Saint John pension board may not exist, lawyer says

A University of New Brunswick law professor is questioning whether the Saint John Pension Board actually exists after a council meeting last week.

Saint John's employee pension board has continued to meet monthly since June 13 when the provincial legislature repealed the city's Pension Act.

Its most recent meeting was just two weeks ago but the board may be operating without any powers.

Coun. Bill Farren attempted to dissolve the pension board and appoint a new one during a council meeting last Monday.

However, John Nugent, the city solicitor, advised council the city doesn't have the authority to scrap the pension board.

Farren’s proposal was eventually voted down by the council.

However, Robert Danay an assistant professor at UNB’s law school, said it is clear the legislature intended to hand powers, such as dissolving the board, over to the city when it repealed the provincial act.

"The board is a creature of statue. It was created by the act that has now been repealed,” said the administrative law expert.

Danay said the legislation specified the pension plan itself continues to exist, nothing however is said about the board that manages it.

"So we have a plan but it’s not entirely clear that we have a board who has continued powers to exercise over that plan,” he said.

Danay said the city should pass a bylaw giving the board powers to continue.

Once the provincial act was repealed, Saint John has been free to make changes to the board as it wishes.

The city is currently working with a pension task force from the provincial government. It could lead to pension changes similar to ones being promoted by the Alward government.

The task force is expected to report back this fall.

Saint John’s pension board came under intense scrutiny earlier this year during a defamation lawsuit against former city councillor John Ferguson.

The Saint John Pension Board sued Ferguson for multiple statements he made at five city council meetings and in a newspaper opinion piece over an 18-month period beginning in April of 2005, claiming serious and malicious damage to its reputation.

At the time, the city's $400-million pension fund was running a deficit of about $45 million.

The city’s pension deficit is now estimated at $193 million.

The seven-person jury eventually found Ferguson not liable in the defamation trial.

The jury concluded Ferguson was well within his rights to criticize the pension board while he was a councillor.

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