Canada: Plan Administrators, Are You Prepared for Ontario's New Regime For Pension Advisory Committees?

Many pension plan administrators will soon have new obligations regarding pension advisory committees (PAC). Ontario's new PAC regime was proposed in fall 2015 and will come into force on January 1, 2017. In particular, O. Reg 351/16 amends the General Regulation under the Pension Benefits Act (Ontario) and comes into force on January 1, 2017.

This bulletin highlights what plan administrators need to know to prepare.

WHAT TYPES OF PENSION PLANS DO THE PAC RULES APPLY TO?

The PAC rules apply to all pension plans (defined benefit and defined contribution) registered in Ontario except for:

  • Jointly sponsored pension plans
  • Multi-employer pension plans established pursuant to a collective agreement
  • Pension plans administered by a pension committee or other governing body with a least one representative selected by members or a trade union acting on their behalf
  • Pension plans with fewer than 50 members and retired members (combined)

WHEN ARE THE PAC RULES TRIGGERED?

The PAC rules are triggered as soon as a notice of intent to establish a PAC is provided to the plan administrator by one or more unions representing at least 10 members or at least 10 individuals who are current or retired members of the plan (Initial Notice).

ELECTION PROCESS

Once the plan administrator receives the Initial Notice, the plan administrator is required to help facilitate an election for the membership to vote on whether or not to establish a PAC. In doing so, the plan administrator must:

  • Within 30 days of receiving the Initial Notice, contact the individuals or union who provided the Initial Notice to discuss the election process
  • Within 90 days of receiving the Initial Notice, notify all members and retired members that a vote will be conducted on whether or not to establish a PAC, distribute the ballots and provide details on how to vote, and distribute any information prepared by the parties who submitted the Initial Notice that describes the purposes of the advisory committee (this may be distributed in a single notification package)
  • Notify all members, former members, and retired members as well as any union that provided the Initial Notice of the outcome of the vote

A vote on whether to establish a PAC must be conducted by way of secret ballot using one or more of the following methods: in person at a meeting of members and retired members; electronically, by mail; or by casting ballots at a specific location.

If a vote to establish a PAC is unsuccessful, the plan administrator is given a three-year reprieve from facilitating another vote and is required to notify all members, retired members and the union or unions who provided the Initial Notice of this fact.

COMPOSITION OF THE PAC

If a vote to establish a PAC is successful, a PAC will be established and be comprised of at least four representatives and not more than 15 representatives. The plan administrator is required to give the individuals or unions who provided the Initial Notice information about the membership of the plan in order to facilitate appointments to the PAC.

PAC representatives must include:

  • One representative from each class of employees represented in the pension plan (or two representatives if there is only one class of employees participating in the pension plan)
  • Two representatives appointed by retired members

Former members may be appointed to the PAC but there is no requirement for them to participate.

PACs established before January 1, 2017 will have until June 30, 2017 to ensure that their current composition meets the new requirements.

ONGOING RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE PENSION PLAN ADMINISTRATOR

Once a PAC is established and the representatives have been appointed, the plan administrator is required to:

  • Contact the PAC for purposes of holding an initial meeting
  • Discuss the administration of the pension plan and matters of interest to beneficiaries at a meeting to be held at least twice per year, or once per year if the PAC determines that more meetings are not required in that particular year
  • Arrange for the plan actuary to meet with the PAC at least once per year (for defined benefit plans)
  • Ensure the PAC has access to an individual who can report on the pension fund's investments at least once a year
  • Provide access to the records of the administrator related to the administration of the pension fund and pension plan (other than personal information of specific persons) and permit the PAC to make copies
  • Provide reasonable administrative assistance to the PAC to prepare and distribute an annual report about its activities to members, former members, retired members and other plan beneficiaries

COSTS ASSOCIATED WITH THE PAC

Reasonable costs associated with the establishment of the PAC, including conducting the vote, and the operation of the PAC are payable out of the pension fund.

The right to have reasonable costs associated with the PAC payable out of the pension fund is fairly straightforward for a defined benefit plan, but for a defined contribution plan the existing plan documents (e.g., statement of investment policies and procedures) and service contracts should be reviewed to determine if any changes are required.

DISSOLUTION OF A PAC

One of the gaps in the PAC regime is that there is no mechanism for the clear dissolution of a PAC. The dissolution of a PAC may be appropriate or necessary in situations where the PAC no longer deems itself to be necessary, a sufficient majority of plan members wish to dissolve the PAC or if meetings have not been requested or attended by PAC members for a certain period of time. This issue had been identified during the consultation process and we hope that the Financial Services Commission of Ontario will provide guidance on this point.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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