On Friday, November 22, after passing its third and final reading in the legislature, Bill 22 received royal assent and became the law of the land a mere three days after first being introduced in the legislature. If you think that seems like an unusually quick turn around for the passing of legislation, you’d be right – the government chose to invoke closure for Bill 22, which severely limited the debate around it in the legislature, and reduced the amount of public scrutiny that it received before becoming law.
Bill 22 is of concern for a number of reasons – firstly, it made changes that allow the government to control who sits on Pension Boards (thus changing the balance of power on those boards, which should ideally be 50-50 between the employers and employees). Bill 22 also removed the option to for the our members’ pension plan – the Public Service Pension Plan (PSPP) – and for the Local Authorities Pension Plan (LAPP), which are the two largest public sector pension plans in the province, to transition to any fund managers other than AIMCo, even if we lose confidence in them to manage our pension funds. The government has already appropriated the Alberta Teachers Retirement Fund and placed those funds into the hands of AIMCo despite vigorous objections by the Alberta Teachers’ Association. This concern is compounded by speculation that the government may direct AIMCo to make investments with workers’ pension money that are not in the best interests of the plan members. Hundreds of thousands of working Albertans contribute to these funds, which are designed to provide them with security in their retirement years, with most public-sector workers paying 10 percent or higher of their salaries into their workplace pension plans. It is these large pools of people’s retirement savings that are being targeted by Bill 22, but this isn’t the government’s money. It belongs to the hundreds of thousands of Albertans who contributed and invested it year after year. The UCP did not campaign during the last election on the sweeping changes that they are now putting into place via Bill 22, nor have they had any meaningful public consultation on the changes being put forward. They have neither the consent nor the confidence of the workers to whom this money really belongs.
In addition to affecting the pensions of our members and of thousands of other workers across the province, Bill 22 also fired the independent Election Commissioner, who was in the process of investigating the UCP for violations of election fundraising rules related to their 2017 leadership vote. The optics of this move are poor. Opposition leader Rachel Notley has argued to the ethics commissioner that the entire UCP caucus was in a conflict of interest when they voted for the bill, as the entire caucus stood to benefit from terminating the contract of the province’s election watchdog, who was, up until the passage of the bill, investigating their party. Notley was even kicked out of the legislature for a brief time for accusing Government House Leader Jason Nixon of being “misleading” about the bill. Bill 22 also makes structural changes to three dozen other provincial agencies, board and commissions.
We continue to encourage you, if you have not already, to contact the Premier, the Treasurer and your local MLA to voice your concerns about Bill 22 and to request the government to rescind it (you can find their contact information and some helpful points to help you draft your letter here). NASA will also be hosting a Lunch and Learn next week on December 5th to help educate and inform our members about the recent onslaught of legislative changes, how these affect them, and how they can fight back and be heard. Stay tuned for more details!