Contentious pension bills to be reviewed by all-party committee

Alberta finance minister Doug Horner has confirmed that the government’s controversial public service pension reform bill will be reviewed by an all-party committee.
AUPE president Guy Smith (left) joined Finance Minister Doug Horner for Tuesday's announcement. (CBC)

Alberta finance minister Doug Horner has confirmed that the government’s controversial public service pension reform bill will be reviewed by an all-party committee.

On Tuesday, Horner said that both Bill 9 and Bill 10, which would affect pensions plans in the private sector, have raised enough concerns for the government to take a second look.

“Hitting the pause button on this legislation is one way for us to show good faith in [the relationship with provincial workers], and obviously to start dealing with some of those significant challenges we have in the pension plans and in the relationship.”

With Guy Smith, the president of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, by his side, Horner said reforms will still occur.

“I still believe very strongly that this is the right thing to do and I think Guy would agree with me that we want to make sure that  these … defined benefit pension promise is sustainable into the future.”

“At the end of the day, frankly, we both want the same thing,” Horner added. “We want to protect the defined benefit pension promise for the members our employees – and we want to have a good pension plan for public sector employees.”

The decision comes one week after the government reached a four-year-deal with the AUPE.

Union unhappy

AUPE members have been protesting the pension changes since they were first announced in February.

The union was particularly incensed at a change in the age at which a worker could retire on a full pension.

The changes also came on the heels of Bill 46, the province’s failed attempt to impose a wage settlement on workers.

Smith said that today’s announcement is a step towards improving the damaged relationship with its employees.

"The trust level is still extremely low," Smith said.

"And it goes both ways," Horner interjected.

"Yeah and I think that's recognized as well," Smith replied, adding, “it doesn’t do anybody any good for us to be at war.”

The issue gathered more steam when Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi sent a letter to Premier Dave Hancock raising concerns about the bill.

Nenshi was worried that Bill 9 could make it hard for the city to attract and keep employees.

"The reform will create a dangerous incentive for our workforce to either take early retirement before 2016 or enter into the private sector," he said.

"It will complicate our labour relations, increase our costs as a city, create risk and uncertainty and will not help our retirees."

Opposition in favour

NDP Leader Brian Mason welcomed the news, saying it was a positive step for a government dogged by what he called a failure to consult with or fairly treat its workers.

“I think the government had realized they were in a lot of trouble,” he said Tuesday. “I’m sorry they had to wait until they were in 20 per cent public support territory before they they realized they needed to have a conversation with their employees and the organizations that represent them.”

Opposition leader Danielle Smith agreed, saying the move is evidence of continuing political and electoral pressure on the province.

“It’s very clear they want to be able to clear the decks so that a new premier coming in in September won’t have to deal with these issues. they’re just kicking it forward.”

The pension plans will be reviewed by an all party committee over the summer.


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