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Barry Jones Letter to the Premier

Mr. Premier:

You should have been there last night; it was a sight to behold!  Somewhere upwards of 2000 former civil servants fighting for their rights, amid tears and outrage directed at an embattled Minister of Finance. 

I know you think you are doing the right thing, and I truly believe everyone there supports your ultimate financial objective for the Province, but I hope you can see that this shared risk model as proposed is not the way to go, irrespective of how much apparent logic or high priced opinions are behind it.  The very fact that this event was billed as an information meeting implies that it was to be a one-way flow of information to convince retirees of the rightness of your approach.  It was certainly not a consultation meeting.  During the meeting the Minister admitted that to date his efforts had been a public relations disaster.  How true! In addition, it should be kept in mind that we are all former civil servants, and we know how government and bureaucracy work.  It is insulting to feed us the same lines we worked with for years and not expect us to see through them.

I have no desire to see you and your party out of office in the coming election, but I guarantee it will be a tough fight for you to stay in office if you can’t resolve this issue with retirees.  Do not mistake the influence of the Pension Coalition, and it isn’t just Fredericton-based! But it doesn’t have to be that way.  Sean Graham lost out, not because he tried to tackle the difficult NB Power financial issue, but because he didn’t consult or listen to the public.  He treated us like we were ignorant, like he knew better. Big mistake! There are some issues that are emotionally grounded and are best resolved with public input.  The NB Power and the PSSA are such issues.  The wise and long-lived politician either can see that or listens to those who can see it.  In this regard, I hope it has been reported to you  that many at the meeting volunteered to work with you to achieve a solution.  There is a lot of free talent out here.

There is still time for you to avoid greater confrontation, possibly even gain support, and come out of this looking reasonable.  However, you must firstly demonstrate that you do indeed listen to the retirees; meet with them.  Then compromise by going part way and putting in place a longer term alternative strategy to address the rest.  My suggestion would be to implement your shared risk model, but (1) “grandfather” current retirees, (2) put in a 1 or 2 year choice period to either retire during this period and become grandfathered too, or continue working beyond this period and retire under the shared risk umbrella and (3) put all new employees and those who made a choice to stay beyond the choice period under the shared risk model.

As for a new management structure, perhaps your new model is the best alternative.  Unfortunately, I think many retirees have seen so much behind the scenes political manipulation of circumstances and civil servants during their careers that they are very skeptical as to how a Board of Trustees and/or a Superintendent of Pensions will both be appointed and function.  How will they be accountable to retirees? It is our money after all!  Ideally, this and other details would best be addressed with complete retiree input and decision making.  Do you really want a new, more transparent way of doing business? Make this your opportunity to do so.  Let us work with you; don’t force us to work against you!

Barry Jones

Fredericton