|Book Review by Phil Koning
Blog Posting by Author Thomas Blampied – Where can I buy it?
|After more than two years of work,Call of the Northland goes on sale today. What started as an idea for a photo essay aboard the Northlander in April 2012 became a project to chart the history of the Ontario Northland and investigate the Ontario government’s failed attempt to divest the corporation.Throughout this endeavour, I met many interesting people and corresponded with even more. I am deeply moved by how many people believed in this project and offered all sorts of support to make it a reality. People I had never met sent me their research, unpublished manuscripts, old notes and other material to help make Call of the Northland the best it could be. I have tried my best to include as much of this material as possible. Thank you to everyone who helped make this book a reality.However, this is about more than a book. It is about a government decision which left thousands of people wondering how they would travel, how they would connect with the rest of the world. After the dust settled from the divestment mess, a passenger train was gone forever, jobs and investment had been lost, and a telecoms company was still for sale. Was divestment the answer? Perhaps, but not in the way the government planned it. No money was saved. Jobs were lost. Government: you goofed. Big time.More information and details for ordering Call of the Northland can be found at www.northland-book.net
I hope people enjoy the book and find it a useful source on Ontario Northland and the divestment issue. As always, please send me your questions, comments and corrections. Contact details can be found at www.northland-book.net
Our request to FSCO to enforce the Pension Benefit Act (PBA) and ensure the Advisory Committee had pensioner representation has been rejected. FSCO stated that the Pension Board is not an Advisory Board as described by Section 24 of the PBA, and they do not have the power under the PBA to require ONTC to create an Pension Advisory Committee (PAC). They did advise that amending legislation that would require such a committee is pending, but the necessary regulations have not been brought into force. Accordingly, we have asked MPP Vic Fedeli to advocate for the government to end the four year delay in formulating those regulations.
Since our representation depends on us knowing the facts about our pension fund and the sustainability of our pension plan, we have submitted a number of questions to ONTC through HR Director, Glenn Zabarelo. This channel of communication is one of the few that has seen any success, and we are hopeful we will receive a response in good time. From those responses we will put together a presentation to advance our member’s concerns in front of the Pension Board at a future meeting, in accordance with an outstanding offer from ONTC.
We will update further as more information becomes available.
ONPA Board of Directors
We have heard the criticism that the ONPA is overacting and ONTC pensioners have nothing to worry about. That is certainly a possibility and we hope it is the case. However there is also the possibility that we are correct and one has to weigh the probabilities in the political environment of today, in conjunction with the importance of our pension to us.
On the one hand, we suspect the pension fund is back in a surplus position, since ONTC did not contribute the full amount required under the solvency relief program. Unfortunately, at this point there is no one we can talk to about the financial position of the fund, but we are hopeful our recent request to FSCO will end up with positive results. A surplus position would alleviate a lot of our concerns, and if the proposed contribution hike for active employees goes through, it will go a long way to ensuring the sustainability of the fund.
On the other hand, it is the attitude of MNDM towards ONTC that concerns us most of all. We have tried co-operating with Ministry personnel, but insisted that the lines of communication between the Commission and the ONPA must be improved before we could continue. Those lines have not been opened and we remain in the dark about future plans or options for making ONTC, and therefore its pension fund, sustainable.
The arrogance of the Liberal government and/or MNDM is astounding and does not bode well for ONTC in our mind. We have been assured, repeatedly, that pensioners rights are protected by the Pension Benefit Act (PBA). This might give comfort to some pensioners, but for those of us who realize the same people who are making these assurances are the same people who have the responsibility to amend the PBA, and our pension plan, it is less than ironclad.
Our protection in the PBA is contained in one section of the Act, Section 14
14. (1) An amendment to a pension plan is void if the amendment purports to reduce,
(a) the amount or the commuted value of a pension benefit accrued under the pension plan with respect to employment before the effective date of the amendment;
(b) the amount or the commuted value of a pension or a deferred pension accrued under the pension plan; or
(c) the amount or the commuted value of an ancillary benefit for which a member, former member or retired member has met all eligibility requirements under the pension plan necessary to exercise the right to receive payment of the benefit. R.S.O. 1990, c. P.8, s. 14 (1); 2010, c. 9, s. 8 (1).
It would not take a huge effort to change that protection and when one looks around the country to see what others are doing, it becomes apparent other governments are looking to reduce that protection. The Quebec government is attempting to cut back municipal workers pensions. With the amount of financial pressure the Ontario government is under, you can be sure, they will be looking at the process to see if they could go that far to resolve their own financial woes.
The general public appears ambivalent toward public sector pensions, since a great number of them have already lost any financial security for their retirement. The responsibility then falls to us to remind governments that if they renege on our pension obligations, they will destroy their credibility for any business agreement. That credibility has already been damaged and many corporations are avoiding the province to set up operations in other jurisdictions.
We need to convince the government that the very qualities espoused by their leader, Ms Wynne, openness and transparency, are the key to turning this province around. We also need you to join our Association and add your voice to our call for action.
We hope our advocacy is not needed, but before you disregard us, you should consider the outcome if it is.