Michel Leduc, the Canada Pension Plan’s head of public affairs and communications, recently demonstrated how to swiftly and skilfully eviscerate a goat, metaphorically speaking.
I speak of Mr. Leduc’s Oct. 17 letter to Jim Dinning, the old Tory goat chosen by the United Conservative Party government to lend a shred of respectability to the plan by Premier Danielle Smith and her advisors to hijack our Canada Pension Plan and use the nest egg keep the province’s declining fossil fuel industry afloat for a few more years.
The arrival in quick succession last week of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s open letter about the Smith Government’s scheme to force Alberta pensioners out of the Canada Pension Plan, Premier Smith’s response, and federal Opposition Leader Pierre Poilievre’s lame contribution to the debate, pushed Mr. Leduc’s open letter and its supporting materials out of the limelight.
This is a pity, because the letter really is a work of art – effectively summing up in understandable terms the problems with the snake oil sales pitch the former Progressive Conservative finance minister has been hired to peddle and, in a situation where many of us feel the urgent need to scream at the perpetrators of this would-be heist of our retirement security, did it with civility and grace.
Mr. Leduc begins by congratulating Mr. Dinning, 71, for his appointment as Ms. Smith’s chief spokesthingy for the UCP’s pension purloining project. “Your extensive experience in matters of public finance, including the role you played as Alberta’s Treasurer when you helped reform and secure the Canada Pension Plan for generations, uniquely qualify you for this task,” he continued, not without a trace of subtle humour.
CPP Investments, as the national pension plan’s investment board is known, just wanted respectfully to flag Mr. Dinning about “some troubling elements that in our view undermine the transparency, fairness, and integrity of the consultation that has been put forward to the public so far,” he explained.
Well, yeah. There is that. Most of us at this point launch into a jeremiad larded with terms such as “fraudulent,” “dishonest,” “disgraceful,” and so on. All of this is true enough, but probably not likely to have much impact on seasoned liars with your money in their sights, or the UCP’s easily distracted base.
That is where Mr. Leduc’s diplomatic evisceration of the UCP’s propaganda effort begins.
It’s tempting, at this point, just to quote the rest of the letter verbatim, because it is so effective at deconstructing the shallow deception that underlies the UCP’s pension campaign. Nevertheless, I really urge readers to click on the link and read Mr. Leduc’s letter in its entirety.
It’s obvious on its face, of course, that the invitation from Mr. Dinning and his two hand-picked panelists to let Albertans to “have your say” is intentionally misleading, or, as Mr. Leduc more politely understated it, “fails to meet key principles of effective and meaningful consultation with the public.”
Nevertheless, it’s nice to see that in the context of a response by someone who had the capacity and means to hire a consultant to dismantle the Dinning Panel’s worst consultation practices and put them on display in a handy-dandy chart. (This is summarized on page 8 of the APP Consultation Assessment by Innovative Research Group Inc. of Vancouver, which was kindly forwarded to Mr. Dinning with along with Mr. Leduc’s letter.)
It shows, among other things, that the panel’s model for an Alberta pension plan was already determined by Finance Minister Nate Horner before he engaged in public consultation – although there was some subsequent waffling and flip-flopping before Mr. Horner got back to the where he started.
In addition, the Innovative Research Group report illustrates how the consultation tool fails to provide balanced information about the UCP’s Alberta pension scheme, and also fails to measure what Albertans really think about the idea. (Not much, by the sound of the single public poll on the topic – although the goal of the government’s publicly funded propaganda effort, obviously, is to change that.)
“Not only does the APP Public Engagement Panel’s consultation not meet commonly recognized principles of effective and meaningful consultation, but it does not adequately meet its own commitment to provide Albertans with information about a potential APP and gauge Albertans’ thoughts on the APP,” the report says.
So, to run down the list of failures summarized in the chart, the work of Mr. Dinning’s panel is not transparent, does not provide access to the information Albertans need to draw a conclusion, fails to discuss the rationale for the proposal, is biased in favour of the government’s scheme, tries to set the agenda for participants, and any conclusion it draws is not likely to be representative of what the broader population thinks.
In other words, it’s an effort to pull the wool over our eyes.
For a mark, Innovative Research Group gives the panel an “X” for each failure – although, it seems to me that a big fat “F” for Failure would be more appropriate.
As for the government’s advertising, as Mr. Leduc notes in his letter, it is “undisguised in its bias toward the APP” – “to ask people their views informed solely by this one-sided presentation is, we hope you would agree, incompatible with an honest and open survey of public attitudes we hope you will undertake.”
In a subsequent interview with the Globe and Mail, published last Friday, Mr. Dinning tried to wash his hands of the UCP Government’s propaganda. Well, he can say it ain’t so, but as reporter Kelly Cryderman observed, “it’s hard to see Mr. Dinning’s panel as near neutral when it’s been created by a United Conservative Party that has long been pushing for a separate Alberta pension plan.”
Mr. Leduc’s letter, in which the CPP Investment Board official sought an opportunity to present the panel with a submission to highlight the benefits of the CPP to Albertans, wrapped up with a warning that leaving it will be an irreversible decision.
“We have every confidence in your willingness and ability to shape this debate such that the principles of effective and meaningful consultation are respected,” Mr. Leduc concluded hopefully. “We look forward to the opportunity to make our submission to you.”
My advice, of course, would be, “Don’t hold your breath.”