ATRF–AIMCo Agreement Represents a Big Win for Teachers

September 8, 2021

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An agreement reached late last week ensures that the Alberta Teachers’ Retirement Fund (ATRF) will remain in full control of strategic investment policies for teacher pensions.

The new investment management agreement (IMA) between the ATRF and the Alberta Investment Management Corporation (AIMCo) replaces the previous IMA imposed by a ministerial order of Finance Minister Travis Toews in December 2020. The new IMA removes a controversial veto provided to AIMCo over investment directions made by the ATRF.

“This is a huge victory for teachers and the Association,” said ATA president Jason Schilling. “Teachers mounted a strong, wide-reaching, relentless campaign in defence of their pensions, which provided the ATRF with the backing they needed to negotiate an effective agreement that protects the interests of teachers.”
“We were successful because of you!”

In a statement announcing the new IMA, the ATRF reports that the agreement ensures that AIMCo must implement the investment policies established by the ATRF and provides for meaningful accountability measures and a commitment to collaboration and transparency regarding how pension assets are managed.

ATRF Board chair Sandra Johnston said that the negotiated IMA respects the role of the ATRF and enshrines its fiduciary responsibilities to the plans. ATRF said that they appreciated the support of members and reassured that addressing members’ concerns and the long-term health of their pensions was always a focus.

 “Our team has kept the best interests of our plans paramount throughout these many months, and I’m very pleased with the terms we have formalized in the IMA,” said ATRF CEO Rod Matheson.

AIMCo previously walked away from IMA negotiations

Bill 22, passed in the fall of 2019, required the ATRF to use AIMCo as its sole investment manager, despite a long-standing strong-returns history of investment management by the ATRF. The bill required the negotiation of an IMA between the ATRF and AIMCo to be concluded by June 30, 2020. The ATRF previously reported that AIMCo was not willing to agree to key terms that the ATRF felt protected the board’s role and the interests of the plans.

In the fall of 2020, AIMCo pulled out of negotiations with the ATRF, and shortly after that Minister Toews made his order imposing an IMA.

The imposed IMA prompted the Association to launch a lawsuit in March 2021 arguing that Toews’s ministerial order was unreasonable and should be declared invalid by the courts. Documents submitted with the court application said that the conditions imposed by the order were inconsistent with the Teachers’ Pension Plans Act and that a duty of procedural fairness owed to the Association had been breached.

That court challenge was heard before the Court of Queen’s Bench on September 2 and 3.

Schilling said that the timing of the court case and the reaching of a replacement IMA were not coincidental. He believes that the court case was going very well for the Association, noting that the judge remarked at one point that she was not buying the Government of Alberta’s arguments related to certain sections of the IMA.

Schilling believes that the prospects of the government losing in court and the installation of a new AIMCo CEO with a fresh perspective on client relations have been instrumental in spurring this resolution.

“Our court challenge against the imposed IMA—backed up by significant pressure from teachers—changed the game,” said Schilling. “Under the new CEO, AIMCo appears to realize that they need to be responsive to clients and that they will be held accountable for their duty to teachers as the investment manager.”

New IMA offers vast improvements

The ministerial order provided AIMCo with the ability to reject parts of the ATRF’s investment policy, with little ability for recourse from the ATRF. The new IMA, which replaces the ministerial order, allows for a rejection of ATRF policy only if AIMCo finds it “impossible” to comply. Impossibility is the highest possible threshold that could be used for rejecting a policy.

The new agreement clearly establishes that the ATRF has fiduciary obligations, including the setting of investment policy, that are acknowledged and recognized by AIMCo. It also clarifies AIMCo’s role as a discretionary investment manager by clearly outlining the areas where AIMCo has discretion and the areas where AIMCo must consult with the ATRF.

The agreement also outlines a fair process for dispute resolution in which unresolved disputes are referred to an independent third-party arbitrator, appointed if necessary by the courts.

Schilling said that this agreement will reset the relationship with AIMCo and will allow the ATRF to engage effectively with AIMCo in a way that respects each groups appropriate roles.

ATA executive secretary Dennis Theobald said that the conclusion of this IMA addresses all of the issues identified by the Association and, importantly, provides the ATRF with full control of its investment policy.

“With this agreement in place, the Association has achieved everything it hoped to achieve through the legal action,” he said. “The ministerial order is no longer in effect, and as a result the Association’s legal action challenging it is moot. We have notified the Court that we are discontinuing our legal action.”

“It is very important to understand that we would not have gotten here unless we had taken on the legal action, and, more importantly, we wouldn’t be here without the persistent advocacy of teachers.”