Alberta Tories on public service pensions: ‘We lied. So what are you gonna do about it?’

Posted on April 12, 2014, 12:44 am
9 mins

As Tory leadership candidates Thomas Lukaszuk, standing, and Doug Horner look on, Alberta Premier pro tempore Dave Hancock tries out the barrel in which the next leader of the Progressive Conservative Party will lead their caucus over the falls. Actual Tory premiers and would-be premiers may not appear exactly as illustrated. Below: International Affairs Minister Cal Dallas and Alberta Tory dynasty founder Peter Lougheed.

They may have skidded their most disastrous leader, but the brain trust now running Alberta’s foundering Progressive Conservative Government has made it abundantly clear they intend to press ahead with their scheme to demolish the progressive coalition that saved their political bacon in 2012.

Obviously, they have concluded this will improve their chances of re-election whenever they decide to call an election, an event that for cynical tactical reasons will likely take place outside the “fixed election period” they legislated in late 2011.

Well, good luck to them with that!

The mechanism for this demolition project is the government’s determination to carry on with its plans to gut the modest public service pensions that are the retirement security of some 300,000 Albertans and their families, a fact explained surprisingly bluntly in the Legislature Thursday by Intergovernmental Relations Minister Cal Dallas.

The Tories’ rationale is interesting, appearing to be: Why? Because we can.

Also interesting was Mr. Dallas’s tacit admission to the Legislature that the government under premier Alison Redford and Premier pro tempore Dave Hancock lied to Albertans about the reasons for the pension cuts – which are clearly designed to achieve the seemingly hopeless aim of wooing back the substantial numbers of right-wing voters who have abandoned the government for the Wildrose Party.

Speaking for conveniently absent Finance Minister Doug Horner, whose ministerial responsibility it was to make this announcement, Mr. Dallas put it very clearly: “The current unfunded liabilities will be paid down over a period of 12 years.”

In other words, Mr. Dallas was tacitly admitting to MLAs that the unfunded liability the government has up to now claimed was the principal reason its planned cuts were required will in fact disappear very soon under funding arrangements already put in place by employees and employers – just as the unions involved have said all along.

The new principal reason for the cuts is apparently that the government wants to save money at the expense of the retirement security it promised its front-line workers – especially if they happen to be modestly paid women. A fair summary of the government’s revised position, then, as explained by Mr. Dallas, would be: We lied. So what are you gonna do about it?

Well, not collectively bargain improvements to compensate for the takeaway, that’s for sure, since the government has all but ended the practice of legal collective bargaining for public employees in this province.

Moreover, Mr. Dallas said, the legislation will include a moratorium on even talking about fixing that problem until 2021 – at which point, he fantasized, management of the plans will be turned over to the unions so that they can take the blame for the retirement-security disaster that will most likely follow. Good luck getting that to happen too!

Nor will employees and retirees affected by this scheme be likely to strike illegally, openly advocate striking illegally, talk theoretically about striking illegally, write blogs discussing striking illegally, or even think about striking illegally since the government has with totalitarian efficiency outlawed all of those activities too – except perhaps the last one.

Eventually, one expects, the courts will deal efficiently enough with this unconstitutional nonsense – but not without several years of delays the Tories clearly hope can they can spin out through legal foot dragging and obstruction of Albertans’ fundamental rights.

In the mean time, I suppose, vicious compliance, retirements and the movement of many skilled health care workers to other jurisdictions will be the orders of the day. Political and financial fallout from a run on the various public sector plans as members try to find ways to bail out is also a strong possibility.

Obviously, all this will be popular in certain quarters here in Alberta – at least until it sinks in that it means no one can trust any Progressive Conservative government to honour any contract or any constitutionally protected right.

But how helpful this will turn out to be for the Redford-Hancock Government is not so clear when, as noted above, the voters it is most likely to appeal to with such a policy have already loaded up the truck and moved to Wildrose Country.

Perhaps the Tories think progressive voters and public employees can once again be stampeded into voting for them by fear mongering about Wildrose social values.

This seems increasingly unlikely given the magnitude of the betrayal, and the fact most of their own caucus has just been exposed as unwilling to take even a modest and risk-free stand against institutionalized bigotry in our province’s schools.

Since both Labour Minister Thomas Lukaszuk and Mr. Horner are advocates of this attack on pensions and both are leading candidates for the party leadership, campaigning not-quite openly so they can retain the publicity opportunities afforded by their cabinet posts, there is no way this can be blamed after the fact on Ms. Redford alone. It must continue to be a party responsibility.

