My complaint here this evening goes back to Bill 236, which was the compendium legislation to this Bill 120. That was called the Pension Benefits Amendment Act, and it received royal assent on May 18 of this year. I'm still waiting for the regulations to be passed.
I want to go through a chronology of what I've been doing and what thousands of paramedics, firefighters, municipal employees and MPAC employees have been trying to urge the government-we were happy that it received royal assent, Bill 236. My party voted for it, and we were happy to see the Pension Benefits Amendment Act, but we're waiting too long for the regulations.
I can remember, before the act passed, when it was before Parliament, having a briefing with Ministry of Finance officials. We brought some paramedic representatives, Dave Coursey and some people from my area of the province. We were told that the regulations were almost written and that they would be available soon after the bill received royal assent, which it did in May.
Just to recap what I've been doing on behalf of paramedics and how Bill 236, the first part of this pension legislation, was to help them and hopefully will help them: Just over a year ago, a fellow named Dave Coursey came to see me in my Collingwood office. He's a constituent of mine. He lives in Anten Mills. He's a paramedic with the county of Simcoe. He came to see me about a problem he and a number of his colleagues had with their pensions.
When paramedic services were divested from the province to the county in the 1990s, Dave went from working at Royal Victoria Hospital, where he was enrolled in what, at that time, was called the hospitals of Ontario pension plan, or HOOPP, to working for the county of Simcoe, where he was then enrolled in the Ontario municipal employees retirement system, OMERS.
Nothing really changed. He had the same job the day after he was transferred, in the same area, only Dave's paycheque and hundreds of paramedics' cheques were coming from the county or other counties instead of RVH, the Royal Victoria Hospital, or their local hospitals, where they might have worked and their ambulance might have been based in the past and where they were an employee in the past.
The problem with their pensions was, Dave and many others who were transferred from one ambulance service to another were never told what was happening with their pensions. They assumed that all of their years of service from HOOPP, which is now called the Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan, and others who were in the OPSEU pension trust, would be transferred to OMERS. In fact, they were assured that, many times along the way.
That didn't happen. While OMERS recognized his years of service, they were not able to transfer his pension assets over from HOOPP. That meant that he was destined to receive a significantly reduced pension through no fault of his own, and it's well over $30,000 a year-no fault of the paramedics at all. We changed their employer. Their job stayed the same. I was a member of cabinet at the time, and I remember that it was never raised that this was a problem until they started to retire, I say to the member from Quinte-Northumberland West, in the last couple of years and realized they were going to get two pension cheques from two different streams, but combined, they wouldn't get more. They were entitled to more if they were allowed to roll it into one pension plan.
The pension plans want to do this. The government wants to do it. Mr. Duncan has given his assurance. The member from Peterborough has spoken about it positively in this House. We just need all members to urge the Minister of Finance and the Premier and the bureaucrats at Finance to get the regulations out and to get them right so that we're not stalled again.
I'll just go on to say that a little-known section of the Pension Benefits Act prevented the transfer of pension assets when they changed employers. Again, even though HOOPP and OMERS both said they would be happy to do it, they couldn't. So I made a commitment to Dave back then that I would do my best to try to get the government to change the act. We met with representatives of OMERS, who said that they'd be supportive and that they agreed the change needed to happen, because apparently they get thousands of inquiries a year from people who are now realizing that they need their pensions rolled into one plan to receive all the benefits which they had earned over their many years of public service in the province of Ontario. OMERS told us at the time that they had recommended the change to government in some of their published reports, and they provided me with copies of the reports. This issue has gone on for quite a long time under the guise of this government, I must say, since it came to light.
In May 2009 I introduced a private member's bill to change the law and I tabled a resolution asking the government to fix it. When the resolution was debated in June of that year, the Liberals voted against it, as they normally do, and then brought in their own pension law to fix the problem later. It was called, as I said, Bill 236, the Pension Benefits Amendment Act. It seized upon my recommendation and that of the Expert Commission on Pensions, which said that the government should move to allow asset transfers for people affected by past divestment.
I voted in favour, as did my party, of Bill 236, and did what I could to see that it was passed quickly in the House, and it was. But now we have a problem: The government is dragging its feet when it comes to introducing the regulations to the bill to allow people like Dave Coursey to move forward and transfer their pension assets.
Everyone was excited when Bill 236 was passed. They were hopeful that relief would now come to put this stressful situation behind them. Unfortunately, they aren't feeling all that good anymore. The Liberals have not proclaimed or introduced the regulations necessary for them to move forward.
Here's a sample of what they've been hearing. When Dave contacted his pension provider, here's what they said. This is just one of many emails that were exchanged dating back to June of this year:
"Hello Mr. Coursey,
"I am writing further to your email to Dev Tandon on September 5, 2010, and our subsequent telephone conversation.
"As we disused, OMERS is aware of your situation and shares in your frustration with respect to the pace at which Bill 236 is progressing.
"As you know, although the bill is now legislation, its divestment provisions cannot be applied until they are proclaimed and regulations filed. It will not be until this process is complete that OMERS will be in a position to interpret the legislation and any resulting regulations and determine what, if any, effect it will have on divested members who wish to consolidate their benefits under one pension plan.
"We are monitoring the situation and will act quickly when there is something" to act upon.
"In response to your inquiry about potentially reaching 35 years of combined service in November 2010, I can confirm that your contributions and accrual of credited service will cease upon attainment of 35 years credited service in OMERS. However, we do not include any service that has yet to be transferred in this calculation. Therefore, if no transfer has occurred by November your contributions and accrual will continue as normal. Should your benefit become transferable from HOOPP to OMERS after November, and your combined service exceeds 35 years service, we will do all we can to accommodate the transfer while not exceeding the maximum service allowable in OMERS.
