Island Tories use rare tactic to delay pension bill

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The Opposition Tories filibustered the Ghiz government’s controversial pension bill Wednesday with a procedural tactic not used in P.E.I. in at least 27 years.

Interim leader of the Island Progressive Conservatives, Steven Myers, speaks at the party's annual general meeting in Summerside Saturday.

Just as Finance Minister Wes Sheridan was calling his pension legislation for second reading in the legislature Wednesday, Opposition Leader Steven Myers introduced a ‘hoist’ motion.

Its purpose was to delay the government’s pension legislation until the spring.

“I do not feel that democracy is best served by allowing this (bill) to go forward,” Myers said.

He repeatedly pointed to the clause in the pension act that gives government immunity from any future legal action or grievance over the pension reforms. 

Myers ardently defended his belief that this is undemocratic.

“I can’t believe I am standing here today, 2013 in the legislative assembly, trying to defend democracy in Prince Edward Island because this government and its members have no use for democracy,” he shouted.

“I urge the members of this government just to put this bill off. We’re not asking you to vote it down, we’re not asking you to not bring it back, we’re asking you to… bring in better legislation for it that doesn’t trample people’s rights.”

A ‘hoist’ motion is a filibustering manoeuvre commonly used on Parliament Hill and in other provinces, but has not been used in P.E.I. in at least 27 years, if ever.

It is a provision contained in Beauchesne's Parliamentary Rules and Forms – the country’s standard parliamentary rulebook.

It overrides the bill or proceeding in question, either temporarily or permanently.

When Myers brought it forward, MLAs in the room were both incredulous and puzzled. Even Speaker Carolyn Bertram had to take a short recess to check the rules and confirm the motion was in order.

The intent of the motion – to delay the pension legislation until the spring – was also requested by Myers during question period earlier in the day.

Sheridan said over and over he is not willing or able to put the bill on hold.

An actuarial review performed every three years on the province’s pension funds will happen later this fiscal year. If nothing is done to change the way the pension fund is managed before Jan. 1st, it will mean a $450 million liability in the pension fund and on the province’s books in the spring.

That’s why the legislation must go through during this session, Sheridan said.

“We have to ensure that we get the accounting treatment right away, we have to ensure all the dates that coincide with January 1… all of those important pieces that are contingent on January 1 start,” Sheridan said.

“We can’t take on another $60 million worth of deficit this year, which would happen. We can’t take on another $450 million liability on our pension plan. It would be totally irresponsible.”

He continued to defend the immunity provision in the act, saying it must be there to protect not only government, but also the pension plan itself and the trustees who oversee it.

He said New Brunswick and Nova Scotia’s pension bills also have similar clauses.

“These clauses are very important part of that protection and we just have to ensure that we go forward and give this protection to those people,” Sheridan said.

He added the pension bill will be called to second reading on Thursday and, with his Liberal government’s majority, will easily pass this session.

Geographic location: Prince Edward Island, Parliament Hill, New Brunswick Nova Scotia

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