Historians will argue for a long time about what group or factor bought an end to the Tory dynasty that was founded by Peter Lougheed in 1971.

As is often the case, each group will advance explanations that promote their own interests. Economic conservatives will argue the Tories were no longer financially responsible enough, social conservatives will claim their social attitudes were too godless and liberal, and progressives who were fooled into voting for Ms. Redford in 2012 will conclude it was because the government broke its promises and abandoned them. Indeed, many of these progressive voters will think: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

Perhaps in the end there will be something to all these interpretations.

The key to Tory success hitherto in Alberta has been that the PCs were a big-tent centre-right party with something for almost everyone, and nothing too offensive for anyone.

By sawing off the third leg of the three-legged stool they’ve sat upon for 43 years, they have now became a party that offers nothing to anyone and has something to offend everyone.

All the Redford-Hancock Government has left is the charming notion Alberta without Progressive Conservatives at the helm is unimaginable – just as Alberta without Social Credit seemed unimaginable in 1970.

When they get the opportunity, I expect Alberta voters of all ideological stripes will draw the Tories a clear diagram that illustrates why they should have been more imaginative. It cannot happen too soon.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

8 Comments to: Alberta Tories on public service pensions: ‘We lied. So what are you gonna do about it?’

  1. Bert

    April 12th, 2014

    I find it interesting that some of the strongest Wild Rosie regions of the province have been and continue to be some of the heaviest subsidized areas. Roads, rail, airports,electric, natural gas, irrigation, policing, fire protection including forest, healthcare are just a few of the services that are available because of the support of all tax payers. Individuals and low population regions can not support these services without assistance from us all. These regions were built and succeed on a “socialist” foundation yet they vote in a block for Wild Rosie. The latest example of a failed Wild Rosie and Federal Conservative agenda is the problem moving prairie grain to market. It has never been a problem in 100 + years, get rid of the Wheat Board (and it’s collective strength) and bang the farmers are at the mercy of the Rail Roads. So the Government has to get involved (very socialist) to help get the grain moving and if history repeats the farmers will be subsidized in some forum should this problem continue.
    So let’s make those rural welfare bums pay the true costs of their services, why should the cities subsidize them anymore, let’s put an end to this Socialism. I expect full support from Wild Rose on this, if not are they just socialists in Tea Party cloths?

    Reply
    • K. Larsen

      April 12th, 2014

      Bert: as an Alberta grain farmer I have a couple of responses: First: Ouch! You are absolutely correct that most of rural Alberta could not sustain any kind of services at all without money from the Provincial government out of all proportion to the number of people living out here.

      But a lot of that Provincial money comes from viciously destroying the country side for resource extraction. The next time you see an oil well or power line remember most of that land has been as close to stolen as possible from farmers.

      That brings me to the second point: the majority of grain farmers wanted to keep the Canadian Wheat Board and it was never subsidized by tax payers. The Harper Cons broke the law and did not allow us to vote on it – in a fair vote they knew they would lose.

      As an aside, killing the CWB has allowed the grain companies to profit from the transportation mess they created. http://www.cwbafacts.ca/2014/03/grain-companies-profiting-from-marketing-chaos/

      Last point: we are less than 2% of the population and are scattered across rural Alberta. In the last Federal election there was not a single poll, let alone Riding in all of Canada that had a majority farm population.

      So most of the rurals who vote as a block for the Wildrose could not, by simple arithmetic be farmers – they do not make their living from growing things on the land – too many of them make their living by tearing it up.

      Reply
  2. Sam Gunsch

    April 12th, 2014

    A description of Hughes’ travels first week re PC leadership here:

    excerpt: “ap­peal­ing to voters in Calgary and rural Alberta”

    excerpt: “His five-com­mun­ity tour on Fri­day gives the im­pres­sion he is hoping to win the leader­ship by ap­peal­ing to voters in Calgary and rural Alberta, while leav­ing Edmonton out. That might not be his strat­egy, but you have to won­der.”

    http://www.edmontonjournal.com/news/alberta-politics/Thomson+Curse+worthy+King+tomb/9730068/story.html

    =============
    In line with that EJ speculative observation about Hughes travel, my guess is, that the PC’s continuing targeting of union members is because PC’s think it will minimize further Calgary/rural riding losses to WR… by pandering to that significant portion of voters in those regions who blame the millions of AB union fat-cats, and other special interests, for exploding government spending, hugely expensive inefficient government services, which the private sector will always deliver more cheaply and better. As we’ve of course seen with AB comparisons of public vs private re hip surgeries, eye surgeries,… ooops… wrong examples.

