Supporting Councillor Chahal on Pension Reform

There has been a lot of chatter about pensions this week as two notices of motion will be brought forward on Monday. One targets 15 people, while the other takes a holistic approach and looks at the entire City of Calgary. One makes for easy sensationalist headlines, while the other takes a look at the bigger picture. While I am happy to look at my own benefits, we need to look bigger than that. We can pick and choose data points that help one narrative, but ignore the rest (like Ottawa having 23(!!!) Councillors for a population of under 1 million – so the cost to tax payers in Council salaries and office budgets is significantly higher). I also went back and looked at the City’s annual reports between 2007 and 2016 and added up the City’s funding to the Elected Officials Pension and found the contributions are about $1.3 million lower than what’s been floating around on social media and sent to me (I’ll be honest- I’m not clear if this includes the cost of the Elected Officials Supplemental Plan that the Mayor receives, but I also am certain those costs would not be over $1 million in 10 years). I’m not suggesting that this means the plan doesn’t need to change, but a little fact checking goes a long way.

Councillor Chahal put forward a well thought out, intelligent, fantastically researched Notice of Motion to do something about the escalating costs of pension financing for all employees within the City of Calgary. He worked with fellow Councillors, leading to myself, Councillor Demong and Councillor Colley-Urquhart to provide input to the Notice of Motion and work collaboratively.

As Councillor Chahal pointed out, the City spent $208 million on pensions in 2017 and pension expenses have grown at twice the rate of year-over-year budget increases. We need to address this growth and look for long-term solutions that ensure the viability of the pension plans while also making sure that all risks and impacts to City employees is investigated.

The popular answer may be to act quickly, but hasty actions may lead to unintended consequences. The motion that Councillor Chahal and his team developed, and that I am happy to be a part of, will ensure that we do our due diligence to ensure that any changes don’t have negative unintended consequences. Through this Notice of Motion, we are targeting all pension plans that are partly City funded, including the pensions of Councillors and the Mayor. However, I’m hopeful that through this Notice of Motion, we are able to find significantly more cost savings than only addressing the pensions of 15 people while also ensuring that the City of Calgary remains a competitive employer that can continue to attract the best talent to serve Calgarians.

Simply moving to the Edmonton model for Councillors would result in savings, but it may not be what most people expect (less than $130,000 compared to 2017 City contributions). Let’s make sure we do this right, look at the City holistically, and see if we can find significant savings while ensuring that there are not any unintended consequences that cost the City down the road.

I should also note that I will be bringing forward a Notice of Motion on Monday, sponsored by Councillor Demong, Councillor Colley-Urquhart, and Councillor Chahal to look into a Councillor’s transition allowance, as well as implore Administration to move forward on a review of retirement allowances for Administration, as well as the total compensation package for City employees. I had asked for the latter months ago and am seeking to ensure this work is completed.

I plan on asking Administration a number of questions relating to the Notices of Motion being brought forward and will provide an update with the information I receive to make sure that numbers and comparisons that have been thrown out for the world to see are accurate.

As always, I welcome your thoughtful comments and concerns. You can share them with me here.