Alberta Politics
AIMCo CEO Kevin Uebelein (Photo: Screenshot).

UCP still covets CPP grubstake, so one way or another AIMCo CEO’s walk in the snow was inevitable

Posted on November 19, 2020, 1:21 am
7 mins

Did Kevin Uebelein jump or was he, ever so gently, shoved?

Albertans can be confident we’ll never, ever get a straight answer about what led to the low-key announcement the day before yesterday that the CEO of the Alberta Investment Management Corp., better known as AIMCo, had decided to take the traditional Canadian walk in the snow.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

But it seems likely that with the United Conservative Party Government still aggressively pursuing Jason Kenney’s dream of creating an unimaginably huge slush fund by taking over Alberta’s share of the Canada Pension Plan, the executive who presided over an embarrassing $2.1-billion loss on a high-risk volatility gamble couldn’t remain at the helm of the company that’s supposed to manage all that dough.

It didn’t matter how much “sponsored content” UCP PACs like Shaping Alberta’s Future bought in Postmedia’s newspapers touting the Alberta pension plan scheme or how many “outside experts” AIMCo hired to figure out what went wrong with its market volatility strategy, no one was going to forget about the “beginner’s mistake” that led to the huge losses long as the CEO on whose watch it happened was hanging around.

Premier Kenney’s gaslighting about how the big losses were merely the result of a routine downturn in the stock market certainly didn’t do the trick. No, AIMCo gambled that the entire market would behave in a particular way, one that a great many knowledgeable people would have assumed was unlikely even without a global health emergency. No assets were purchased that might someday recover their previous value. And the money, once lost, was gone forever.

So in all likelihood, notwithstanding the nice things the government kept saying about Mr. Uebelein, his days at AIMCo were numbered.

The CEO – who was paid $2.8 million last year and $3.4 million the year before for his expertise – will have a painless departure.

He gets to stick around until next June, and there are sure to be generous severance provisions – not that we’re likely ever to hear about the details.

“AIMCo remains in very capable hands with Kevin continuing at the helm until that date and he has the full support of the board and management as he continues to advance the many priorities before us,” the provincial Crown corporation’s spokesperson said reassuringly yesterday.

Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou (Photo: Office of the President of Russia, Creative Commons).

Over time, UCP politicians are bound to start suggesting the change at the top of AIMCo is evidence everything’s now copacetic, although in reality the departure of a single senior officer offers very little reassurance the company will be better run.

Retired teachers who saw their Alberta Teachers Retirement Fund hijacked by the government to be added to AIMCo’s portfolio will continue to be worried about their retirement savings, and sensible Albertans will continue to fear what might happen to their federal pensions if the UCP manages to get its hands on the CPP.

Meanwhile, Central Alberta remained under a heavy snowfall warning last night, with very heavy snow expected in the Edmonton area overnight and today – ideal conditions for additional senior politicians and executives to take long walks while contemplating their futures.

Here’s what the U.S. does when the rule of law gets in the way of its national interest

Canadian officials continue to insist that the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou on a dubious U.S. warrant during a stopover in Vancouver in December 2018 was simply a matter of the rule of law, and that we really had no choice in the matter.

Former Mexican defence minister and general Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda (Photo: President of Mexico, Creative Commons).

Yesterday, Canadians got an opportunity to see how the United States behaves when it finds itself in a similar position with an inconvenient arrest threatening the national interest as perceived by its leaders.

After Mexico’s former defence minister was arrested last month in Los Angeles and charged in New York with serious drug trafficking offences, furious Mexican officials told the American Government that U.S. federal drug agents would be expelled from Mexico inmediatamente if Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda was not released.

Yesterday it was revealed U.S. Attorney General William Barr had folded, asking a federal judge in Brooklyn to please drop the charges against Mr. Cienfuegos, who is also a former general in Mexico’s army. Mr. Cienfuegos is now safely back in Mexico, where he is unlikely to ever be changed with anything.

And yes, prosecutors in New York complained about the way Mr. Barr was ignoring the rule of law. But at the risk of defending an official of the Trump Administration, sometimes national interests do trump prosecutions of foreign nationals, not to mention extraditions on questionable grounds at the behest of third parties.

It’s time to send Ms. Meng home and spring Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, the two Canadians the Chinese Government grabbed when Canadian police arrested the Huawei executive so that President Donald Trump could use her as a bargaining chip in trade negotiations.

