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Redford-Hancock Government moves ahead with plan to gut public sector pensions

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Doug Horner

Alberta Finance Minister Doug Horner gave notice yesterday that the government is about to introduce bills allowing him to go ahead and gut the retirement security of provincial public employees.

Bill 9, the Public Sector Pension Plans Amendment Act, and Bill 10, the Employment Pension (Private Sector) Plans Amendment Act, will be proof, if any more was needed, that the Progressive Conservative Government's current survival plan does not include trying to rebuild the progressive coalition that pulled its fat from the fryer in April 2012.

If everything Horner has said up to now is true, the public sector bill is likely to significantly reduce the pensions paid to UNA members and other public employees over time, and quite possibly induce a run on the pension plans before then as it sinks into recently hired and new members' heads what a lousy deal they'll be getting for the same cost paid by current members.

Also based on past statements, the government hopes to leave unions representing some of the plans' members holding the bag for the chaos that will inevitably ensue, an unlikely scenario.

In a news release yesterday, the Alberta NDP said the party's legislative caucus will focus on the government's attack on public service pensions for the rest of the legislative session.

With only four members, the New Democrats have little chance of stopping the carnage, even with the help of other Opposition parties. But the NDP release contained a nice jab at the Opposition Wildrose Party, which may or may not be farther to the right than the Redford-Hancock Tories.

"This is an incredibly important issue that affects hundreds of thousands of Albertans," NDP Leader Brian Mason stated. "While other parties focus on jackets and junkets, we are focusing our efforts on real issues that affect real Albertans."

Both the Wildrose Party and the media have been concentrating their efforts the past couple of days on stories about former premier Alison Redford's many flights on government aircraft with her friends and relations, especially her pre-teen daughter, and on the government's plans to spend $9,475 to dress government MLAs and their friends in unfashionable promotional jackets.

These stories don't add up to much compared to the attack on the retirement security 300,000 working Albertans and their families, Mason seemed to be saying -- a tactic that recognizes the NDP and Wildrose Party will be fighting it out for many seats in the Edmonton area in the next general election.

On Monday, in a related development, Premier pro tempore Dave Hancock said the province's non-union employees will have to live with the same wage package the government has tried without much success to impose on members of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees.

In February, AUPE managed to prevent the government from forcing its members to swallow that bitter pill when it sought and got a Court of Queen's Bench injunction blocking the use of Bill 46, the so-called Public Service Salary Restraint Act. The injunction was to remain in effect until the union's appeal of the bill on constitutional grounds is complete, a process that could take years. The scathing injunction ruling by Justice Denny Thomas stated flatly "that Alberta did not meet its obligation to bargain in good faith."

The Redford Government had intended to use Bill 46 to impose a contract and wage freeze on the 22,000 direct employees of the province represented by AUPE, and also likely as the template for other public sector bargaining units in health care and education. Now the Redford-Hancock Government continues to claim it believes the law is constitutional and that it can win on appeal. It is also appealing the injunction.

Hancock's comment to the Edmonton Journal's reporter, however, suggested he knows otherwise. "Hancock said the deal given to non-union staff may be re-evaluated in the future if the AUPE secures a better deal for union employees," journalist Miriam Ibrahim wrote.

In other words, once the courts have had the opportunity to rule on Bill 46, the government knows perfectly well it is going to have to settle its dispute with AUPE through binding arbitration, as set out in the current law as an alternative to the right to strike.

It knows just as well that no independent arbitrator will allow it to force AUPE to take the deal it had intended to impose.

So Hancock knows, it is said here, that his government is just hosing away taxpayers' money for political advantage. If he says otherwise, he is not being entirely forthright with you.

+ + +

No surprises as PCs release leadership race rules

Also yesterday, the PC Party released the timeline for the ongoing leadership contest required by the firing of Redford by her caucus last month.

Candidate nominations will open on May 15 -- at which point cabinet ministers like Doug Horner and Thomas Lukaszuk will have to make a call or get out of the booth. All paperwork such as nomination forms and proof of party membership must be submitted by May 30.

Candidates must pay a $20,000 fee when picking up their nomination package and $30,000 more when handing it in. Aug. 15 will be the last day to withdraw from the race. Nothing was said about what will happen if a candidate withdraws and then discovers the party has already spent his or her fee on, say, communications advice.

+ + +

Tories decide to throw Mama from the plane

Finally, word came yesterday that in their desperation to pin decades of entitlement on the former premier in order to survive the coming election, the PCs have opted to throw Mama from the plane by allowing the Auditor General to investigate Redford's many flights aboard government aircraft with her young daughter.

This was fine with her ministers when it was happening, but it is deeply disturbing to them now. So the AG will poke around until July and either exonerate Redford, in which case the government will tell the rest of us to get over it, or not exonerate her, which will allow the government to point to what a fine job it has done of blaming the former premier for what until a month ago was standard operating procedure.

In similar news, the RCMP said yesterday there would be no charges against Nigel Wright, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's former chief of staff, for paying $90,000 of suspended Senator Mike Duffy's living expenses, which it turns out was merely a really nice gesture.

Nothing to see here, folks. Move along please.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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