On August 12, 1994 the global financial industry and policy holders were shocked by the announcement that Confederation Life, a 150+ year old insurance company with a previous AAA rating was to be liquidated. Bell employees and pensioners were stunned to realize that their Supplementary Pension Plan was not guaranteed and their retirement nest eggs could get scrambled.
Frantic callers to Bell Canada Benefits Administration were told that Bell accepted no responsibility, that they should contact the court- appointed Liquidator (Peat Marwick Thorne, PMTI) now KPMG. Calls to the Liquidator, (CompCorp) renamed ASSURIS) and the Superintendent of Financial Institutions were referred to Bell. This added to frustration, fear and in some cases, panic when we realized our life-time savings were indefinitely frozen.
As individuals, many of us wrote to Bell explaining our predicament. Bell’s responses were consistently clear, “Bell accepts no responsibility” despite the fact that Bell chose the plan, the administrator, the terms and conditions. We argued that Bell had every opportunity before liquidation to advise plan members of the risks and options to withdraw or transfer funds. Bell suggested that plan members could have acted on their own as Confed’s ailments were common knowledge (Trac Services, an insurance industry rating agency warned 2 years before liquidation that Confederation was in serious financial difficulties.)
Who could Bell plan members turn to? There was no one! Almost immediately the issue dominated discussions within the employee and pensioner social groups. Symbolic is the story of retiree, Neil Burgees, London Ontario who learned via the retiree grapevine that the Bell Old-timers-Owen Sound invited a guest speaker, Ian Leith, Nesbitt Burns to their monthly luncheon. Leith had run a classified ad in the Toronto Star that was sympathetic to Confed policy holders suggesting he might have a solution. Neil formed a London-Windsor car pool to hear firsthand what Leith had to offer. Attendees in Owen Sound were dumbfounded in the realization that their nest eggs were in serious jeopardy!
On November 23rd, 1994, a headline appeared on Globe and Mail’s Business Section, “Bell workers to sue over group contributions”. The story featured two London Bell retirees, Neil Burgess and Harvey Hall rallying pensioners to stand up and fight. I and many others phoned Neil saying, “Count me in”. The clipping spread like wildfire. Organizational green shoots sprung up in Montreal, Quebec, Ottawa, London and Winsor. In December, after collaborating with some of them I notified Bell Human Resources Administration that the Bell Pension Recovery Group (BPRG) now BPG, wanted to meet to discuss mutual interests and ideas that might be considered to address the crisis. We had a financial institution ready to take over the Bell plan. They immediately turned us down. Bell would deal directly with plan members and did not require our representation...while still insisting that Bell had no legal obligation to guarantee plan members against any default by Confederation Life in Liquidation.
At this time we had no official organization structure. There were no funds, no constitution, no mandate, no liability insurance and no official plan. My oldest daughter, a lawyer who specialized in insurance cases at the time, drew up a statement of claim and advised us (no fee) with precautions to avoid being the target of litigation from Bell or our retiree associates. Realizing personal vulnerability we cautioned all our compatriots suggesting that given the stress factors, they may wish to personally back off. None resigned! These brave volunteers accepted unknown personal risks, gave generously of their time and paid expenses out their own pockets. Many had no personal stake in the recovery, having no exposure above the CompCorp Guaranteed limits. It was a classic all-for-one, one-for-all, grassroots reaction.
Bell would not meet or talk to us, not even answer phone calls and faxes. This was a major hurdle as legal action was out of the question, no mandate, no funds. Most of us considered legal action would be costly and drag out for years. It was a very last resort. Finally, in desperation, late afternoon Christmas Eve, 1994, I cold-called Robert Sanderson, Peat Marwick Thorne (PMTI later to become KPMG). Sanderson was appointed by the Supt of Financial Institutions as President of Confederation Life in Liquidation. He immediately appreciated the urgency of our situation and said yes, he would meet with us. He offered advice on a number of issues. Most importantly, Bob encouraged our efforts to pressure Bell to assist recovery. Hearing that Bell refused to meet with us, President Sanderson confided that Bell coincidently had also requested a meeting with him. He offered a combined meeting (subsequently scheduled for May 17). To prepare, Bob Wilson, Neil Burgess, Bill Tawse and I met with Robert Sanderson on Jan 4, 1996 to learn firsthand how Liquidation works and how BPRG might fit in. Edward Bossence, key man for the Liquidation process was assigned to us for ongoing consultation. He would later appear at subsequent BPRG chapter meetings to update and answer questions from members.
The Meeting with PMTI, Bell and BPRG convened May 17, 1995. No progress on Bell top-up but it established our credibility with the Liquidator, the Court, Bell and later with 52 politicians. It was a major milestone!
Note: In retrospect it would have been irresponsible in 1994 for Bell to negotiate with a no-name organization, with no official member mandate, no structure and no constitutional ratification of purpose. I would have done the same!
May 11, 1995: The organizational structure and mandate of BPRG was approved and confirmed at Chapter meetings held May 31 – June 8, 1995.
