What does Bill C-27 mean for the NWT?

Stalled pension reform bill absolves employers of responsibilities, says PSAC North vice president

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Bill C-27, an act to amend the Pension Benefits Standards Act, faced significant public backlash when the federal Liberals tabled it in October 2016.

Groups like the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and the National Association of Federal Retirees have advocated against the bill, which has stalled at second reading for the last three years.

In a nutshell, the bill would allow Crown corporations and federally regulated employers like banks and airlines to establish target benefit pension plans in place of defined benefit pension plans.

The key difference is that in a defined benefit plan, pension promises an employer makes to a worker become legally-binding, whereas a target benefit plan sets a ‘target’ it hopes to hit with pre-determined contributions.

NNSL file photo. Jack Bourassa says this change in pension plans would be particularly detrimental for people in the Northwest Territories.

Jack Bourassa, regional executive vice president for the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) North said that distinction is significant, especially in the event of an economic downturn.

“Their wanting to do this is a means by which for them to ensure that there was no responsibility in the part of the employer to cover off those years when maybe investments didn’t turn the profit they were hoping for,” said Bourassa.

The amendment would absolve the employers of that risk, placing it on employees and retirees, he said.

“If you’re (told you’re) going to get $100 a month when you retire, you’d like to know that you’re still getting that hundred dollars a month,” he said.

“What is predictable is the amount you’re going to pay for your rent and your groceries and insurance and all the other fixed costs that we deal with on a monthly basis.”

A defined pension plan that guarantees a certain amount of money every month gives people stability so they can plan comfortably plan for retirement, he said.

“You know that after three months you’ve probably got enough gas if you wanted to do a trip from here to Edmonton and back, you’re good to go.”

This change in pension plans would be particularly detrimental for people in the Northwest Territories, he said.

“Well it wouldn’t be good at all anywhere, but particularly in the North,” said Bourassa. “We’re already having our struggles here in the NWT with costs of living.”

When similar pension reforms were proposed by the last Conservative government, Liberal leaders vocally opposed them and even included the promise of a “strong and stable pension program” in their 2015 election platform.

The fact they changed their position after being elected is not shocking to Bourassa.

“It’s not something that’s terribly surprising because it’s something that has been a tennis match since the beginning of Confederation in this country,” he said.

“Whoever gets elected, they do so because the other party pissed off the general population. It’s unfortunate we’ve been playing that kind of game because we the working people are a bunch of mice and here in mouse land, we’ve been voting in cats.”

But it looks like Bill C-27 isn’t something Northerners or other Canadians should have to worry about for some time, he said.

With the SNC-Lavalin scandal growing by the day, it’s unlikely the Liberals will risk introducing such a contentious item right before the federal election in October.

“They’ll probably try to move as quietly as they can into their summer break and try and let everything simmer down, they don’t want to create any new issues,” said Bourassa.

Once they return from the summer break, they’ll drop the writ and the bill won’t see the light of day during this term, he said.

“That doesn’t mean they won’t reintroduce it a later date, because they still see it as a means by which to alleviate their responsibilities.”