By Robert Frank
Mayor Marc Demers went on record last month in support of a draft Quebec law that will reform municipal employees’ pension plans—but not without reservations.
He told a legislative committee hearing, Aug. 26, that parlous finances have backed the province’s third largest city into a corner on the issue.
“As elected officials, our ultimate allegiance is to our citizens,” Mayor Demers stated, acknowledging that he faced “a moral dilemma that pits our obligation to respect labour agreements against relieving our citizens from a crushing financial burden.”
He revealed the amount that Laval taxpayers will have to shell out to cover the shortfall in its municipal workers’ pension fund—a figure which has nearly doubled during the past five years.
“Even if we get a high return on [the money that is invested in the pension plan], it will only cover 78.8 percent of the city’s pension obligations,” Mayor Demers disclosed. “Moreover, the burden shouldered by our citizens has shot up from 4.6 per cent to 8.6 per cent in five years. Our only alternative is to act!”
Nonetheless, he said that he preferred that labour and government negotiate their way out of the pension mess.
“True labour negotiation entails a degree of flexibility,” he observed. “Factors such as insurance plans, work schedules, retirement and even salaries are items that could be put on the negotiating table, but are currently excluded from the draft legislation.”
Demers’ political opponents at city hall accused the mayor of equivocation.
“You can’t support Bill 3 and then say that you don’t want to apply it,” Jean-Claude Gobé, who ran against Demers in last year’s municipal election, said in a statement.
Gobé also took issue with the city’s pension underfunding.
“There is an urgent need to act,” he said. “The pension plan needs to be funded to at least 85 per cent, and the city and its employees must contribute equally to filling that gap. It shouldn’t just be up to taxpayers to foot the bill.”
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