End of bonus likely caused spike in retirements at City of Calgary in 2021

Officials believe the end of the City of Calgary's retirement allowance for its employees sparked an increase in retirements last year.

Council voted to scrap long-running retirement allowance for city employees, effective last week

The benefit dated back to the 1960s and wasn't part of any collective agreements. (David Bell/CBC)

Officials believe the end of the City of Calgary's retirement allowance for its employees sparked an increase in retirements last year.

In 2019, city council voted to do away with the long running retirement bonus for its employees.

As a retention incentive, the city offered a retirement payment to employees with more than 25 years of service that was equivalent to the cost of their annual vacation entitlement.

So if long time employees earned six weeks of vacation time annually, the city would pay them six weeks of salary to take with them when they retired.

The benefit dated back to the 1960s and wasn't part of any collective agreements.

Council viewed it as an anachronism, and that doing away with it could save about $4.3 million a year.

In voting to scrap the allowance, council was advised by the city solicitor to give adequate notice to employees, so it fixed Dec. 31, 2021 as the date it would be abolished.

Data from the city shows that approximately 600 employees retired in 2021, up from the normal average of about 350 annual retirements in recent years.

The city's manager of talent management, Bill Oakes, said it's thought that the end of the retirement allowance played a hand in that increase.

"We don't ask employees for the reasons for their retirement," said Oakes.

"However, we suspect that for those employees that were eligible to retire — being that they were 55 or older — and if they were planning on retiring [in 2021] or in the near future, that this would be enough of an incentive, I guess, for them to want to take advantage of having this opportunity available to them."

Retirees believed to set record in 2021

Oakes said it's believed 600 retirements in a single year would set an all-time record for the city.

With more than 14,000 employees, he said the increase in departures isn't expected to pose any serious problems for the city or its many services.

"We have things like succession plans in place and work on developing our employees," said Oakes.

"We are fortunate enough to have pretty good bench strength there for people to be able to move into roles and good ability to recruit within the market that we have here in Calgary."

Oakes said Dec. 31 marked a hard stop for the allowance for its management staff. But the allowance will actually continue for a time for its unionized employees, as the withdrawal of the bonus may be a factor in the collective bargaining process with civic unions.

CPS also impacted

The end of the allowance also caused a spike in retirements at the Calgary Police Service.

Up to the end of November, 76 retirements had occurred in 2021. That was up from the 39 departures that happened in 2020.

Data from CPS shows its 2021 retirements included 30 civilian staff and 46 officers.

Deputy police chief Raj Gill said the number of officers departing will pose a bit of a challenge.

Retirements at the City of Calgary, including police, are way up, in part, due to the elimination of retirement allowances. (Calgary police)

He said there have been some limitations on the size of each recruit class during the pandemic. It's anticipated it may take up to a year to fill the newly vacated positions, in addition to the annual recruitment that takes place.

That will place more pressure on front line officers, so Gill said steps are being taken internally to ensure the number of officers on the street is maintained.

"We are looking at redeploying certain other resources, and also how we can adjust some of our normal business to make sure that we provide the front line members with the support and the resources that they need," said Gill.

"So, there are impacts to the organization until we are able to fill the vacancies and address the attrition that we've experienced."

Could take a year to hire replacements

In a normal year, Gill said there are generally more retirements in the first half of the year. But in 2021, more retirements came in the last half of the year and it's believed that the end of the retirement allowance was behind that.

He estimates it could take up to a year to fill all of the retirements with new recruits.

Gill said 112 officers were hired in 2021, which was short of the goal that CPS had set for the year.

However, he said it is finding outstanding applicants who want to join CPS, and their hiring target for 2022 is to train 135 new recruits.

"We have fantastic people who continue to want to be members of the Calgary Police Service," Gill said.

"So it is something that we're very proud of in terms of our recruiting standard and the type of people that we're hiring, and we continue to hire high quality people."


Scott Dippel

Politics Reporter

Scott Dippel has worked for CBC News in a number of roles in several provinces. He's been a legislative reporter, a news reader, an assignment editor and a national reporter. When not at Calgary's city hall, it's still all politics, all the time.