Teachers' pension bill coming this spring, Higgs says

New Brunswick's Finance minister says wants legislation to reform teachers' pension plan passed during this session, regardless of the political cost.

Finance minister accuses union of stalling talks in hopes Tories will lose September election

Finance Minister Blaine Higgs wants to change the teachers’ plan to a shared-risk model, which reduces the potential cost to taxpayers.
New Brunswick's Finance minister says he hopes the provincial teachers union will agree to adopt a shared-risk pension model by the end of the month.

But if they don't, Blaine Higgs says he plans to legislate changes to their fund.

Higgs contends the New Brunswick Teachers' Federation is stalling on pension reform talks in hopes the Tories will lose the September election and a new government would abandon pension reforms.

"The NBTF would bank on that and they'd work very hard for that if we could drag that out further. There's a bit of history on how that works on an election cycle," Higgs said.

"I do believe that there would be a tremendous push to delay this, and hold it out and have us push it out, and if we're not around after the next election, 'We'll get a better deal.'

"They won't get a better deal. They'll maybe get a deal that's procrastinating down the road, and then it'll have to be fixed later."

But the New Brunswick Teachers' Federation, which represents about 17,000 current and retired teachers, contends Higgs is moving too fast.

New Brunswick Teachers' Federation co-president Peter Fullerton believes a deal that works for both sides can still be reached. (CBC)
It has been running ads on radio and YouTube, accusing the province of having already made up its mind.

Union co-president Peter Fullerton says there is time to make a deal that works for both sides — and still get a bill passed this spring.

"We have some ideas that can meet the needs of taxpayers and meet the needs of teachers as well," he said.

Higgs says taxpayers can't afford to contribute to the fund in years when it falls short of what it needs to cover pensions.

Under the shared-risk model,  employees, retirees and province would be equally at risk if pension plan investments don't perform as well as expected.

The government recently forced 33,000 current and former civil servants out of their defined benefit pension plan and into a new shared-risk model.

Employees will have to increase their own contributions to the pension plan by 30 per cent or more starting next spring, even though benefits they can accumulate will be less generous.

The government did, however, give in on cost of living adjustments after a huge outcry, guaranteeing their pension payments won't drop if markets perform poorly.

Retired civil servants had threatened to sue the government over the changes and vowed to defeat David Alward's Progressive Conservatives in the Sept. 22 election.