BC: Why has the government decided there should be an expert commission to study pension issues now?

GS: In 1986, when the current act was passed, it was a good vehicle for managing the process, but that’s 20 years ago. A number of issues have arisen since. We felt it was timely now to undertake a comprehensive review under Professor Harry Arthurs and create a legislative framework that would give certainty to a strong 21st century pension system in Ontario.

BC: What are the issues that have arisen in the last 20 years?

GS: I think the list is pretty long. There are issues of the allocation of surpluses, safeguarding the security of pensions and issues that have arisen between the rights and obligations of employers and plan members and pensioners.

BC: Why is the government setting up a commission instead of amending the act?

GS: We’ve established this review to seek input about ways to ensure that Ontarians can rely on their pensions, and keep the province’s pension system sustainable.

BC: Does the government think there is a pension crisis in Ontario?

GS: No. We don’t think so at all. What we think is that it is timely now after 20 years to have a review of the plan, so that over the next 20 years we can have a system that has the confidence of employers, workers and pensioners.

BC: Haven’t these issues been studied enough?

GS: The economic and demographic factors which affect pension plans are similar across Canada, but I think we need a made-in-Ontario system. More plans are registered here than in any other jurisdictions, so Ontario’s rules affect more plans and more plan members.

BC: What have you learned from otherstudies across the country?

GS: Certainly the commission itself will investigate thoroughly the trends in other parts of Canada.

BC: Such as?

GS: There are elements of joint jurisdiction and that’s one of the issues the commission will want to look at.

BC: Is the increase in defined benefit(DB)conversions a problem for Ontario?

GS: Since over 80% of pension plan members in Ontario are members of a DB pension plan, we have first and foremost decided to focus on that area. It is the largest area of general concern in the province, so that’s where we have decided to put out efforts at this time.

BC: Shouldn’t the commission address dwindling pension coverage in Canada?

GS: We think the mandate of the commission is relatively broad without being an open-book mandate. If other issues arise we’re not looking to restrict, restrain or cut off that kind of study.

BC: How can this government avoid a failure like 2002’s withdrawl of the pension surplus reforms from Bill 198?

GS: One of our responsibilities is to learn from the mistakes of previous governments. We felt like those provisions were brought in without sufficient analysis of the broader environment of strong pension reform and that’s part of why we have formed the commission.

BC: What is the best possible outcome you hope to get from the commission?

GS: We don’t want to prejudice the work the commission is going to do, so we’ll await their recommendations. We hope the commission will be able to inspire a strong and healthy debate around a stronger regulatory system. We’ll meet the challenges—whatever they are—when the pension commission reports to us in 2008 and we will proceed with changes to the act.

BC: If the commission calls for an overhaul of the system will that happen?

GS: I think we just need to wait for the commission to do its work and we’ll respond then.

Leigh Doyle is assistant editor of BENEFITS CANADA. leigh.doyle@rci.rogers.com

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