hi-pension

Finance Minister Wes Sheridan said information sessions will begin soon to clarify changes to the public sector pension plans. (CBC)

The provincial pensions office has received more than 250 calls this week from employees looking for information about their specific benefits, say P.E.I. government officials.

P.E.I. Premier Robert Ghiz outlined sweeping reforms to public sector pensions earlier this week to address what he called unprecedented challenges.

Ghiz said the pension plans have a $400 million unfunded liability that has to be eliminated.  

The government maintains the reforms contain no measures that would prompt someone to retire early, but some unions aren't so sure, and the pensions office is fielding calls from worried employees who are approaching retirement.

Government officials said people are calling looking for information about their specific plan.

Finance Minister Wes Sheridan said information sessions will begin soon to clarify changes to the public sector pension plans.

Sheridan said there is some misinformation circulating about what the changes mean and sessions are designed to provide clear information.

Provincial officials say after hearing changes will not be retroactive, and will be phased in, callers have been deciding to stay with their previously planned retirement dates.

So far no one has submitted their papers for retirement as a result of the announced changes.

Political backlash

The province's plan will affect five unions and 14,000 members.

Some unions said the Liberals will pay a political price for their pension reform.

“A lot of the members are saying that now it's time to remember this at the polls,” said Debbie Bovyer, president of P.E.I.'s Union of Public Sector Employees

Catherine Callbeck's Liberal government cut public sector salaries by 7.5 per cent in the early 1990s. They lost the next election.

But Don Desserud, a political science professor at the University of Prince Edward Island, said he’s not sure this round of reform will be a major election issue.

“Pensions are complicated affairs and a lot of people don't understand even their own pensions and how they work, so they're not really going to get what the reforms are or what impact that has on people's lives,’” he said.

Desserud said ultimately whether pension reform has a major impact at the polls will come down to messaging.

The government will introduce legislative changes this fall.