Ontario government must protect pensions says coalition

"The financial crisis is not the fault of retirees, and they shouldn't have to shoulder a disproportionate amount of the burden because the province's pension guarantee fund is underfunded"

Toronto (20 April 2009) – A coalition of unions, seniors and retirees fighting to protect defined pension plans during the recession are planning a big rally at Queen's Park this Thursday.

The coalition was formed after Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty said earlier this month that the province's pension guarantee fund isn't even close to large enough to cover workers if a large company like General Motors were to go out of business.


Since 1980, the pension fund has provided the province's pensioners with up to $1,000 per month in the event a pension plan fails to provide its full benefit, or any at all. Experts warned in February that the unique safety net was teetering on the edge of being wiped out and could fold if a large corporation were to go under. The program is funded by corporate payments, and the Ontario government is in no way required to save it.

In a report late last year, pension expert Harry Arthurs recommended that the province enhance its pension guarantee fund and appoint a full-time pension advocate, among other things.

"The provincial government called for the commission, the provincial government talked about the role of government in advancing the causes of seniors, and the recommendations in the Arthurs Report shouldn't be sitting collecting dust somewhere," said Ken Lewenza, president of the Canadian Auto Workers union.

The Ontario government saids the pensions guarantee fund currently has about $100 million in it and comes nowhere near meeting any liabilities.  But Rob Rainer, executive director of Ottawa-based Canada Without Poverty, said McGuinty is making a "false claim," adding governments always find money to prop up plans they support.

Morris Jesion, executive director of the Ontario Society of Senior Citizens' Organizations, emphasized that the financial crisis is not the fault of retirees, and they shouldn't have to shoulder a disproportionate amount of the burden because the province's pension guarantee fund is underfunded.

"The government cannot now abandon their promise during an economic crisis when retirees need it most," Jesion said.

"We are not asking for charity, this is money we invested," added the organization's vice-chair, Amy Nelson.
 

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