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Hansard Transcript on Pension Discussion in Legislature - Nov 13 2013

Pension Discussion - Question Period - Nov 13th 2013

M. Melanson : Ce gouvernement prétend que le modèle de régime de pension à risques partagés fera en sorte que les régimes de retraite seront plus sûrs, plus abordables et plus durables dans l’avenir. Étant donné que, sous ce modèle à risques partagés, les prestations aux retraités seront incertaines, étant donné que la province ne parrainera plus le régime de retraite de ses employés, étant donné que les contributions des employés vont augmenter, étant donné que les retraités seront très peu représentés aux conseils d’administration, le ministre des Finances peut-il admettre aujourd’hui que ce régime qu’il propose n’est pas un régime de pension à risques partagés mais réellement un transfert du risque aux employés et aux retraités?

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Hon. Mr. Higgs: The plan that we are proposing today is a shared responsibility between the
employees, the employer, and the taxpayers of this province. It is a fair and equitable program that ensures the pension plan will be sustainable for the future for the current pensioners, current employees, and future employees. It ensures that it is a pension plan that this government can afford. Look around us. Even in Chicago today, the city has been downgraded because it has a pension liability of some $900 billion. Across the country, we are seeing every province facing huge liabilities in pensions that they cannot afford to pay. You should be proud to be part of a province and a government that is driving a plan that is sustainable and that will help secure our future.

Mr. Melanson: The Premier hosted a National Summit on Pension Reform. This is the only
government and the only Premier proposing the shared-risk model. He tried to convince every other province and Premier to look at this model. I am asking the Premier this: Why is it that no other province has listened to him and undertaken changes based on the shared-risk solution that he is proposing?

Hon. Mr. Higgs: I think that it would be good to do a little memory recall here, going back to
when the task force was appointed by the Premier and that position was lauded by the opposition and the NDP Leader. Finally, a government was prepared to look at the risks around our pension plan and to appoint a task force to do something. I know that doing something has been a big factor in the discussion here. Doing nothing seems to be of more interest. We are moving forward with a plan that has been proven in Europe. It has been adopted in different phases across this country, and we have seen Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, and Alberta make changes. We have a plan that is going to fix it for the future and for the long term. We will not do a little dabble to say that we can get through the next election. No, we are prepared to do it for the future, for the long term, which is the way that this province has to be built, for the long term.

Mr. Melanson: When the Premier got up on the floor of this Legislature, he told us that it would be optional and voluntary. That is what he said to the retirees, employees, and New
Brunswickers on the floor of this Legislature. He said that it would be on a go-forward basis. He tried to convince every other Premier to opt for this option. We have been listening. We have been very responsible on this side of the Legislature. We have been talking and listening to retirees, employees, and experts. We have listened to what other provinces have been doing. None of them—I believe it is because of the lack of leadership and trying to convince them of the benefits of the supposed solution that you are proposing—has opted for it in other jurisdictions. Why are no other jurisdictions going with Premier Alward’s recipe to help their pension regimes?

Hon. Mr. Higgs: The fact is that there are other provinces looking at this model and at New
Brunswick as a leader in this world to solve the pension problem that exists across the country. Maybe you ought to look at some experts. Jim Leech, to quote an example, is the head of the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan. He said: New Brunswick is doing the right number of things. They have endorsed a defined benefit concept. The shared-risk plan shares the risk between employer, current employees, and pensioners in an appropriate way. This is a balanced approach. From the very beginning, this government has looked at every issue on a balanced formula. We all play a part in the solution. It is not fair to say, because the political winds blow, that you can abstain from the program. No, we need everybody to help this province move forward, and that means you. We need everybody. Thank you.

Mr. Arseneault: On the issue of transparency, we are aware that the Pension Coalition filed at least 24 right-to-information requests related to the shared-risk model, to which government
requested extensions, which have come and gone with no real documents being provided. We have also learned that a number of complaints were filed with the Access to Information and Privacy Commissioner. The Pension Coalition has been forced to take this action because of the refusal of the government to be forthright in its dealings. Is this what the government calls being open and more transparent?

Hon. Mr. Higgs: We have done better than that. The members of the coalition picked an
actuary. They said: Look, would you hire somebody that we choose to look at everything you
have looked at, in order to validate it, because we are not sure that we trust your numbers? We said: Fine, we have nothing to hide. We paid for that actuary. The actuary gave them a report. I can only assume that they did not like what they heard because the actuary said: You are right. The province has a huge unfunded liability. The province’s pension plan is in trouble, and, unless we expect taxpayers, 60% of whom do not have pensions, to continue to fund this in a way that they have over the last 20 years—$650 million more than the pension plan should have been funded—then there need to be changes. We provided the information. It is just that reality is hard to take. Change is hard to take, but change, we must.

Mr. Arseneault: The Minister of Finance is saying that he is being open and transparent. He
said, in answer to questions of the Finance Critic here several months ago, that he would release all the information. Do we have a commitment from the Minister of Finance that he will release each and every bit of that information that was provided to the actuary to come to this report?

Will he make that commitment today in this House, the Legislature?
Hon. Mr. Higgs: First of all, it will take an actuary to understand it. Second, we let this actuary
look into everything that needed to be looked at—everything, everything that was on the books. If you have an actuary who wants to look at that information, then you can get one too, but we will not pay for yours.

The situation was that we did not even see the report that was filed to the Pension Coalition. It was not our information. It was the coalitions’ information. It got it and saw it. It did not
necessarily like it, because we understand that the message was: Yes, there is a problem.
How can we fix it? This will fix it. UNB has chosen this. There are unions that have already
chosen this. This is a solution. We are moving through a system that works. Let’s just get on
with it, which we assuredly will. Thank you.

Mr. Speaker: Final question.

Mr. Arseneault: You wonder why New Brunswickers do not trust this government. It is hiding
information. We know that there are challenges with the pension plans. We know that there are challenges there. We are willing to work; however, there is a process to work through it, and the process you have adopted is wrong. It is wrong. We asked a specific question. All the bits and pieces of the information were provided to the actuary. You made a commitment in the past that you would table it in the Legislature. You said this in the Legislature. Still, to this day, we have not seen it, and the pensioners have never seen it either.

My question, again, is to the Minister of Finance. Stop sidestepping the question. Will you
release each and every bit of information that built that actuary’s report?
Hon. Mr. Higgs: What the member opposite is asking for is detailed financial information that
an actuary can look at and understand. It is not information . . . I could not go through that
information and understand it. That is why we have people in this world who are trained to do that. That is why we have an actuary. That is why the coalition has an actuary. This is simply another stall tactic to do nothing. This is simply to follow along with process, process, process, but with no results.


Mr. Speaker: Order.

Hon. Mr. Higgs: We are results-driven. We will fix this problem, and people can be assured that they will have a pension that they can count on. Thank you.