P.E.I. pension legislation passes second reading despite weeks of pushback

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“They won the battle, they didn’t win war,” union leader Debbie Bovyer said after controversial changes to public sector pensions passed second reading in the legislature Thursday.

PEI legislature

The bill was debated for over an hour Thursday evening, but despite weeks of pushback from two of P.E.I.’s biggest unions that included ad campaigns and an angry protest, the Ghiz government refused to budge on its pension reforms.

Bovyer, who is president of the Union of Public Sector Employees, was among a handful of union members in the public gallery Thursday evening.

She said she was disappointed in the behaviour of government MLAs during the debate.

“Grinning and smiling and a pretty cocky attitude,” Bovyer said.

“It’s disappointing that elected people can treat taxpayers in the manner that they’ve treated us tonight.”

Opposition Leader Steven Myers tried to amend the bill that will make changes to the Civil Service Superannuation Fund.

He tried to have current retirees and anyone planning to retire before January 2017 exempted from the changes – notably the elimination of guaranteed indexing of pension payments and moving to a career average for calculation of benefits.

Sheridan said this would account for more than 80 per cent of members.

“What that means is that the contributors, those that are active, would have to fill that void. And of course they can’t afford to do that. The amount of contribution that it would take to fill that void is impossible to do,” Sheridan says.

“We have to have a fair and equitable treatment of all.”

Myers also tried to have the clause that gives government immunity from any future grievance or legal action over these changes removed from the legislation.

He pulled out a selection from the ‘Magna Carta for Kids’ and began reading from it, saying he felt there are similarities in the story lines.

“You’re legislating away people’s rights to oppose you,” Myers said.

“What I fear is that, if we don’t stop it now, the next time it comes around it’s easier… and we get down to a point where every piece of legislation has written in at the bottom of it, ‘Oh yes, and you can’t oppose us on this.’”

He said he chose not to block the entire bill as he hoped government would take note of his concerns and adopt his amendments.

But Sheridan reiterated the immunity clause must remain to give protection not only to government, but also to a new committee to be struck - made up of government, union and retiree representatives – that will sign off on future indexing decisions.

Bovyer said Thursday her union will not participate in this committee and is no longer interested in talks over joint trusteeship.

“There is nothing left to govern. All the rules have been laid out in the legislation. The only thing left is to tell retirees, ‘Sorry but you can’t get a raise.’ We’re not interested in doing that to people.”

UPSE was hoping to launch a legal challenge against the pension legislation, but Bovyer said a final legal opinion has come back saying they cannot move forward after all.

But the union will continue to fight – but now it will be to unseat the Liberals in the next provincial election.

“I was around when Robert Ghiz’s father was premier and I think he would be very disappointed in his son tonight,” Bovyer added.

“Very disappointed.”

Organizations: Union of Public Sector Employees, Civil Service Superannuation Fund

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