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Could pension resolution foreshadow meaningful engagement?

Q & A

September 21, 2021 Dennis Theobald, ATA Executive Secretary


Question: So now that we have settled the ATRF/AIMCo mess, what do we have to say to the government?

Answer: Answer: Well, I’m not the sort of person to gloat and say to my friends in government, “I told you so”  … OK, who am I kidding?

In this column in January I wrote that the problem created by the minister of finance’s ministerial order, which induced the Alberta Teachers’ Retirement Fund (ATRF) to enter into a shotgun wedding with the Alberta Investment Management Corporation (AIMCo), was “eminently solvable and at no cost to taxpayers or teachers” and that all that was necessary was for the government “to direct AIMCo to return to the table and arrive at an agreement with ATRF that will preserve a role for AIMCo in managing investments at the direction of ATRF, but also allow ATRF to manage by itself, or through other independent investment managers, investment strategies and approaches that are beyond AIMCo’s competence or capacity.”

This message was communicated directly to senior political officials in the ministry of finance.

Effectively, the termination of the Association’s court case as a result of the ATRF and AIMCo entering into a voluntary investment management agreement has achieved most of that solution, and AIMCo and the ATRF will now be able to move ahead constructively to the mutual benefit of plan members and Alberta taxpayers.

Furthermore, the Association’s legal council was spectacularly effective in advancing novel arguments in administrative law about the obligations of government to ensure that its regulations do not overstep legislation and that its conduct abides by standards of fairness in such matters. Although we did not get to the point where the court would have rendered a judgment, hopefully this experience will deter the government from attempting something similar in the future.

As for the long and very expensive court process that led to this outcome, the best that can be said is that between the legal fees paid by AIMCo, the ATRF, Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Alberta and the Association, perhaps somewhere, some orphan Porsche will be a bit closer to finding its forever home.

More generally, there is a takeaway for government, assuming it is willing to take it away: start listening to people who are most directly affected by your initiatives and pay attention to people who know more than the politicians (and even civil servants) do.

As president Jason Schilling points out in his Off Script piece in this issue, it took a ferocious and sustained advocacy effort directed primarily at MLAs on the part of active and retired teachers to finally gain the government’s attention and create some positive movement. While advocacy after the fact can work, participating in meaningful consultation in advance is far more efficient and is far more likely to achieve positive outcomes.

It is notable that whether it be a pension issue, or the management of its response to the pandemic in schools or its revisions to the draft curriculum, this government’s current grief has been the direct result of its conscious decisions to largely ignore those with direct experience and expertise, in favour of advancing an ideological agenda. The good news is that Alberta’s teachers have considerable capacity for forgiveness and a commitment to advancing the public interest, so they, and the Association as their representative, would be pleased to re-engage if provided a meaningful opportunity to do so.

Oh, and I told you so. ❚

Questions for consideration in this ­column are welcome. Please address them to Dennis Theobald at


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