An umbrella group representing Quebec firefighters says the province’s proposed pension reform legislation, Bill 3, is a ‘draconian’ response to normal fluctuations in returns on pension funds.

“The catastrophe that’s being announced is far from being realized,” said group representative François Rosa.

Rosa and other representatives of the umbrella group kicked off the second day of hearings into Bill 3 Thursday at the National Assembly in Quebec City.

Scheduled presentations at Thursday’s hearings include the unions representing firefighters and police officers in Montreal, who have been among the most outspoken opponents of Bill 3.

The controversial legislation would force past and present municipal workers to shoulder part of a $4-billion provincial pension shortfall.

Ronald Martin of the firefighter’s umbrella group said if their pension fund is paying generously, it’s due to the fact they consented in the past to lower salaries in exchange.

Martin also rejected an argument put forward by Quebec City Mayor Régis Lebeaume at yesterday’s hearings, who said municipal employees are better paid than employees of the provincial government.

Martin said the argument doesn’t apply to firefighters, who have no equals at the provincial level.

Before the start of Thursday’s hearings, Quebec’s Municipal Affairs Minister Pierre Moreau, who sponsored Bill 3, said it was crucial that the unions put forward proposals for bringing pension deficits down.

“We have to know what compromises they’re willing to make,” he said.

Talks 'a farce'

Union representatives went into Thursday's talks saying there was little point in the exercise.

Marc Ranger, spokesman for the principal coalition of municipal employees unions, said they've already put forward several proposed solutions, including increasing contribution levels and raising retirement age. 

Yves Francoeur, president of Montreal's police union, called the talks a "farce." 

He said pensions are in healthy state and called the government's legislation a "bulldozer" approach to reform.