New Brunswick

Controversial pension changes approved in legislature vote

The Alward government's controversial pension reform has been passed into law.

Shared-risk pension plan for provincial civil servants and retirees to take effect Jan. 1

The Alward government's controversial pension reform has been passed into law.

The bill got final approval from the Legislature late Wednesday, passing 33-9 in a vote along party lines.

The new shared-risk system will see civil servants and retirees take on more risk for the pension fund's performance. 

Finance Minister Blaine Higgs is confident the changes to the provincial pension plan can withstand any legal challenge. (CBC)
Current employees will see pension plan contributions increase at the start of the new year, with an average increase of $1,200 a year. Retirees could see cost-of-living increases curtailed if the markets perform poorly in the future, although Higgs says that risk is small.

Under the present system, only the government is at risk if there is a downturn in the markets. With the changes, the risk is shared between government, employees and retirees.

Higgs has been pushing the pension reforms through for two years, arguing that with retirees living longer, the pool of pension money may not be enough to cover their benefits under the current system.

"We have much more demands on this plan than it ever was designed to fund," said Higgs. "That is the reality.

"So in order to fix it, you have to structurally change it. We're confident in what we're putting forward and we're confident it will withstand any legal challenge."

Retirees argue the change amounts to breaking a contract and have hired pension rights lawyer Ari Kaplan of Ontario and threatened to sue the province over the changes.

The New Brunswick Pension Coalition has also vowed to defeat the Progressive Conservative government at the polls next September if the changes go through.

Liberal Leader Brian Gallant argued again yesterday for more time to debate the change.

"This will be seen as one of, if not the, most important pieces of legislation his government will put forth in its mandate," said Gallant.

But after two raucous years of debate inside and outside the legislature about the changes, the government pressed forward.

 "Mr. Speaker there comes a time when you have to fish or cut bait," said Higgs.

The bill will be signed into law before Christmas and takes effect on New Year's Day.


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