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Alberta Investment Management Corp. CEO who oversaw $2.1-billion loss leaves role

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AIMCo CEO Kevin Uebelein. Image: Screenshot of Legislative Assembly of Alberta video

Did Kevin Uebelein jump or was he, ever so gently, shoved?

Albertans can be confident we'll never, ever get a straight answer about what led to the low-key announcement the day before yesterday that the CEO of the Alberta Investment Management Corp., better known as AIMCo, had decided to take the traditional Canadian walk in the snow.

But it seems likely that with the United Conservative Party government still aggressively pursuing Jason Kenney's dream of creating an unimaginably huge slush fund by taking over Alberta's share of the Canada Pension Plan, the executive who presided over an embarrassing $2.1-billion loss on a high-risk volatility gamble couldn't remain at the helm of the company that's supposed to manage all that dough.

It didn't matter how much "sponsored content" UCP PACs like Shaping Alberta's Future bought in Postmedia's newspapers touting the Alberta pension plan scheme or how many "outside experts" AIMCo hired to figure out what went wrong with its market volatility strategy, no one was going to forget about the "beginner’s mistake" that led to the huge losses long as the CEO on whose watch it happened was hanging around.

Premier Kenney's gaslighting about how the big losses were merely the result of a routine downturn in the stock market certainly didn't do the trick. No, AIMCo gambled that the entire market would behave in a particular way, one that a great many knowledgeable people would have assumed was unlikely even without a global health emergency. No assets were purchased that might someday recover their previous value. And the money, once lost, was gone forever.

So in all likelihood, notwithstanding the nice things the government kept saying about Uebelein, his days at AIMCo were numbered.

The CEO -- who was paid $2.8 million last year and $3.4 million the year before for his expertise -- will have a painless departure.

He gets to stick around until next June, and there are sure to be generous severance provisions -- not that we're likely ever to hear about the details.

"AIMCo remains in very capable hands with Kevin continuing at the helm until that date and he has the full support of the board and management as he continues to advance the many priorities before us," the provincial Crown corporation's spokesperson said reassuringly yesterday.

Over time, UCP politicians are bound to start suggesting the change at the top of AIMCo is evidence everything's now copacetic, although in reality the departure of a single senior officer offers very little reassurance the company will be better run.

Retired teachers who saw their Alberta Teachers Retirement Fund hijacked by the government to be added to AIMCo's portfolio will continue to be worried about their retirement savings, and sensible Albertans will continue to fear what might happen to their federal pensions if the UCP manages to get its hands on the CPP.

Meanwhile, Central Alberta remained under a heavy snowfall warning last night, with very heavy snow expected in the Edmonton area overnight and today -- ideal conditions for additional senior politicians and executives to take long walks while contemplating their futures.

Here's what the U.S. does when the rule of law gets in the way of its national interest

Canadian officials continue to insist that the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou on a dubious U.S. warrant during a stopover in Vancouver in December 2018 was simply a matter of the rule of law, and that we really had no choice in the matter.

Yesterday, Canadians got an opportunity to see how the United States behaves when it finds itself in a similar position with an inconvenient arrest threatening the national interest as perceived by its leaders.

After Mexico's former defence minister was arrested last month in Los Angeles and charged in New York with serious drug trafficking offences, furious Mexican officials told the American government that U.S. federal drug agents would be expelled from Mexico inmediatamente if Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda was not released.

Yesterday it was revealed U.S. Attorney General William Barr had folded, asking a federal judge in Brooklyn to please drop the charges against Cienfuegos, who is also a former general in Mexico's army. Cienfuegos is now safely back in Mexico, where he is unlikely to ever be changed with anything.

And yes, prosecutors in New York complained about the way Barr was ignoring the rule of law. But at the risk of defending an official of the Trump administration, sometimes national interests do trump prosecutions of foreign nationals, not to mention extraditions on questionable grounds at the behest of third parties.

It's time to send Meng home and spring Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, the two Canadians the Chinese government grabbed when Canadian police arrested the Huawei executive so that President Donald Trump could use her as a bargaining chip in trade negotiations.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald.

Image: Screenshot of Legislative Assembly of Alberta video.

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