Retired civil servants worried

Public sector retirees flocked to public meetings to hear about the Alward government’s proposed pension reforms. (CBC)

Finance Minister Blaine Higgs says the provincial government is softening its stance on pension reforms for civil servants.

A letter being sent to retirees today promises cost of living increases will continue and benefits will never be lower than they are today.

Higgs couldn't previously give that assurance, and retirees objected to the possibility of their pension benefits possibly changed as a result of the provincial government's move to a shared-risk pension plan.

Higgs is hoping to ease those concerns.

"Even though the possibility of reduced benefits was extremely low, we decided to take it off the table altogether, said Higgs. "A lot of misinformation has been circulated.

"Well, now I can say that your cheque that you receive today will not reduce."

But the chair of the New Brunswick Pension Coalition says nothing really has changed.

"It's really smoke and mirrors because if you look at the shared-risk plan, the power's given to the administrator of the plan," said Bonnie Hoyt-Hallet.

"In shared-risk that transfers from government because they are no longer guarantors. And that plan administrator can increase, decrease, or suspend the contribution to the plan, increase or reduce base benefits, and increase or reduce the ancillary benefits."

Hoyt-Hallett said the coalition supports pension changes, but it wants to start the process all over again and look at both the public and private sector in a transparent way.

The pension coalition formed in reaction to the province's proposed changes. The group hired a lawyer from Toronto and said it's prepared to take on the government in court to protect their pensions, if necessary.

Higgs said it would be "immoral" for the provincial government not to address a pension plan that is unsustainable if left unchanged.

"We feel it's the right thing to do," said Higgs. "If that costs the [2014] election, I'll hold my head high.

"There's a small, vocal group in the coalition who feel they're hard done by."

Hoyt-Hallett challenges that assertion.

"We're not radicals," she said. "This is very strange for us.

"We were dedicated public servants, but it's important for us to do this, to make sure it's fair."