defined benefit pension plan

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The dirty secret behind Canada's supposedly 'successful' public-sector pensions

The fault lies with public-sector employers, usually governments, who fail to represent the public interest.


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As Alberta’s provincial and municipal governments grapple with declining oil revenues and a weakening economy, a sober review of government spending should be part of any belt-tightening initiative. One place to start is the compensation of government employees, a key spending item for all governments.

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Since the turn of the millennium, the ever-increasing cost to taxpayers of government sector pension plans has been made evident time and again. Contribution rates have been hiked, often doubling in one decade, or the plans have been partly bailed out by governments—or both.

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One theory about politics is that because politicians must get votes to stay in power—that’s their “currency”— they are unlikely to act against their own self-interest. So politicians cater to the specific voters who put them in power in the first place.


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In Alberta, almost twice as many workers in the government sector possessed defined benefit pension plans in 2011 when compared with private sector employees. That might explain why so many government employees’ unions, from the Alberta Union of Public Employees to the United Nurses of Alberta, vociferously oppose modest pension reforms proposed by Finance Minister Doug Horner.


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One benefit of column writing is the chance for feedback from readers, be they fans, critics or the merely curious. Responses arrive that reflect the rainbow of human emotion from cheery agreement to annoyance to the equivalent of typed-out road rage.

Much of what I (and my colleagues) do is analyze how politicians spend tax dollars and how governments affect our lives in multiple ways. As a result, any report or column that recommends a change to the status quo is sure to touch someone’s interest. Predictably, that touches a nerve and sets off a reaction.