Finance Minister Doug Horner and Alberta Premier Alison Redford attempt to skate around opposition to their planned cuts to public service pensions. Points have not yet been awarded for the maneuver. Actual Alberta politicians may not appear exactly as illustrated. Below: The real Mr. Horner as he slipped past media and uninvited union leaders at Government House in Edmonton yesterday.

Finance Minister Doug Horner attempted to skate gracefully around Alberta’s furious public employees with some clever PR tactics yesterday when he publicly dictated the pension cuts he says they’re going to have to take, like ’em or not.

The results aren’t in yet from all the judges for Mr. Horner’s skating performance.

But it’s said here that when the bulk of the province’s public employees figure out just what he’s done, they’ll be even madder than before – especially once they look where the cuts are now to be made and realize the job categories facing the deepest pension takeaways are those dominated by women, while those that got a little break or two are mostly dominated by men.

So just what are all those women who work hard for all Albertans as nurses, health care aides, administrative clerks, secretaries, receptionists, cleaners and in a myriad of other tasks so essential that if they strike they face penalties heavier than for many criminal offences? Chopped liver?

Did the strategic brain trust now running the Progressive Conservative government of Alison Redford forget that these are the same women who rallied round the faltering premier in April 2012 and saved her political bacon?

Whatever the reason, Mr. Horner tried a little of the old Tory divide-and-conquer by announcing that a few employee groups the PC political brain trust assume are popular with the public, like firefighters and paramedics, can keep their modest pensions with current early retirement provisions.

It’s possible that it didn’t even occur to the Tory strategists that the employees in dark uniforms they decided to cut out from the rest for marginally better treatment were mostly men, while the employees in white and pastel uniforms who were still expected to uncomplainingly get the shaft were mostly women.

But then, that tells a story that’s almost worse than if they’d done it knowingly!

Or maybe the PC brain trust concluded women union members weren’t as tough as men, or would defer to male leaders – which I can tell you after three decades in the labour movement would be a really big mistake!

What’s certainly true is that the resistance from public employees of both genders to the broken pension promise Mr. Horner told them in mid-September they were going to have to take has been much stiffer and far more focused than the Redford Government expected.

Few on the receiving end of these cuts have had much time for Mr. Horner’s oft-repeated claim they are necessary to make the pension plans “sustainable” – especially after a report by Alberta’s Auditor General the week before last concluded it was unlikely Mr. Horner’s changes would achieve that goal.

Tory MLAs – not a few of whom scraped into office in the face of 2012’s Wildrose Wave thanks to the votes of women and public employees in their ridings – have been badly shaken by the constituency visits they’ve been getting from civil servants and health care workers who have told them they have lost their trust and their votes because of the pension cuts, not to mention the government’s odious and heavy-handed labour laws, Bills 45 and 46.

With only the usual suspects in the right-wing AstroTurf and think tank lobby clapping, the worried Tories decided a little divide and conquer here, and a little smoke and mirrors there, might sooth the worries of their troubled caucus.

The divisions Mr. Horner’s maneuver tries to sow are various:

  • Between groups of workers deemed worthy of better pensions (firefighters, for example) and those the government thinks it can tell to get lost (front-line health care workers, for example)
  • Between those who are going to retire soon (who are promised they can keep their benefits) and those who won’t retire for a while (whom the government hopes aren’t paying attention)
  • Between those who are older (for whom the changes are less severe, assuming there’s no financial crisis or a run on the pension plan) and those who are younger (who no doubt will later be told they’re victims of the Boomer generation)
  • And, of course, between rank and file workers (who get letters urging them to trust the government) and their union leaders (who are ignored and threatened with massive fines if they dare to advocate a st**ke)

I’m sure readers get the picture.

Then, when the whole thing is over, Mr. Horner proposes to hand management of the diminished plans over to their boards, so they can take the rap for the damage the PCs have done.

It’s telling that Mr. Horner slipped past a group of union leaders outside Government House in Edmonton yesterday, whom he refused to meet, to lay his dictates on the boards of the various pubic sector plans, which include both employer and employee representatives.

While the government hopes to give the impression it has listened to its employees’ concerns, the reality is it has beans in its ears and hears nothing.

When the dust has settled form yesterday’s announcement – which will take a few days – it will turn out the impact of the changes will not be much different from that of Mr. Horner’s original plan.

A good first analysis of the meaning of the latest changes can be found on the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees’ web page. There’s more on The Tories’ sunny news release can be read on the government’s website.

The changes will affect more than 300,000 provincial employees and retirees, plus, presumably, a roughly equal number of family members.

Those 600,000-plus Albertans comprise a group of potential voters the Redford Government has obviously been thinking about. But maybe they should think a little harder!

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  1. While I am in complete agreement with you regarding the odious Alberta gov’t and have been of this opinion since I was first introduced to the buffoonery 15 years ago I am not so congenial about your spinning on the integrity, courage and thoughtfulness of the AUPE rank and file.
    You talk about resistance; what resistance. I suppose there is a first time for everything but I have my doubts that there will be little more than the usual posturing by the paid staff at HQ. It’ll blow over, people will grumble, the annual employee satisfaction poll will continue it’s decades long showing in the fifth decile.
    You also go on about public employees, presumably AUPE membership, helping the Redford gov’t by voting them in, as if there were some kinda conscious choice-making going on. AUPE votes PC David. Always has and always will.
    Don’t get me wrong here; I would dearly love to see the Neanderthals in GOA kicked vigorously out of power. I have said so for years. There have been any number of really great opportunities to do just that. But in the voting booth the overwhelming weight of cultural ignorance and indifference presses down to move the hand to the PC box. And even before election day the complete lack of courage, imagination or social responsibility blocks 2/3 of the voting public from 3even participating. If AUPE is any different from the general public I would say it’s only in the social obligation they have, as direct providers of public services, to provide thoughtful and responsible leadership in the management and delivery of those services. In that single specific they have failed miserably.
    We get exactly the kind of gov’t here the overwhelming majority of folks want. There are just too many examples about of peoples removing unpopular governments to think otherwise.

