Finance minister defends public sector union contract
Wes Sheridan says new contract affordable, independent of upcoming election
Finance Minister Wes Sheridan is defending a new contract with the P.E.I. Union of Public Sector Employees that provides for a 9.5 per cent wage increase over five years.
Other party leaders argue the move is politically motivated to buy civil servants' votes, but Sheridan said it's good planning for the future.
On Tuesday, Sheridan denied any political motivation in the new five-year contract with the Island's largest public service union, which has 2,600 members.
Six of the 9.5 per cent salary increase is set to come into effect in 2016 and 2017, right after the 2015 election.
"[2015, 2016] is when we've said we'll balance our budget and that's what we're aiming for. With regards to a political cycle, it has nothing to do with anything inside an election cycle," said Sheridan.
But other political leaders disagree with the timing of the wage increase.
"It's an early election promise by the Liberals … they're using our taxpayers’ dollars to promise themselves votes for the next election," said Opposition Leader Steven Myers.
"Which kind of government would ever overturn a signed contract, I don't understand where that comment comes from — that buying the votes of a union going into an election, I don't understand any of that thinking whatsoever," said Sheridan.
The opposition argues that the contract is binding on the next government and says it’s not affordable. They argue the Liberals are attempting to sway votes in the next election.
"It's politically driven ... the UPSE president has said such, so we know that, and the only people that have received [as much as] a three per cent raise on Prince Edward Island are members of the legislature," said NDP Leader Mike Redmond.
Sheridan insists he'll balance the budget by 2015 and that the wage increases are affordable.
Both Myers and Redmond expressed doubts over Sheridan’s ability to balance the budget.
"He regularly pushes back his deficit targets because he continues to miss them so I’m not sure why he thinks he’s going to suddenly balance the budget," said Myers.
"I don't believe he can [balance the budget]," said Redmond.
The three per cent wage increase may set a precedent for other public sectors unions, such as teachers and the Canadian Union of Public Employees.
"Every one of the unions have been offered the same thing to enable us to meet this target. That’s the political portion of it, is to allow us to meet a balanced target date," said Sheridan.