17 Comments to: UCP still covets CPP grubstake, so one way or another AIMCo CEO’s walk in the snow was inevitable

  1. Dave

    November 19th, 2020

    I vote shoved and not as gently as they are trying to make it appear. I expected Uebelein’s departure would happen ever since the large and embarassing loss happened. It was just a question of when and how.

    I think it played out this way for a few reasons. First, this loss undermined UCP’s grand plans to consolidate Alberta pension management in AIMCO and then use that beefed up entity to try take over the CPP. Whether or not Mr. Uebelein really had much to do with the loss didn’t matter – big heads needed to roll for the UCP to claim the problem was fixed and then try to start to restore confidence in AIMCO under new management.

    However, his departure had to be done in a fairly low key way so as to not rattle the same confidence. Also, it would seem inconsistent, at least, of the UCP who were previously defending AIMCO and Mr. Uebelein, to force him out too obviously. Hence the gentle appearing part.

    For anyone else contemplating a walk in the snow, I doubt Mr. Uebelein had the political or personal connections that say a UCP cabinet minister does, so they probably don’t need to consider taking a walk in inclement weather, at least not today.

    Interesting how US justice works for Mexican some officials. Fortunately for the former general his government has generally taken a fairly accomodating approach in dealing with the US recently, which allowed them to play their cards on this one. Perhaps the Chinese will eventually figure out non stop belligerence is not such a good strategy. There is a reason for something called diplomacy in international matters It also probably helps here that the Mexicans have been slow to call Biden, don’t you think?

    Reply
    • Mickey Rat

      November 20th, 2020

      “Non stop belligerence?” I’ve seen years of non-stop belligerence from the US towards everyone including Canada and even US citizens, and it seems to work pretty well for the USA. Conversely I don’t see this claimed belligerence from China – that is fabricated propaganda.

      Reply
  2. Anonymous

    November 19th, 2020

    I think Albertans will be in for a rude awakening, if the UCP goes ahead with an Alberta Pension Plan (APP). Their pension money will be long gone. If a retiree gives a Conservative their life savings, or lets them control their pension, their money will never be seen again. In 1990, or thereabouts, the Alberta PCs enraged people when their investments, and their life savings were lost forever in the Principal Trust Fund scandal. The CPC, where the premier of Alberta once resided as a cabinet minister, was involved with a $35 billion blunder, called the income trust scandal. It was where people never saw their life savings ever again. In the UCP party close to $2 billion was lost from the Heritage Savings Trust Fund, and another $4 billion (that’s what was reported on news sources) of pension money was lost. Without any warning, let alone permission granted, teachers in Alberta had their pensions put into the troubled AIMCo pension fund. I don’t think their retirement will be secure. Changing who runs AIMCo, won’t change its proven history of poor performance, and will not get back the money that was lost. Isn’t it more than a coincidence that the current head of AIMCo is stepping down? Something else is clearly going on. While the pension money is gone, he will likely get a nice severance package. This type of scenario has been seen before. If Albertans ever had even an ounce of common sense, they would not support the creation of an Alberta Pension Plan (APP).

    Reply
  3. Tara

    November 19th, 2020

    Dave thank you for standing up to this ideological right wing government! It’s time to turf Tyler Shandro. http://www.turf-tyler.com

    Reply
  4. Bret Larson

    November 19th, 2020

    Taking over CPP for Alberta residents is a no brainer. Everyone always talks about diversification, well this is what it looks like.

    And yes, these guys make mistakes.

    Bring finance jobs to Edmonton, rather than leave them in Ottawa and Toronto.

    Reply
    • John T

      November 19th, 2020

      Not sure how you came to that conclusion based on the article. The lesson here is that Alberta should keep it’s hands as far away from the CPP as possible.

      Reply
      • Anonymous

        November 19th, 2020

        JOHN T: You are right about that. Anyone who has been around long enough, certainly can see how badly the Conservatives are at handling people’s money.

        Reply
      • Bret Larson

        November 19th, 2020

        Yes, that is the message the fearful would receive. Investing has risk. However, if you want to expand the job base in Alberta these are the sort of things you have to start doing. Employ people doing these jobs here and they can live and pay tax in Alberta. And help us pay for healthcare and all the other things we enjoy.

        Reply
      • Abs

        November 19th, 2020

        I think he meant people with no brains want to take our CPP away from us. People with brains don’t want to let them do that, because they don’t want no-brainers managing their retirement funds.

