Part of the crowd of nurses and other public sector workers who gathered in -30 C. temperatures in Edmonton’s Churchill Square in March 2014, the last time an Alberta government tried to attack their pensions (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

If you’re a public employee in Alberta and you’ve been deferring your salary for years to build a secure retirement through your modest pension, Jason Kenney would like to take it away.

If he can’t do that, he at least wants to ensure no one else can have the same thing.

United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

How can I be so sure of this?

It’s all in the responses to a questionnaire Mr. Kenney dutifully filled out for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation back in 2017 when he was campaigning for the leadership of the United Conservative Party.

The CTF, by the way, has a real thing about public service pensions, especially defined-benefit kind. It hates them. It lobbies constantly to have them eliminated. You’ll never hear the CTF say pensions are founded on deferred income, are usually both modest and cost-effective, or that they’re a great benefit to society.

So in the summer of 2017, the anti-tax Astro-Turf group surveyed the four candidates then running to lead the United Conservative Party about where they stood on its policy priorities and what they’d do if they led a government. Since Brian Jean and Doug Schweitzer didn’t win, and Jeff Callaway … uh … dropped out … the only answers relevant at this point are Mr. Kenney’s.

I suppose it was nice of CTF to ask. The CTF seems to think its job is to bark out policy orders to conservative politicians, who as often as not dash to wherever the group has scheduled a humiliating signing ceremony to affix their signatures to a pledge imprinted on Coroplast promising that they’ll do as they’re told.

Credit where credit is due, for an organization that in reality had only six members as of yesterday, not one of them with what you’d call a household name, this is real influence!

As a former president of the organization, however, Mr. Kenney seems in tune with the CTF’s instructions and modus operandi. As we know, he’ll even get up and sign a Coroplast pledge when the CTF hasn’t summoned him!

Mr. Kenney’s answers to the CTF questionnaire are revealing – particularly if you’re a public employee like a nurse, teacher, or first-responder – because they show clearly what he would like to do about the “problem” of your retirement security. A general election on Tuesday that Mr. Kenney could very well win really should concentrate the minds of likely victims of his plans!

Saskatchewan Party leadership candidates hold their Coroplast pledges in a typically humiliating display of fealty to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (Photo: CTF).

The CTF worded its highly tendentious question this way: “Will you eliminate unnecessary government employee positions, cut government employees’ salaries by 10 per cent and put new employees in a less costly pension plan (defined contribution)?”

Just for starters, remember that the CTF’s definition of “necessary” is likely not the same as yours, since the organization appears to hold the quasi-religious view the private sector always does a better job of everything – even when the evidence is manifestly to the contrary, as in health care.

Assuring his friends at the CTF he will return to the austerity policies of Alberta’s past – sure to strike a positive chord with that group – he vowed “such restraint will have to apply to public sector compensation.”

After all, he asserted, “Alberta taxpayers cannot continue to fund levels of compensation that are consistently higher than those in the private sector …” (never mind that this is not true if you compare pay for jobs and qualifications and don’t add in all the young people working at the minimum wages Mr. Kenney plans to reduce) “… or in the public services of other provinces” (never mind that Alberta consistently has for years had the highest costs for everything in Confederation, hence the slightly higher average salaries).

“Restraint in public sector compensation should begin with attrition,” the UCP leader continued – so take note if you’re a nurse facing regular compulsory overtime. (Yes, I know he has said elsewhere he won’t fire “front-line” health care workers or reduce front-line services. So did his bromantic partner Doug Ford, the one who finishes his sentences for him. The Ontario premier is now doing just that.)

Mr. Kenney’s answer continued: “Reforming public sector pensions for future beneficiaries will also be required to manage huge unfunded liabilities.” (Emphasis added.)

This statement also deserves further analysis: First, it is clear from this Mr. Kenney would like to implement a two-tier pension plan, which would be a tragedy for new workers entering jobs such as nursing. In addition, it would hurt the security of the public employees who are already retired by undercutting the new generation that is the foundation of pensions like the 160,000-member Local Authorities Pension Plan, the province’s largest public-sector plan. The LAPP currently provides financial security for about 66,000 retired Albertans.

Second, there are no significant unfunded liabilities. The LAPP, for example, is now in surplus – funded 104 per cent thanks to additional contributions made by members and the prudent management by the plan’s board. The best we can say about a statement like Mr. Kenney’s is that it’s out of date.

“If MLAs have no pension,” Mr. Kenney summed up – taking responsibility for the decision of Ralph Klein’s government to eliminate MLA pensions, a claim that must make Mr. Klein spin in his grave – “it is not unreasonable to suggest that future public sector pension plans should avoid unfunded taxpayer liabilities.”

Well, that’s also been taken care of, thanks to Alberta’s NDP government – which did it the right way, by passing legislation that made the LAPP and other public sector pension plans independent jointly sponsored plans under the Pension Plans Act of Alberta.

Not that the CTF would be satisfied with that, because its real objective, it is said here, is to curtail the existence of pensions and wages that offer financial security to working people in the public sector, because that creates demand for fairness in the private sector and doesn’t force retirees to depend on private sector financial institutions to manage their retirement funds.

Remember, the CTF has a history of close links to anti-union groups – and, by extension, to workers’ rights generally.

It must be noted that the CTF objects strenuously to the argument it is engaged in “astroturfing,” which is normally defined as masking the true sponsors of a message or group to make it appear as if it originates from grassroots supporters.

Nevertheless, despite purporting to be a broad-based “citizens’ group,” how else can you describe an organization with only six actual members, that is opaque about its sources of financing, and is linked through interlocking directorships and personnel exchanges to groups opposed to unions and public health care and devoted to supporting social conservative causes?

As for Mr. Kenney’s 2017 promises to the CTF, he can’t really claim to have made them when he was a “teenager,” as he described some of the extreme statements he made while crusading against women’s reproductive rights in his twenties. No, they obviously represent what he wants to do right now.

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  1. This should surprise no one and if it is a surprise you haven’t been paying attention. Just further evidence that Kenney’s character is a central issue in this election. It is one thing to want to defeat your political opponents and those that disagree with your world view, but what type of person wants to punish those same people? This goes back to his disgusting activities in San Francisco, not only did those who disagreed with him need to be defeated but they needed to be punished. He gleefully celebrated this “victory” and the punishment that followed. It is shameful really and a sad comment on those who support him.
    The public service is an easy target and perhaps the villain Kenney needs should he win and his plan for economic recovery crashes and burns.

  2. Don’t say it won’t be done, Albertans. Teachers in Michigan once had an excellent defined benefit pension plan. Thanks to Republican state lawmakers the plan was changed to a defined contribution for all new teachers and a hybrid combination for existing members.
    UCP lovers of the CTF may try to do the same thing to your retirement security if you let them.

  3. Perhaps, if the Kenney/UCP gang wins and starts to mess with my, and others, hard-earned LAPP….well, we’ll see who takes that sitting down.

  4. I’m really sorry we’ve been pushed back like this. I blame my friends. At this point? Well, AB is likely toast. Sask? Should be easy pickings next round. Man? Same. Ontario? Andrea? GTFOH! Quebec? Wow! Mulcair. Who’s next? Down east? Maybe if anybody cared enough. Oh, BC? Horgan a cagey beast. He could just pull this off! Oh Canada? Nationally? More corroded and divided every day!

  5. I worry that Kenney will change the governance legislation of the LAPP and outsource management as a precursor to allowing the $42 billion dollars of equity to be part of some 3P boondoggles. I don’t relish the thought of LAPP pensioners waking up one day to the realization that their future is invested in charter schools and toll roads!

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