BRIAN GALLANT - Liberal Leader NB
There is a right way to do things, and a wrong way. Unfortunately, on the issue of pension reform, the Alward government has chosen the latter.
Retired public servants are turning out in the thousands to meetings where the new shared risk pension model is being discussed. They are angry about the lack of information, the lack of meaningful consultation and the manner in which it was presented.
The failures on this file are adding up. When the shared risk pension model was first proposed, Premier Alward and Finance Minister Higgs said that participation would be voluntary and it would be negotiated. The narrative soon changed and it became obvious to many people that the Conservative government wanted to impose this model on all levels of the public service and retirees.
At a recent meeting, Minister Higgs stated that the government has not obtained legal advice from the Department of Justice. He admitted that he is embarrassed by what a communications fiasco this has become. He said that he wasn’t even involved until recently, even though he is the minister responsible for this fund.
This is an issue that matters to people. Retirees made the decision to retire having total faith that their pension plan agreement with the province would be fully honoured. They paid their contributions, and now do not have the ability to adjust their finances to account for these changes in the face of increasing costs of living. They have made important financial decisions such as what to save, what to spend and when to retire.
In addition to the flawed process, there are other serious questions that need to be answered. Is this action by the government legal? Is the imposition of the new plan on retirees actually necessary to maintain the future stability of the plan? What other options may be available? And, will the future management of the plan be moved outside the province and result in increased management fees?
When I began work in politics, I committed to providing constructive criticism with possible solutions. The idea of stripping benefits away from those who have earned them is morally wrong and legally questionable. My suggestions to the Alward government are informed by requests made by members of the Pension Coalition, and are as follows: engage with the people who are affected; obtain a judicial review on the legality of changing benefits retirees already receive; and provide the data and assumptions underlining this decision to both the auditor general and pensioners so they can make an informed assessment of the government’s claims. New Brunswickers deserve a government that does the right thing which includes doing it the right way.
Brian Gallant is the leader of the Liberal Party of New Brunswick and the MLA-elect for Kent.