  2. Sent: Monday, September 16, 2013 7:22 PM
    To: Calgary Elbow; Sprucegrove StAlbert; [email protected]
    Subject: Fear mongering Public sector pension announcement

    Honourable Madam Premier, Honorable Sir,

    CC: LAPP Board of Governors

    While I understand the government’s concerns about pension liabilities, and recognize the demographic reality of our aging population, I must disagree that an independently governed pension fund (LAPP), that has a plan to be fully funded in the next 7 years, and is only not currently fully funded primarily because of an extraordinary recession, is one that somehow needs government interference to solve a ‘non-problem’.

    I routinely receive communications from the LAPP Board of Governors and they (and we the members) are completely aware of the problems and challenges AND have already begun action to address (for example, contribution levels are up and will continue to increase).

    As it clearly says in the LAPP’s online Statement of Sustainability:

    “LAPP has moved from a surplus position with a funded ratio (assets to liabilities) of greater than 100% in the 1990’s to a deficit position today, with a funded ratio near 80%. Although this deficit experience over the last 10 years is similar to many other pension plans around the world, a prolonged period of deficit funding raises concerns about sustainability of the Plan…..As required by law, the unfunded liability is amortized over a maximum of 15 years and is paid for through contribution rates by employees and employers who contribute to the plan. A prolonged period of deficit funding has resulted in a prolonged period of contribution rate increases.”

    So what is the problem? There appears to be a solid plan to address this liability as is mandated by law.

    Does the minister and my provincial government mean to say it does not have confidence in the abilities of the LAPP board of governors to meet their legal obligations? Do you mean to say that they and I, as an employee with a LAPP pension, are not trusted to fix this problem?

    Or are you expressing displeasure (and threatening reprisals) because of public criticism from LAPP, namely it’s statement that “Currently the governance structure is flawed, placing all of the risk in the hands of the employees and employers who fund the plan, while giving them no power to oversee plan administration, plan investments and/or plan design. LAPP’s Board believes that governance must be addressed on a priority basis and continues to push government for change…. the Minister of Finance is the Trustee of the plan and has final decision-making authority over everything but setting contribution rates…The sponsors of LAPP, the employers and the employees, are solely responsible for funding the full cost of plan, including its unfunded liability, but have no official authority to determine plan design or set plan benefits. It is the sponsors who bear full risk for the plan and the Board believes those who bear the risk should govern the plan.”

    If the latter is true, ie some kind of public pissing match, then I am so disappointed that I am apt to roll my eyes and to tell you to ‘grow up’. If the former is your concern, then how about an open conversation to improve things instead of a top down mandated decision that does not acknowledge the power and intelligence of the participants?

    In either case, there seems to be a disturbing and ongoing trend of action from my provincial government, where it, under a guise of good management, is merely instituting changes to protect itself over the short term. This attitude is neither good public policy nor good politically policy. I strongly encourage you to change course here. Without significant increased signs of respect for the hard working people at LAPP and an immediate change in managerial tone from the government, in this and in a few other areas of government, you can be assured I will not only NOT VOTE PC, I will actively campaign against this government. And I suggest, with respect, it is exactly this kind of tone that is what is causing so much of the current dissatisfaction from both the Left and the Right in Alberta’s electorate.

    With great sadness that I am obliged to state my concern so vehemently, I remain,

    Pat P

  3. Between Allison and Doug (they don’t rate honorary titles), they have made me choose to retire at 60, rather than 65, which was my preference. I think it is absolutely disgusting that people who are in a position of authority, take advantage of that position. I wish they were facing the same financial hardships I will be facing.

    Here’s to a new ruling party in Alberta.

  4. I have worked hard as an RN for many years and always worked full time simply with my pension in mind. As alongside my colleagues, we have counted off the years until retirement, it is a real blow in the face to suddenly have the carpet pulled out from under our feet and to have our years of dedication and commitment to our employer and careers recklessly disregarded and replaced with a future of uncertainty and possibly financial insecurity. I consider that to be a fairly unfair reward for my loyalty when that was not what I was promised when I signed on for this career.

  5. I’m curious to see where you got the information that firefighters and paramedics are not subjected to the 60/90.

    1. Dave: Go to and click on “Pension Reform Overview.” The PDF document this will download contains the words: “Government is working to accommodate public safety workers, such as firefighters, paramedics and corrections officers. These groups would retain an unrestricted pension at age 55 with the ’85 factor.'” It doesn’t say, but should, “but not front-line public safety workers like nurses, who are mostly women.” Disgraceful.

  6. I have worked and contributed to the LAPP as a Registered Nurse since 1978 and now thanks to the ongoing interference of our provincial government, I can’t wait to leave my chosen profession. Shame on the redford government for meddling and pushing through legislation without input from the public sector workers who have contributed to this pension plan expecting it to provide some sort of security in retirement. I also will NOT be voting for this government in the next election and I will be encouraging everybody I know to remember how your government attempted to swoop in and take pension money from thousands of public sector workers in Alberta.

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