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Fire, police unions 'thrilled' with appeal decision on pensions

- Don MacPherson | The Daily Gleaner 6/19/2021

 

The City of Fredericton has lost another round in its ongoing legal battles with its police and firefighter unions, with the province's top court dismissing its appeal over a tribunal's decision regarding the management of the first responders' pensions.

The city, along with the provincial superintendent of pensions, sought to overturn the decision of a tribunal of the Financial and Consumer Services that ruled the Fredericton Police Association and the Fredericton Fire Fighters Association were right in their challenge of changes to their pension plan's assets and liabilities.

 

The tribunal also ordered removed two actuaries appointed by the city to manage the plan, and it found that a city manager was in a conflict of interest in her position as an administrator for the plan. In a decision issued Thursday, the New Brunswick Court of Appeal dismissed the city's appeal with costs.

The appeal court noted it would issue reasons for its decision at a later date. Wayne Knorr, the city's communications manager, said the city couldn't comment on the decision because the full reasons have yet to be released. One of the unions affected, however, was celebrating. "We're thrilled," Barry Durling, president of the Fredericton Fire Fighters Association, said Thursday, noting he'd been in touch with his police union counterpart, Sean Clark, about the appeal decision.

The next step, Durling said, is hopefully to get all the parties at the table to put the pension disputes to rest finally. "We're hoping to get everyone together to reach a resolution, " he said. He's hopeful this will mark the end of a decade of legal wrangling.

Durling noted the firefigthters' union has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on legal fees over these legal battles. "We're well over $1 million of costs for all the parties," he estimated, noting it's in Fredericton taxpayers' best interests to bring it to an end.

The city and the superintendent of pensions argued at an appeal hearing in January that the tribunal overstepped its authority, contending the tribunal's ruling was wrong to limit the superintendent's role in the matter. The Financial and Consumer Services tribunal allowed the superintendent to participate in the hearing, but barred her from cross-examining witnesses, testifying or admitting evidence. The city's legal counsel argued unsuccessfully on appeal that amounted to reversible error.

City hall and its first responders' unions have been clashing their pension plan for a decade, beginning with the unions' successful challenge of the municipality's decision to change it from a defined-benefit plan to a shared-risk plan.