    PC’s have been for several years, despite the Redford feint, actually investing further in the same old AB rightwing/conservative politics of social resentment/envy, scapegoating, social Darwinism, if ya’ don’t want to work under fear of the boss, well you’re always free to live under a bridge, etc.

    AB and Anglo-American right wing politics of the past 4 decades.
    Fact-free dogma at Alberta Report. Calgary Herald. Sun News. Fraser I.
    Presto. Ralph/Rod. Harris. Now WR. Tea Party. etc.
    Now, a double down on it, among desperate PC’s.

    … trying match the economic Darwinism of the WR… good luck with that.

    Sam Gunsch

    Reply
    • Chris

      April 13th, 2014

      Maybe we could name-call right-wing voters in more inflammatory and offensive ways than before. That will surely get them to vote more progressively. Sure, I can see it now. Demonize the majority. We’ll win in a landslide (please refer to the Parti Quebecois, circa 2014).

      Reply
      • Sam Gunsch

        April 14th, 2014

        re: name-call

        I name-called their policies.
        e.g. social Darwinism.

        Please suggest some terms…

        What would you label the right-wing policies that target pensions because they happen to be union members pensions, rights to bargain, fight against very 25 cent minimum wage proposal while AB’s cost of living spikes, oppose day-care while significant percentages of elementary school children go to school hungry in the best country in the world and the richest province in the country, while food banks exist in the middle of the oil patch, increasing the costs for personal hygiene for retired seniors in AB residences through more privatization?

        Or how about Klein/Mike Cardinal’s trick in the early 1990’s of forcing welfare users to take minimum wage employment funded by provincial grants to employers, just long enough that they qualified for federal UI, and then when the grant term ended the workers were no longer eligible for welfare, nor had they been given “training” and we had docked their pay for work clothes the employer sold them?

        I dunno’, what euphemism’s ought I to use to describe that stuff?

        Market friendly policies of the rightwing?

        Personally I favor democratic control of society that concerns itself with human dignity rather than market friendly right-wing politics.

        Rather than blame the poor for their own poverty and hunger, and the unions for ruining the country, wrecking the weather, destroying the fear of the workforce of the boss, etc.

        Which in my life-long direct experience of rural AB political views, is the view of a significant portion of the electorate. Not all.
        But a significant portion, as I said.

        And it’s shameful.

        Sam Gunsch

        Reply
  3. Public Servant

    April 12th, 2014

    Thank you David for trying to hold Hancock and the PCs accountable. I am a front line worker for the province and I have had it with the ongoing disrespect by Redford, and now Hancock. Where I work, the brightest young stars are leaving to go work in the private sector or municipal government. They see no future with an employer that constantly belittles them. The utter hypocrisy that is “Reaching Our Full Potential” (ROFP) is offensive in the extreme and we now refer to it by the more accurate phrase: “Reducing Our Future Pensions”. This and Bill 46 show us what the employer really thinks of us and their countless spin doctors are wasting their time trying to shove this nonsense down our throats. The next election cannot come soon enough.

    Reply
  4. Rob

    April 12th, 2014

    Thank you sir for bringing this to the light so eloquently. I, like most Albertans, are done with this out of touch regime. I am an RN working in a busy ER in Edmonton. I am appalled at the bullish attitude of this government. They have tried, so far, unsuccessfully to rip our collective bargaining rights. They continue to line their own pockets with money all the while kicking us front line workers to the curb. Good riddance to bad rubbish. Although the Wildrose Party is no better, the PC tyranny must end. Great article. I am going to share if I may.

    Rob

    Reply
  5. Bumpkin AB

    April 13th, 2014

    Dave good article..I have had it with the apathy and weakness of the progressive coalition. They result need to tell the Tories to ufck themselves this time. Govt workers teachers and all progressives that voted for simple Red need to stop wasting their time and join with the Liberals in the centre. We are are not green horned devils as we are often made out to be by dippers and right wing nut jobs. Caring about families, fair taxation, balanced books, responsible stewardship of resources and environment, and strong business evironment and fair wages for all……oh s. My god such a brutal and scary Liberal thing…..I really hope Alberta progressives get it right this time.. Every 40 yrs in AB electoral turnover happens from the progressive camp. Its high time that the anti liberal kook aid in AB comes to and end. Change In AB will come from only the centre. All else is is status quo or a puffy dream. One thing is for sure Rob Anders losing is a barometer test that Alberta is becoming more progressive.

    Reply

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