"I trust this addresses your concerns for now. I assure you that this matter is foremost on our agenda and we will announce any progress publicly as we learn of it. Please feel free to contact me if you have further questions.
"Senior pension policy analyst, pension services
"OMERS Administration Corporation."
Back in June of this year, Dave got similar answers and so did all of his colleagues working at the county of Simcoe. Here's another email that he received from HOOPP:
"Dear Mr. Coursey,
"Thank you for your email dated September 5, 2010 to the healthcare of Ontario pension plan (HOOPP) regarding Bill 236.
"Recently the government of Ontario released Bill 236 amending the Ontario Pension Benefits Act. However, it is important to note that although Bill 236 received royal assent ... on May 18, 2010, the provisions contained therein do not come into force until such time as the bill is proclaimed and the associated regulations have been finalized and published. HOOPP is closely monitoring the development of the new legislation, the effective date of the changes and will announce any changes as they occur. For this reason HOOPP cannot provide any commentary on the proposed changes and the effect they will have on HOOPP until such time as the required regulations have been released.
"If you have any questions" contact us.
"Client services analyst
"HOOPP-healthcare of Ontario pension plan."
Again, this is obviously very frustrating. There's the two major pension plans saying that they, too, are waiting for the regulations. They're not negative in any way; they're just saying that they have to wait until they actually see the proclaimed regulations to see if they will do what the government promised they would do, and that was to help people like Dave Coursey and paramedics.
Since I went first, of course, and introduced in 2009 my private member's bill and resolution, I've received thousands of emails from not only paramedics-some firefighters, some police were caught up in this, and many MPAC employees were caught up in this, and they didn't know it. Again, it wasn't until they started to retire in the last couple of years that some went to their financial advisers, and many, like Dave Coursey-a very smart fellow-figured it out themselves.
I want to read for the record, because I promised I would, one of Dave Coursey's letters to the Premier:
"My name is Dave Coursey. I have been a paramedic in Simcoe county for 36 years, the last 10 as a platoon supervisor. In 2001 when we were downloaded to the upper tiered municipality (Simcoe) I had 25 years of pensionable service with the Royal Victoria Hospital service. These years were divested. I was transferred over to OMERS as a group not as an independent from HOOPP. According to the Ontario pension act, section 80, divested pensions are not able to be transferred into another pension.
"For the last 10 years I have been advocating to have this changed. I met with Mr. Jim Wilson, MPP for Simcoe Grey. With his assistance we introduced Bill 236 in the Legislature. As I am sure you are aware the bill was passed May 5, 2010, and is now awaiting proclamation.
"The bill will change the Ontario pension act, allowing me and some 20,000 others to combine our pensions into one, thus allowing us to retire comfortably. The issue here is a large number of us are closing in, or have surpassed what would be considered the maximum contribution date. Due to this bill being held up, none of us can plan for our retirement. Most of the 20,000 are either past 30 years of combined contributory service or close to it. Until the bill, as I understand it, completes proclamation, the various pension plans are unable to act.
"Could you explain to me approximately how much longer this will take to be put into effect? I've been in contact with both OMERS, OPTRUST and HOOPP They are just as anxious to have this implemented so they may proceed with the necessary transactions.
"I am sure you can appreciate how frustrating it is to contribute to a plan for over 36 years and not know when you can officially retire.
"I appreciate your attention to this matter and anxiously await your reply....
"D Platoon North Supervisor
"Simcoe County Paramedic Services."
Again, the issue is fairly simple. I don't have much confidence that the bill that this time allocation motion applies to will get any faster attention. It's a more complicated bill than the first bill that I'm talking about, Bill 236 that the government put through. If it's taking them this long, especially when we were assured that the regulations were ready when the bill was going through the House prior to May and then it had royal assent, and it became law in May-we were assured that the regulations were pretty much done. Clearly, we had a good meeting with the Ministry of Finance, the senior bureaucrats and people who were drafting the bill while the bill was before the House. They understood very clearly what the 20,000 paramedics and others needed from the government, and I don't understand why it's held up.
I have probably one of the worst responses that I have ever received. It doesn't say anything. I got a response-after I wrote the Premier on October 14, I got a backdated letter from Mr. Duncan, the finance minister, of October 8, saying, "Sorry I've taken so long to respond to you." He goes on to say-he gives me a bunch of gobbledygook and says that business regulations come out January and July of each year, so I guess that means we have to wait until January.
I don't know if this is a business regulation; it doesn't seem like a business regulation to me. It doesn't cost the government any money to combine these pension plans. The money has already been paid into the separate pension plans. The pension plans are willing to combine them together to give these paramedics and others-David Coursey and people who have given public service for, as he says, 36 years in his case-what they paid for, and again, there's no new money coming from the government.
When we debated the first bill, Bill 236, the government admitted that money will simply be transferred between the plans and consolidated so that, again, they will be able to retire comfortably and not be ripped off, because currently, through no fault of their own, we ripped them off. We didn't mean to, and we apologize for it; we're trying to do everything we can. I know there are a lot of Liberals across the way nodding in the affirmative. They all agree. So when we're done with this debate today, which is in about 15 minutes, please, if you see Mr. Duncan in the next 24 hours, ask him to get the regulations to Bill 236 out and to make sure they're done right, as he has had a lot of time, and let's move forward. Then we can properly look at Bill 120 and perhaps have some confidence that it will do what it says it's going to do, because it deals with defined benefit contributions and a lot of really important matters quite more complicated than Bill 236.
Again, I don't have much confidence in Bill 120, given that Bill 236 isn't even wrapped up and it was supposed to be done before Bill 120 was even introduced.
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