From the Desk of Don Slinger Issue 48

Fall 2003 CSANews Issue 48  |  Posted date : Apr 25, 2007.Back to list

Hi folks!

If you have been keeping up to date with the news over the past year - I don't mean about wars and the strife inflicted because of aggression and dictatorship - then you know that ordinary folks who live side by side with you have recently been advised that their company pension cheques have been cut by 50 per cent. These are retired folks and their spouses in their 60s, 70s and beyond.

This is a story of my personal experience and some 2,000 other retirees who, in February of this year, received a letter from the chairman of the Trustee Board advising that members of the Participating Co-Operatives of Ontario Trustees Pension Plan will have their cheques cut in half and the board will proceed to close this plan out.

After serving in the armed forces overseas, I graduated with a bachelor of scientific agriculture from OAC and went to work for United Co-Operatives of Ontario for 32 years.

Back in 1959, our company introduced a pension plan for us in which employees contributed five per cent of our income and the company matched that amount.

This was a single-employer plan and we were advised that our pension would be guaranteed for life because it was covered under The Ontario Pension Benefits Guarantee Fund.

The government body that oversees pension plans in Ontario is The Financial Services Commission of Ontario (FSCO). Somewhere along the way, our plan was grouped with other plans and, all of a sudden, our single-employer plan protection disappeared. I blame FSCO for allowing this to happen and for not telling the pensioners that they no longer had protection. We could have withdrawn our pension money and invested it ourselves.

During the late 80s and early 90s, the pension fund was very healthy and the sponsors took a contribution holiday - you recall that the employee paid five per cent and the sponsor or employer matched that amount. Well, for several years the sponsors didn't pay into the fund but the working employees continued to contribute without being aware of the employers' actions. Again, I blame FSCO for allowing this to happen without advising the employees. Our calculation adds up to about 25 million dollars that the employers owe the plan.

Can you imagine the shock that all of our retirees suffered when told that their pension income was to be cut in half? A group of us met in Milton in February to discuss what might be done to salvage our pension incomes for which we had worked, and that we had invested over many years. Some 140 pensioners attended this meeting and after much discussion, a committee was struck to try to correct a serious wrong for which our pensioners were being made to pay, and a collapse in which they had no hand in causing.

I was appointed chairman of this ad hoc committee and we have been busy ever since. At the time of writing, we have no firm commitment from the Ontario minister of finance even though we have provided many illustrations to show government's lack of control and the sponsors' freedom to close out our pension plan and start another one, while ignoring the debt that they and the trustees have created. The trustees have steadfastly refused to meet with our committee because they don't want to find a solution.

Yes, there are a great many pension plans in trouble today, but not one can point to the reasons for the downfall as clearly as we can. The government, sponsors and trustees should be held accountable for their actions or inactions.

I hope that I can report a favourable outcome to this debacle in the next CSA issue, but I'm not holding my breath.

Life isn't dull in the Slinger household - I golf two or three times a week, lawn bowl in Simcoe two nights a week and play bridge on one night, while Beth continues to play euchre and bingo on other nights.

I'll leave you with this thought. I learned a long time ago that the opposite to success is not failure, it's giving up.

God Bless!