Opposition Leader Steven Myers accuses premier of taking away freedom and democracy in province
© Guardian photo by Heather Taweel
Opposition MLAs Steven Myers, left, James Aylward, centre, and Colin LaVie enter Province House Tuesday. The Opposition accused the Ghiz government Tuesday of taking away democratic rights of Islanders with a provision that makes government immune from legal action over its pension reforms.
Premier Robert Ghiz came under fire Tuesday for his government’s move to make itself immune from legal action over controversial reforms to public sector pensions.
In a fiery debate on the floor of the P.E.I. legislature Tuesday, Opposition Leader Steven Myers repeatedly called Ghiz a dictator over the immunity provision in the pension legislation, accusing him of taking away rights of freedom and democracy in P.E.I.
“I don’t believe in laws that take people’s rights away, that make you a dictator, that allow you to have absolute power over Prince Edward Island,” Myers said.
“This is a democracy, it’s not a monarchy, you’re not the king of Prince Edward Island, you don’t have divine rights in this province — will you do the right thing and remove these anti-democratic clauses from the legislation?”
Last week, the province tabled legislation that will enshrine into law its plans to reform to public sector pensions — changes that include the elimination of guaranteed indexing and moving to a career average for calculation of pension benefits.
One new provision in the act protects government from liability — a move that could block any future legal challenges or grievances over the reforms.
Ghiz defended this, saying it protects not only taxpayers, but also the pension fund and plan members.
“This is about protecting that fund that is in place to pay out our pensioners. This will protect the members of our various pension committees, which include representatives from our unions, from any legal action in the future,” Ghiz said.
But Debbie Bovyer, president of the Union of Public Sector Employees says this provision would only protect union members if they shared jointly in responsibility for the fund.
UPSE has been fighting for joint trusteeship of their pension fund, something Finance Minister Wes Sheridan says he is open to discussing but not willing to implement anytime soon.
Since the province does not currently share governance of the fund with the unions, the immunity provision only protects government, Bovyer said.
She was in the public gallery of the legislature, watching the debate Tuesday. She said she was most struck by what she claims were inaccuracies in Ghiz’s statements.
“I sincerely do not believe that man is being honest about any of this. They’re trying to balance their budget for the next provincial election on the backs of their civil service employees, once again, same as the 7 1/2 per cent rollback.”
UPSE has filed a grievance over the changes and is hoping to launch a legal challenge over the pension changes, arguing they violate the union’s collective agreement with the province.
Ghiz continues to defend the changes, saying they are necessary for the future sustainability of the pension fund.
But he did admit Tuesday reforming public sector pensions was not a task he wanted to take on.
“Do I want to make this decision? No, I don’t. I’d rather put my head in the sand, if you want to know the truth, and say, ‘We don’t have a pension problem, let’s forget about it, let’s not do anything about it.’ But that is not the responsible thing to do,” Ghiz said.
Bovyer said her union plans to take her campaign against the changes to the polls when the next election takes place in April 2016.
“We have lots of time to plan a good effective campaign to help the PC party and the NDP unelect the Liberal party. That is our new campaign.”