        Reply
    • Anonymous

      November 19th, 2020

      Bret Larson: The UCP creating an Alberta Pension Plan (APP) isn’t diversification. It’s a recipe for disaster, given that the Conservatives have a less than stellar record of handling people’s money. It’s nothing to celebrate when people’s life savings and pensions are on the line.

      Reply
  5. Abs

    November 19th, 2020

    It is indeed time to trade the two Michaels for one Meng. Trump is done. Likely this will have to wait until after the inauguration in January.

    Speaking of Trump, panic shopping has hit the grocery stores south of the border again. Fear of going out in public as virus numbers rise, and fear of uncertainty over whatever the increasingly erractic president will do next are a perfect storm. Maybe there are some lessons in this for Alberta. Talking down the dangers of a pandemic while doing little about it will increase the numbers of dead and the amount of fear. Combine that with a deeply unpopular and erratic leader, and the economy will contract all by itself. People in the U.S. are preparing to stay home and ride this out until after the leadership change. Albertans have a long time to wait, so it looks like a protracted recession is in our future. No amount of gaslighting people about what they can see with their own eyes is going to changes minds.

    Reply
    • Bret Larson

      November 19th, 2020

      If you dont respect the rule of law you have anarchy. It is however humourous that you would look towards the US under Trump as the model which Canada should emulate. Please keep them coming.

      Reply
      • Abs

        November 20th, 2020

        Seriously, Bret, did you read? We are following Trump. Lawn and order!

        Reply
        • Bret Larson

          November 20th, 2020

          I did read it, did you?

          You implied we could go against the rule of law as soon as Biden was in.

          As if Trump were holding us to enforcing our agreements, and that but Biden would be happy to have such a neighbour.

          Reply
  6. pogo

    November 19th, 2020

    Now we know what the real prize is, for these piratical faux conservatives. Baffle the base with end times theocracy, and steal everything in sight before our apocalypse!

    Reply
  7. Bob Raynard

    November 19th, 2020

    Thanks for another well thought out column, David.

    During the lead-up to the election we saw a lot of big money spent promoting Jason. Given the pro-business legislation that has followed, those full page newspaper ads were clearly an investment on the part of big business.

    Now we see Shaping Alberta’s future putting substantial amounts of money into the idea of an Alberta Pension Plan. I would say that more than anything else supports your point that business types want to get their hands on it.

    During the Ralph Klein years Mr. Klein essentially bought an economic boom by allowing energy companies to take Alberta’s oil at bargain basement prices. Since royalties are already low to non-existent, Jason Kenney has to do something else to buy the boom he promised us. How better to do it than finance a boom with questionable investments with people’s CPP contributions?

    Reply
  8. Tom Fuller

    November 19th, 2020

    I’ve never been sure how seriously to take the UCP proposal for an Alberta Pension Plan. At first, I just assumed it was just a gesture made to appease the party’s hard core supporters. Having seen some of the other decisions they’ve made, though, I guess they might be serious.

    The problem is that, technically, it makes no sense at all. Pension plans respond strongly to economies of scale – in general the larger the plan, the stronger it is financially. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, investment costs are much lower for larger investors – that’s just a reality of financial markets. Second, smaller plans are less able to withstand financial shocks. In short, the smaller the plan, the higher the costs of investment and the lower the risk-adjusted returns. The Government of Alberta knows all this, which is why I still think the whole proposal may just be a political pose.

    I’d also point that that on the evidence, AIMCo is having difficulty managing its current portfolio. There’s no reason to believe that drastically expanding the funds they manage would somehow produce better results. Any such expansion, moreover, would be the opposite of diversification. On the contrary, the assets of the APP would be much smaller than those of the Canada Pension Plan, and the portfolio would probably have to reflect a narrower range of investments. As well, if the “Alberta Pension Plan” were to become a reality, the responsibility for administering the plan (registering participants, maintaining their records, collecting contributions, calculating and paying the pensions benefits, etc) would fall under the purview of Alberta Pensions Services. That would mean sudden and massive upsizing of that organization, with all the potential problems that would involve.

    Finally, the good news: it’s not as though Jason Kenney and Travis Toews can just wave some wand and bring the APP into existence. Separation from the CPP would be an extremely complicated process, and the negotiations involved would probably take several years. By then, it’s quite possible the UCP will no longer be the Government of Alberta. For the sake of our province’s senior citizens and retirees, one can only hope so.

    Reply

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