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Alberta

Danielle Smith’s Pension Scam Claims Its First Victim

Former MLA Jim Dinning tossed away a lifetime’s work by fronting the snake oil scheme.

David Climenhaga 29 Sep 2023Alberta Politics

David J. Climenhaga is an award-winning journalist, author, post-secondary teacher, poet and trade union communicator. He blogs at AlbertaPolitics.ca. Follow him on Twitter at @djclimenhaga.

What a pathetic coda to the respectable if not quite illustrious political career of Jim Dinning!

Once the whiz kid and heir apparent of Alberta’s Conservative establishment, Dinning has resurfaced years later as, in my view, chief snake oil salesman for the scam artists and would-be separatists dreaming of hijacking half the Canada Pension Plan’s investment fund.

Dinning may not have gotten to be the premier of Alberta in 2006, when he was widely seen as front-runner in what was supposed to be not much more than a two-horse race with another former Progressive Conservative finance minister Ted Morton.

Still, he need not be embarrassed by what must have been a big disappointment after he raised $2 million for the contest to replace Ralph Klein and at one point held a 20-point lead over Morton and a 40-point lead over the eventual winner, Ed Stelmach.

We’ll never know how Dinning would have performed as premier — perhaps not that badly with his experience as a three-term Calgary MLA, finance minister from 1992 to 1997 and habitué of corporate executive suites after he left politics in 1997.

In the event, Stelmach turned out to be as good a Conservative premier as Alberta could have hoped for in 2006. Morton, of course, was almost certainly the worst premier the province never had.

Obviously, Dinning is not a complete dope, so he has to have an inkling that no one with any sense is going to buy the dead horse he’s signed on to flog.

He was obviously persuaded to play this role to lend a little respectability to the ridiculous play by Premier Danielle Smith, her office manager and Svengali Rob Anderson, and the extremist Take Back Alberta nuts keeping them both in power.

But if he thought he could edge close to power after so long without risking egg on his face, Dinning is in for another big political disappointment.

Indeed, he tempts a fate not unlike that awaiting former governor general David Johnston after he agreed to serve as “special rapporteur” for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s ill-fated foreign-interference probe, or that of Calgary forensic accountant Steve Allan for his involvement in former UCP premier Jason Kenney’s ludicrous and ultimately pointless “inquiry” to scapegoat and bully environmental organizations that opposed further oilsands development.

I’ll admit I shrugged over breakfast in Dublin last week when I read in Don Braid’s column that Smith had launched her effort to scam Canadian pensioners out of more than half their national pension fund so she could set up a slush fund for the fading fossil fuel industry. Nor was I particularly shocked that the numbers underpinning the conclusions of the LifeWorks report, whose author’s name was “redacted to protect privacy,” just don’t add up.

“The only way this math works is if Smith thinks a banana costs $42,” the Toronto Star’s Heather Mallick summed it up quite nicely. “That’s what happens when premiers don’t buy their own groceries.”

But I almost choked on my baked beans when I realized Dinning had signed on to be spokesthingy for this hustle. At 71, the same age as your writer, he should still be in possession of most of his faculties.

Given that presumption, this says nothing good about the man’s judgment!

So we Albertans may have dodged more bullets than we knew back in 2006 when Stelmach came up the middle on the second ballot and eliminated both Dinning and Morton.

Each day that has passed since the premier trotted out Dinning at her news conference, the claims on which the government’s case for an Alberta pension are based have looked shakier.

The demand that the CPP fork over 53 per cent of its fund to a province that has made about 16 per cent of the contributions to it is obviously going nowhere. As CPP spokesperson Michel Leduc said on the day of the news conference, “the amount the report says could be extracted from the CPP is impossible and based on an invented formula.”

Don’t expect politicians anywhere else in Canada, including many Conservatives, to say anything different. A few may put it even more bluntly than did Leduc.

Even if the UCP somehow manages to win Smith’s promised Alberta pension referendum — and since the campaign is bound to be as crooked as the one that won the 2016 Brexit referendum in the United Kingdom, with predictably disastrous consequences, that has to be considered a possibility — Dinning is not going to go down in history looking like a hero.

Back in the day, he used to make more sense on this same topic.

As NDP finance critic Samir Kayande, MLA for Calgary-Elbow, reminded us last week in a tweet thread, in the late 1990s and early 2000s both Dinning and Klein “blisteringly vetoed the idea that Alberta is better off under its own plan.” (Asked Kayande, reasonably: What’s changed?)

“You’ve got to do it because it makes economic sense,” Klein said in 2002, soon after he’d tossed Stephen Harper’s separatist “Firewall Letter,” which included the Alberta pension idea, in the trash where it belonged. “We have examined it, the last examination was under Jim Dinning... it didn’t make sense.”

Premier Klein’s reference to Dinning under the circumstances was telling. At the time, he was thought to be a guy who could be trusted. That may have changed, but the idea still makes no sense.

To give him his due, Dinning certainly spoke the truth last week when he said a provincial pension fund made up of more than half the wealth the CPP purloined from other Canadians’ retirement savings would make Alberta into an international financial powerhouse.

But so what?

We’d also be a genuine global powerhouse if Norway decided to hand us more than half of its $1.4 trillion sovereign wealth fund on the grounds it was Peter Lougheed’s idea in the first place and so what if other Alberta Conservatives decided to burn through it all to buy off generations of voters? That’s about as likely to happen.

This is just going to make Dinning — a bit of a lightweight, maybe, but a guy who probably would have been an OK premier back in his heyday, which was long before Canadian Conservatives lost their collective mind — look like a fool.

It’s going to tarnish his reputation through his association with the genuinely unsavoury Take Back Alberta crowd that now controls the United Conservative Party, not to mention with Smith’s own reputation for a casual relationship with the truth.

As Kayande said: “Dinning made an admirable contribution to Alberta and to Canadian unity in the past. Many of my constituents respect him. And I would hate for him to suffer the same sort of reputational consequences that Steve Allan suffered.”

Or as political consultant Stephen Carter put it, accurately: “What an embarrassment. I cannot believe that Jim Dinning would debase himself and put his name on this report.”

Well, he did. The damage to his reputation has been done. It’s never going away.

Sad.  [Tyee]

Read more: Politics, Alberta

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