Saturday, September 24, 2011

When A Nurse Speaks in an Election, Does Anyone Hear?

In an official news release issued late last week, Manitoba Nurses Union (MNU) called on all political parties to clarify where they stand on pensions.

More specifically, they called on the Progressive Conservatives to clarify whether or not they support the existing defined-benefit pension plan for nurses or a shift toward a defined-contribution pension plan.

The news release hardly made a ripple on the provincial election stage.

This is most unfortunate for a host of reasons.

First, any media outlet or pundit with a shred of political intuition should never discount any union representing over 11,000 workers. This is especially true when those 11,000 workers are nurses who have the ability to bring the entire provincial health system to a grinding halt.

Second, mainstream media should get their heads out of Twitter, off Facebook, and actually take a look around at what's happening in the world today.

If you believe economists and leading economic indices, we're approaching the brink of another economic collapse. Savings accounts, personal investments, homes, currencies and, yes, pension plans, are all on the road to ruin should a repeat of 2008 be in the cards. And yet, in this context, a union calling for clarity in where political parties stand on pensions is largely ignored. Shame.

Third, take a look at what's happening in the world of corporate pension funds right now (and since 2008). Just yesterday, the Royal Bank of Canada is reported to have axed its long-held defined-benefit pension plan, and replaced it with a defined-contribution plan for new hires.

This is the exact same issue on which the MNU is seeking clarity!

Pensions, how they're structured, and how they're managed are all extremely relevant, and incredibly political.

Lastly, Mr. McFadyen has been openly reported as wanting a "freer Manitoba" and wanting a larger role for "private" investment. It's not clear what Mr. McFadyen means by a "freer" Manitoba, but it would be very entertaining to see how he rationalizes a "free" Manitoba while at the same time supporting a defined-benefit pension plan for nurses.

So, when a nurse speaks in an election, does anyone hear?

They certainly should, but it appears Mr. McFadyen is largely ignoring them.

In politics, all rhetoric eventually becomes reality, and beginning the morning of Wednesday October 5 nurse pensions could end up becoming a hollow shell of what they once were.

Let's hope they won't let that happen despite being ignored.