The backlash against the Alward government’s proposed changes to the civil service pension program continued on Wednesday during a public meeting in Fredericton.
Finance Minister Blaine Higgs faced a crowd of more than 1,000 frustrated civil service pensioners, who demanded the proposed changes be halted, in Fredericton.
In front of the packed conference room, Susan Merrill, a retired school teacher, made an impassioned plea for Higgs to reconsider the proposed changes.
"I have no faith in you, no trust in you. I thought this contract that I’ve had for 37 years was good for my lifetime. And it isn't obviously," she told the finance minister.
She punctuated her exchange with Higgs with a very direct statement.
"I'm not sleeping well and I hope you don't sleep well either," she said.
The finance minister tried to assure Merrill and other speakers the provincial government wanted to hear their concerns. He also pointed to the financial pressures being faced by the provincial government.
Premier David Alward unveiled the proposed pension system last May and immediately had a group of unions sign onto the so-called shared-risk pension plan. Saint John also moved its troubled city pension plan over to a shared-risk model and Fredericton is following along as well.
Under the provincial government’s reforms, the future pension risk would be shared by both sides.
The proposed model also includes increased contribution levels and higher age of retirement phased in slowly over a period of time.
Government officials have previously said the pension changes would not cut the benefits in place for retirees.
But a government actuary at a Saint John meeting on Wednesday afternoon said cost-of-living increases will be eliminated for pensioners and instead be dependent upon market performance.
The Public Service Superannuation Act (PSSA) currently has a $1-billion shortfall, which is expected to get worse with people living longer and interest rates at historically low levels.
The PSSA plan covers employees who work directly for government departments and NB Power and included 13,441 pensioners as of March 31, 2012. Their average annual pension was $20,603.
In addition the PSSA has 19,611 active contributors.
The provincial government wants to move the $4-billion PSSA plan to the shared-risk model first, followed by the teachers' $4.2-billion plan.
The finance minister also faced a verbally hostile crowd of about 400 people in Saint John on Wednesday afternoon.
Higgs is planning several more meetings to discussion the proposed pension changes.
He told the crowds in Fredericton and Saint John that the provincial government has not effectively communicated the changes to retirees.
"This is a long overdue communication session and I want to apologize for that on behalf of all of us," he said.