Calgary

Teachers uneasy after pensions transferred as part of provincial budget

Some teachers are looking for answers after learning their pensions are on the move — without their consultation or approval.

Funds for Workers’ Compensation Board and Alberta Health Services also moved to Crown corporation

Lee Martin, a teacher at St. Teresa of Calcutta School, said it bothered him that the government did not consult with teachers prior to announcing their pensions would be moved to a Crown corporation. (Submitted)

Some teachers are looking for answers after learning their pensions are on the move — without their consultation or approval.

Teachers' pensions are currently managed by the independent Alberta Teachers' Retirement Fund Board, or ATRF, which was established in 1939.

The corporation currently administers pensions for all teachers in school jurisdictions and charter schools in Alberta, with an option for private school teachers to join as well.

But text of the budget released Thursday disclosed the ATRF was "expected to transfer funds to Alberta Investment Management Corporation (AIMCo) for management … AIMCo is expected to provide maximum returns to its clients, and processes will be expanded to support broader agency involvement."

An emergency fund for the Workers' Compensation Board and funds managed for Alberta Health Services will also be transferred to AIMCo, according to the budget.

It just feels like something has been taken away from us.- Lee Martin, teacher

Lee Martin, who has taught at St. Teresa of Calcutta School for seven years, said a lack of consultation was what most bothered him.

"You know, there are close to 40,000 teachers in the province. This pension is pretty big," Martin said. "Every teacher is putting away something close to something like a second mortgage a month. So that's a big investment that teachers need to be consulted on. It just feels like something has been taken away from us.

"Of course, a lot of people are taking it in the negative, but will it be better? But it's hard to think it could be better."

The ATRF currently manages $18 billion in teachers' retirement funds and yielded 9.6 per cent in the 2017-18 fiscal year.

Rod Matheson, CEO of the ATRF, said he was informed of the government's plans when the budget was released on Thursday.

"Our reaction was very much one of surprise. At this point, we're still wanting to understand," he said. "We're trying to learn what it was that went into making this decision. What information and facts were used to come to the conclusion to drive this action?"

AIMCo already administers more than $100 billion in government pensions and other funds.

"My concern is, not that I don't want it to be an Alberta investment, but it was pretty diverse," Martin said. "There were things overseas — good, ethical investments. Will it still be that way?"

In a statement posted on Twitter Saturday, the Alberta Teachers' Association called the move a "hijacking."

"Making this decision without consulting the ATA is extremely disrespectful [to those] who are plan members and owners," ATA president Jason Schilling wrote.

Move was about efficiency, gov't says

In a statement provided to CBC News, a spokesperson for Alberta's Treasury Board and Finance, Jerrica Goodwin, wrote that details around the specific timing of the change would be available when legislation is tabled.

"It is not a requirement to notify the ATRF of this change, and it is proposed until the legislation is tabled and passed," Goodwin wrote.

Goodwin wrote the move of the funds to AIMCo was part of a commitment to make government more efficient.

"[ATRF] assets will be moved under AIMCo so ATRF will have reduced investment management costs and, therefore, higher expected investment returns," she wrote. "Making this change eliminates duplication and reduces the cost of investment services. The ATRF board will remain in place to oversee the pension."

Matheson said the ATRF had not yet received that information from the government.

"To be fair, I have not personally spoken with anyone at the Alberta government myself. I've reached out, and we're going to set up a call and have a discussion," he said. "The focus for us is not about duplication or costs, because we strive for low costs, but much more importantly what we strive for is the best possible net investment returns.

"What we earn on the investments, net of all costs, is really the most important thing. It's not just about costs, it's about the net returns that we earn."

Corrections

  • A previous version of this article stated that pensions for the Workers' Compensation Board would be transferred to AIMCo. In fact, it is the accident fund for the Workers' Compensation Board that will be managed by AIMCo. The article has been changed to reflect that.
    Nov 14, 2019 10:20 PM MT

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.