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Government urged to drop pension reform plans - T. Easterbrook

Unilateral action

 

Former employees say they were not consulted about changes to their pensions

  By TONY EASTERBROOK       Commentary

  I'm retired and in receipt of a Public Service Superannuation Plan (PSSA)   pension, towards which I had made regular and mandatory contributions   throughout my working years.

  The New Brunswick government is resolved to break that pension contract,   despite its legislated mandate as trustee and guarantor to administer it in   the best interests of its beneficiaries, as opposed to superseding that   obligation with, in my opinion a short-sighted, and poorly-planned agenda.

The government initiated this process without inviting us, its former   employees, to participate in any pension reform discussions.

  This spring, a group of retirees formed Pension Coalition NB to grapple with   the ramifications of this dismissive treatment and the government-caused   information vacuum. Despite best efforts, it has made little headway with   government regarding our most basic concerns.

  The 2011 Quinn vs. N.B. Minister of Finance court ruling established that   'cost of living' pension benefits of retirees under the court's consideration   were deemed to be 'vested' and enforceable through court action.

  Rather than incorporating the principles of that ruling into its pension   reform design for existing retirees, this government chose to sidestep it,   amending the Pension Benefits Act to allow conversion of our current   legislated guaranteed pension plan into a Shared Risk Pension Plan (SRPP),   and to provide itself (and SRPP administrators) 'immunity' from being sued   for breach of contract.

  All without consulting us retirees. IMO, this does not reflect 'principle' or   fair play but rather, 'expediency.' I highlight reasons underpinning my   dismay and exasperation with this government.

  It has:

• excluded us from the initial pension redesign process

• turned a   blind eye to the Quinn vs. N.B. Minister of Finance ruling, instead modifying   legislation to allow conversion of an existing pension plan (such as our PSSA   contract) into an SRPP, regardless of the terms of the existing contract

•   amended legislation to provide itself immunity from litigation

• began   (limited) interaction with our coalition only after the political   embarrassment of publicly-aired retiree anger

• trots out the N.B.-home grown   SRPP nationally in a seemingly   emphasize-the-positive-masquerade-crucial-elements-of-the-neg­ative   representation

• initially claimed SRPP participation would not be mandatory   for us

• intransigently pursues a mandatory SRPP future for us

The ostensible   glossing over of the downsides of SRPP promoted nationally has been further aided by a largely indifferent, quiescent media which has opted to delve no   deeper.

  The media typically reports that under SRPP, cost of living adjustments will   be tied to fund performance, not guaranteed.

  Going unreported is that under SRPP, base benefits can also be reduced, with   no guarantee that in better performing years, any previous benefit reductions,   base or ancillary (such as cost of living) benefits will be reinstated.

  The provincial government, bent on its pension reform agenda, will presumably   next introduce legislation aimed at our PSSA contract, to convert it into an   SRPP, thereby effectively doing away with the PSSA plan as it now exists,   along with its associated benefit terms contractually guaranteed and in   existence at the time we retired.

  The word 'contract' means: 'An agreement enforceable by law.'

The government   contract breaking, in my opinion, is wrong, short-sighted, unacceptable and   expedient. Honouring contracts represents good faith and engenders mutual   confidence and trust.

  Government contract breaking does not bode well in encouraging new or   existing commerce and investment in this province. Neither is it beneficial   to New Brunswick's reputation within or beyond Canada.

  Breach of contract is being planned by the government for us. Are you assured   this could never happen to you?

  We must not allow the government to succeed in its: Quinn vs. NB Minister of   Finance-avoiding, precedent setting, contract breaking, uncompromising and   dismissive plans for PSSA retirees.

  Let's demonstrate our resolve publicly that we won't be held hostage to   uneven bargaining terms, nor settle for any government crumbs potentially   offered, but under untenable and reprehensible prerequisites.

  Contact your MLA to express your opposition to the Alward government's   impending plans to break your current pension contract.

  To others believing in the rule of law and natural justice, and troubled with   the thought of your government breaking a contract, please consider   contacting your MLA too.

  Honourable MLAs, please do the right thing.

  Support our efforts to retain our hard-earned, legally entitled, vested   pension benefits per the terms of the legislated PSSA contract under which we   had retired.

  Tony Easterbrook spent 34 years in the New Brunswick civil service, retiring   from the department of family and community services. He is now retired,   formerly lived in Fredericton, and has since moved to London, Ont.