s commitment to respecting the independence of AIMCo, then you should have no problem with removing the ability of the government tell AIMCo which specific companies to invest in.

The final thing this bill would do is give Alberta’s major public-sector pension plans, who are AIMCo’s major clients, seats on the AIMCo Board.

I’m on record as vociferously opposing this government’s decision to remove the ability of public-sector pension plans to choose their investment providers.

I’m still baffled how a party that says people should have choice in schools and choice in health care can say that Albertans who save for their retirements through public-sector pension plans should NOT have choice in their investment providers. The UCP’s cognitive dissonance is strong on this issue.

But if we’re going to be forced to use AIMCo, which again I oppose, then at the very least, our plans deserve to have some say over how AIMCo is run. And that means giving the plans seats on the AIMCo board.

Some of you may say “LAPP and other pension plans already have a say in how their assets are managed through their investment policies and the investment management agreements that they negotiate with AIMCo.” Well, your own government blew those arguments out of the water with the now infamous Ministerial Orders issued on January 4, 2021. Those orders imposed new investment contracts that essentially allow AIMCo to ignore the investment preference of pension plan boards, as expressed through their investment policies.

What do you call it when you take other people’s money and start doing things with it that they never agreed to? We call it theft.

That’s what this government did with Bill 22 and the Ministerial Orders of January 4, 2021. 

It’s why a coalition of unions that I co-chair will soon be taking this government to court.

And it’s why we support this bill as a way to at least partially redress the pension power and money grab that this government has perpetrated on Albertans.

In conclusion, I’d like to urge you to let this bill be debated on the floor of the Legislature.

The fact that you’ve set up this committee to screen out private members bills from Opposition MLAs and stop them from seeing the light of day is a travesty and flies in the face of the best traditions of Westminster democracy.

You are parliamentarians, not censors or gatekeepers. You should be ashamed of yourselves.

Thank you,
Gil McGowan

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