A small step forward
Cuts to Giant pensions less than expected

Jorge Barrera
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Jun 16/00) - Kurt Lehniger worked at Giant mine for 27 years. His face and his story have become a symbol in Yellowknife of the miners' plight since the beginning of the Giant Mine pension conflict. But little has changed.

In the background, while discussing his pension payments, Peggy Lee is singing the George Gershwin song, 'How Long Has this Been Going On.'

"I'm mad as hell," he says. "You have to keep reminding people, keep going out into the streets and talking or they'll forget about us."

Lehniger started receiving his pension in 1996. He used to receive $689 every month, but after Royal Oak Mine's went bankrupt his pension was cut by 25 per cent and he received $537 after April 1, 2000.

At the end of May, Morneau Sobeco, the company administrating the pension fund for Royal Oak, released a report on wrapping up the pension fund.

The report revealed the pension shortfall was less than expected.

Pensioners will now receive 82 per cent of their pensions instead of 75 per cent.

Al Kiel, partner with Morneau Sobeco and administrator in the pension department, said the original figure was based on preliminary information received from Royal Oak's interim receiver PriceWaterhouseCooper.

"Since then, we've reconciliated all information as of December 14, 1999, and came up with the new number. But I stress that this is an initial report."

Kiel said a final report will be ready at the end of September.

However, Kiel said it is unlikely the pensioners will receive their full pensions.

"It's highly unlikely, but not impossible," he said.

For now, Lehniger will receive $565 every month.

"It's better than nothing," he says. "But it doesn't excuse the whole handling of the thing. It's such a small thing for them, and a big thing for us pensioners. I know some of the guys are thinking of leaving because they can't afford to live here."

CAW Local 2304 president Mark Danis agrees it is a good thing, but not enough.

"It's a positive step, and we're hoping there is more," said Danis.

"At the same time we don't think they should have taken any type of cut," he added.

The union has asked DIAND to help alleviate the pension shortfall, reasoning that they benefitted from Giant Mine royalties in years past.

DIAND also brokered the deal to sell Giant to Miramar for $10. Dave Nutter, DIAND 's senior advisor for Royal Oak said his department has no legislative responsibility to the pensioners.

"Because we're the lead federal department in the North, and because we're responsible for mineral management, people think we're somehow responsible for the pensioners," says Nutter.

"We have worked with other departments looking for a solution and continue (to), but bottom line is we can't do anything," he added.

Margaret Pearcy, director of communications with the Office of Superintendent of Financial Institutions, said her department is looking in Royal Oak investing pension-fund money in Royal Oak shares to keep the corporation afloat.

She also added that what happened to Giant's pensioners is not an isolated incident.

"It could happen to anybody in other situations," she added.

There are currently 1,100 employee contracts under federal pension jurisdiction.