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OP ED – GETTING THE FACTS STRAIGHT ON PUBLIC PENSIONS

- Claire Lepage, Chair, Pension Coalition NB

As Chair of Pension Coalition NB, I feel compelled to set the record straight with respect to illegal changes to public sector pensions that the Alward government introduced with great fanfare. The Shared Risk Pension model was touted to be a model to be adopted by jurisdictions nationwide. The reality is that neighbouring jurisdictions did proceed with necessary changes but did so with due process and respect of the laws of this land.

The continued characterization of the editorial boards, that retirees of the Public sector should stop advocating for their "entitlements" and that they have no regard for the well being of fellow New Brunswickers, the state of the economy nor public interests, is clearly false and misguided. There are reasons why there are at least 3 legal challenges in the Court of Queen’s Bench challenging the Shared Risk Pension plan.

Here are a few facts:

*Private and public sector investments are subject to the ups and downs of world markets.
*The $1 Billion shortfall of the PSSA plan was merely at a point in time. Markets have recovered and the shortfall has largely disappeared and subsequent actuarial reports have confirmed this‎. The PSSA plan was actually quite well funded compared to other defined benefit plans in Canada.
*Public sector workers, at the beginning of their employment with government, accept an employment contract that provide them with both salary and benefits, including pension. This contract spells out the obligations of both the employer and the employee.
*At the time of retirement, retirees have earned and paid for "vested‎" benefits. Vested benefits are a financial incentive of employment that an employee has acquired "full ownership of ". Vested benefits are absolute, completed or consummated and are not contingent upon any condition. Vested benefits are essentially deferred wages. Vested benefits are recognized in law and do apply equally to public or private sector workers.
 
A thorough review of the 5 documents registered with the Superintendent of Pensions is warranted. These point to alarming information. These documents between Blaine Higgs, the Minister of Finance at the time and union leaders, establishes the path towards the so called "conversion" of the PSSA plan to a shared risk plan, per Bill‎ 11.  These docum‎ents exposes the fact that individual contracts of 13,000 plus retirees and their survivors are broken. These documents also point to the theft of the pension trust fund; the property of beneficiaries and active employees, not of the new trustees. These documents exposes the  “real ruse" of government, which is simply to cap their employer contribution and shift the financial risk to active employees and retirees.

Of additional attention in the MOU ( memorandum of understanding) between Blaine Higgs and Marilyn Quinn-President of the Nurses Union, Suzie Proulx-Daigle-President of NBU and Ross Galbraith ‎- President of IBEW and 3 small CUPE lo‎cals, there is a clause specifying that unionized members of those respective unions need not be consulted by their leadership on the pension changes. The process of ratification was avoided and they forgot their own retirees and break their contracts too. Great leadership that is! These union representatives do not represent any of the active employees, the 13,000 plus retirees and their survivors and have no right to break our individual pension contracts.

Active employees, like retirees and their survivors, were never informed nor consulted on these illegal changes. This plan was merely imposed on them and it has serious, long term consequences‎ on their retirement. Active employees also have a real legal case.

Finally, with respect to the term "shared risk", this term sounds really good on the surface. It is portrayed as a more fair risk sharing between the employer and the employees.  However, when one thoroughly reads the documents registered with the Superintendent of Pensions, one understands what the government really did. There's an old saying "follow the money". What the government did with the concurrence of union leaders, was to cap their yearly contributions to the new shared risk plan, despite the performance of the financial markets, and shifted the financial burden largely on active employees and all retirees and surviving beneficiaries of the former PSSA plan.

When contracts with government and their union partners are broken, and pension trust theft has occurred and constitutional and bargaining rights are obliterated.   These actions need to be challenged in Court. While the Alward government introduced these pension changes, the Gallant government has been in power for almost 3 years; sufficient time to correct this illegal measure. They are no better than the previous government - but come next election we will remember.  Whatever happened to the judicial review‎ asked by the then leader of Opposition Brian Gallant? New Brunswickers deserve better - much better from their governments. They deserve respect and integrity from their government. We sincerely hope that justice will be rendered soon.

Claire Lepage, Chair
Pension Coalition NB