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Government-Provincial - 'Pensioners say they won’t be bamboozled'

By Kris McDavid

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19 Apr 2013 10:12AM

MIRAMICHI – Tensions were high Thursday night April 18 as about 1,000 retired public service pensioners accused provincial government officials of using smoke screens and spin doctoring as a means of selling them on a new shared risk pension model.

A skeptical crowd interrupted the government team regularly at NBCC Miramichi as it went through a presentation designed to illustrate the province’s stance that the current pension structure is unsustainable and that in order to mitigate future risk, immediate change to the massive Public Service Superannuation Act (PSSA) is needed.

Few in the room were interested in what the team – consisting of actuary Conrad Ferguson and Post Secondary Education, Training and Labour Minister Danny Soucy – had to say, however.

Their mood was not helped by the fact they had expected Finance Minister Blaine Higgs and arrived to find Soucy had been sent in his place.

Near the three-quarter mark of Ferguson’s presentation, retired teacher Joe Breen stood up and said his patience had evaporated.

“I’m being flooded with charts, information and everything … I’m a senior, and by the time you’ve finished everything I’ll be so mixed up I won’t even know what questions to ask,” Breen said.

After requesting that he be allowed to finish up his presentation, the independent actuary summarized by reiterating his key points, stressing that their pensions would not be de-indexed, survivor pensions would remain intact and that there was a very slim chance, 2.5 per cent, that their benefits would be scaled back within the next 20 years.

A shared risk pension model functions based on the plan’s overall investment performance, whereas the current defined benefit plan places most of the risk on the employer, in this case government and taxpayers, if conditions were to become volatile.

Government has said that the PSSA, made up of about 30,000 employees, is currently coping with a $1 billion shortfall and is based on a number of outdated assumptions.

“A retirement program that is based on hoping for the best to happen in the future should not be enough for you and should not be enough for government,” Ferguson said.

“The future is unknown and it will surprise us – we need to plan for this unknown future and make sure we’re prepared for whatever comes.”

Breen had his chance to speak moments later, saying while it all sounded good on the surface he was troubled by some of the language being used.

“Mr. Ferguson, good job, and the lawyers who I also assume were in on this, also a good job, because we’re all kind of bamboozled on this, but I’m not going to be bamboozled that easily, personally,” he said.

“Nobody going home tonight should sleep any better because, Mr. Ferguson, everything you said you prefaced with these words: ‘however, could happen, if, intended, if possible, might, 25 per cent chance, unknown, hoping’ … I know you’re not selling this but somebody is, and I’m not buying it.”

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