A crowd of angry union members marched up Queen Street in Charlottetown Friday evening to protest the province’s controversial pension reforms.
About 450 people took part in the demonstration, waving placards and chanting, “Our pensions, leave them alone.”
The protest was organized by the Union of Public Sector Employees – the biggest union in Prince Edward Island.
President Debbie Bovyer told the crowd the province’s changes to public sector pension plans will amount to ‘historic cuts to pensions for over 13,000 Islanders.’
“Premier Ghiz and Minister Sheridan are going to remove the guarantee on our pension during this session of the legislature, unless we can convince them otherwise.”
The premier was out of the province for a previously scheduled meeting, but Finance Minister Wes Sheridan did attend, as did several other government MLAs and cabinet ministers.
When Sheridan took to the microphone, he was drowned out with angry booing and jeering after he told the protesters his reforms are an attempt to save their pensions.
NDP Leader Mike Redmond got rousing cheers when he took to the podium.
“Minister Sheridan, you knew this was a problem in 2008 and you did nothing about it,” he said.
Retired civil servants are worried and the changes negatively impact women, Redmond said.
“The only guarantee this Liberal government has made is - after six and a half years, they have the gold plated pensions,” he said, pledging to protect public pensions in the event his party is ever voted into the legislature.
Opposition Leader Steven Myers told the crowd Sheridan has said he is making the changes to their pensions to help union members and pensioners, eliciting more scoffing from the protesters.
“He’s doing it for him, he’s doing it for his buddies because they’ve spent this province right into the ground,” Myers said.
“I urge you here tonight to not let this government off the hook. Your premier and your finance minister have misled you, they’re taking your money and they’ve taken enough from you.”
Several times during the demonstration, the crowd broke out into the chant, “Back to the table,” voicing their hope the province will renegotiate the changes before putting them into law.
After the protest, Bovyer said she was happy with the turnout and said she hopes it will make government realize union members are against the changes to their pensions.
“We want them to come back to the table, negotiate with us and get a deal that’s fair to everyone, not just the government,” she said.
“We’re hopeful until the legislation goes through.”
But Sheridan made it clear that’s not going to happen.
“This plan is solid now,” Sheridan said.
“This has become a political battle and I’m sorry that this has occurred… I understand where there concerns are, this is the livelihoods of people and that’s why I’m here to ensure these pensions are going to be here for the next 90 years.”
When asked if the changes will go ahead in spite of the hundreds of union members who voiced their concern and opposition Friday, Sheridan replied, “Absolutely.”