Municipal Affairs Minister Pierre Moreau on Tuesday said he won't be watering down Quebec's controversial pension reform bill after his conversation with union coalition leader Marc Ranger.
However, Moreau and Ranger said both parties are actively looking to solve the ongoing dispute between municipal employees and the government and had a constructive conversation.
"Right now, we're careful. We're not optimistic or pessimistic. We're trying to look at the real result. Right now, the positive thing is we're still talking," Ranger said on Tuesday.
The controversy surrounding Bill 3 boiled over in June when a number of firefighters retired en masse to fight pension reforms that would see municipal workers across Quebec contribute more to their pension plans to help make up for ballooning deficits.
Since then, some police officers and firefighters have protested the bill by wearing camouflage pants and plastering their cars and trucks with big red stickers decrying the reforms.
Some municipal workers were also involved in a violent protest at Montreal City Hall that led to the trashing of the city council chambers. Forty-four people are now facing criminal charges related to the incident, including Montreal blue collar workers’ union head Michel Parent and firefighters’ union head Ronald Martin.
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Bill 3 is currently undergoing a clause-by-clause examination at the National Assembly.
Moreau said improving financial conditions in the province may halve the $4 billion deficit. If that happens, major reforms may become less necessary.
Moreau said the government is watching the market closely.
"If the market is doing well, it's good news for everybody. That means that the effort that will have to be put on pension plans will be less than expected and therefore it's good news," he said.
No concrete result
Moreau and Ranger spoke Tuesday about their respective positions on Bill 3 and what could be done to resolve the standoff.
Ranger said the unionized employees realized long ago that the pension plans needed to be stabilized. He said the unions and the minister discussed the possibility of waiting to re-negotiate collective agreements.
“The goal is to find an intelligent solution that will respect previous contracts,” Ranger said.
Despite the modest progress, Ranger said there are no plans to put future demonstrations on ice, particularly a march planned for Sept. 20 from Lafontaine Park to Moreau’s Montreal office.
“There is still no concrete result,” he said.