Pension experts from across Canada are gathering in Fredericton this week to discuss how workers can ensure their retirement benefits will be waiting for them in the future.

The two-day national summit on pension reform is being organized by the provincial government and Public Policy Forum, a non-profit organization.

David Mitchell, the president and chief executive officer of the Public Policy Forum, said it is time for Canadians to start discussing the future of pension benefits.

"Officially, this week in Canada, the number of retirees for the very first time will exceed the number of youth in our country.  This has never happened here before," he said.


David Mitchell, the president and chief executive officer of the Public Policy Forum, said tough decisions need to be made around pension plans. (CBC)

"And it shows this big demographic transition, that we're in the early stages of, is just starting to be felt."

Canadian policymakers have to start figuring out how these pension plans will cope with a shrinking labour force, retirees living longer and under-funded pension plans.

Mitchell said the policy recipe could be bitter for some people, but it may be necessary to ensure that retirement benefits are waiting for them later in their lives.

"Willing to accept a little bit of risk to ensure that retirement benefit is going to be there when it is needed," he said.

The Alward government has been championing its version of pension reform, which was unveiled last year.

The so-called shared-risk pension plan will raise the retirement age over a number of years. The targeted retirement age would be moved to 65 from 60 over a 40-year period.

The provincial government’s reforms would also see cost-of-living increases conditional on the pension plan’s performance.

There would be a provision that would still allow for cost-of-living increases in years where the pension plan was making money to account for any years where the increases were not imposed.

When Alward unveiled these reforms, he won the support of three public and private sector unions.

Saint John has also adopted a shared-risk pension model to replace its beleaguered pension plan.

The provincial civil service, however, is one large holdout from the pension reform plan.

Premier David Alward said on Tuesday that he did not intend to force those workers to join a shared-risk plan.

"That's a hypothetical question, I won't deal with that, what I'm very proud about is that this is a New Brunswick solution. We've had collaboration from square one," he said.

Co-op Atlantic joins plan

While the provincial civil service may still be holding out from signing onto the new pension system, there are other groups that are adopting similar plans.

Co-op Atlantic announced that it will be moving to a shared-risk plan. The move will affect about 650 employees.

Allison MacLeod-McArthur, a Co-op Atlantic employee, said she's been paying into the pension plan for 23 years. 

The new shared-risk pension plan will mean her retirement date is going to be pushed back in order to preserve her benefits.

"I was looking at the age of 59 and now I'm looking at the age of 65. Am I crazy happy that our fund has changed? No," she said.

"But I'm looking forward to down the road that it will still be there."