Purpose and Structure of BPRG:
The Organization represents the individual and collective interests of members during the liquidation of Confederation Life assets to ensure the maximum recovery of members' investments (objective l00% principal and interest). Membership was defined as those who support the purpose and principles of BPG. Many were never employed by Bell or affiliates.
Chapter Chairs Elected: (Also serve as Corp Directors)
Our relationship with the Liquidator strengthened, we were now in the inner loop on a continuous basis. Judge Lloyd Houlden started hearing from witnesses and stakeholders in preparation for his judgement. The process was complicated because of its size, the legal precedents and implications for so many Canadians. Subsequently, the Liquidator advised that there were sufficient assets to pay all claimants for invested principal without interest. Because the projected interest rates were at all-time highs, value was expected to compound to almost double value over a liquidation period of 5-8 years. BPG’s firm position was that that our members deserved full compounded value. The Court (Justice Lloyd Houlden) was to rule. As BPG was the only organized entity, President Sanderson established us as de facto representation of all Confederation policy holders. It was critical that we kept the demand for compounded interest confidential. The unsecured creditors were not expected to embrace a ruling of this kind. Only BPG executive and those who needed to know were informed. Justice Lloyd Houlden set a legal precedent when he approved compounding interest as a part of legal settlement. To our great astonishment, unsecured creditors failed to appear during these proceedings. This was a monumental victory for BPG and millions of other policy holders worldwide!
The projected recovery including compounding interest was initially estimated to be in the range of 70-80%. The top up from Bell would be critical, but as policy holders BPG members were no longer facing disaster. Our steadfast objective was to achieve full 100% recovery of principal plus interest and expenses. Public support was imperative. We cooled the rhetoric and set specific targets. A balanced plan was constructed using a three-legged strategic platform: political, media and legal.
Member fees would be matched to relative exposure. Those with no exposure above the level insured by CompCorp would be exempt from expenses associated with lawsuits. Those who risked net losses were assessed an additional surcharge on a sliding scale commensurate with individual exposure. A basic membership fee of $20 per year would cover general expenses. A refundable surcharge was reserved for potential legal action but only if required. All expenses were to be refunded as part of the Bell ultimate settlement. Hardship cases were exempted from fees. Legal initiatives beyond general consultative advice would be subject to a motion approved by a majority of members.
Our volunteer legal expert (my daughter) established a model for hiring the best legal firm to match our situation. The successful candidate must display a successful track record of winning against a large corporation like Bell. There would be no conflict of interest, never having acted for Bell or had any aspirations for representing Bell or any affiliates. On June 9, from the short list of 12 finalists BPG’s Legal Committee chose Koskie Minsky, Toronto.
BPG explored several options with Bell including a value-added proposition from McKenzie Financial to inject a cash infusion if Bell would pay an administration fee. We suggested employing a mediator to assist the negotiating process. All such attempts were rejected by Bell.
Our political action plan called for contacting all Federal MPs, as well as, provincial MPPs and MLAs, in Ontario and Quebec including Cabinet members, PM Chretien and Premier Mike Harris. Ottawa Chapter coordinated providing guidelines, schedules, coaching and follow up. All members were encouraged to participate, especially those who had political connections. Bob Wilson, Ottawa Chapter conjured a system that fired off an email to every MP in Ontario and Quebec alerting them to our dilemma asking for their assistance and support. Members enduring significant hardships would communicate with local constituencies detailing their individual predicaments.
The political project was a monumental success thanks especially to the coordination by Ottawa Chapter and overwhelming member participation. Hopefully the chapters will chronical additional experiences from a ground-view perspective. The first volley of political support was a blistering letter to Bell President McLennan from Mike Harris, Premier of Ontario, “The situation is troublesome” said Harris. “People who have made sacrifices over the years to be self-sustaining have become the victims of corporate bungling…What’s Bell going to do to make this right?”
Ovid Jackson, MP Owen Sound Grey was my MP. Initial contact was with Lyle Love, Jackson’s Constituency Manager . Lyle was very resourceful and stick-handled a very comprehensive action plan. Curly Wade and 7 local BPG members joined me. We made an indelible impression as each of us took a turn describing the personal impact on her/his family. Ovid interrupted the meeting by setting up a conference call with Hon Doug Peters, Secretary of State for Financial Institutions so we could share the emotional hardship firsthand with the federal Minister who ordered the liquidation. Doug Peters was sympathetic but offered no solutions.
Ovid suggested that we immediately prepare a petition to Parliament signed by our members and by anyone who supported the BPG manifesto. Lyle provided the format and asked that we fill the Parliamentary Gallery with supporters . Our members took over the House of Commons Gallery. Their enthusiasm tested the limits of quiet parliamentary decorum when our Petition was accepted by the House. A surprise followed when Ovid requested all our supporters to join together in the Parliamentary Press Gallery to witness my presentation that he had arranged in conjunction with the Petition. This was not on my agenda but the idea was compelling! Major media across Canada carried our story in detail. I had to stop the car multiple times on the way home to answer cellphone queries from reporters including the Canadian Press. Soon afterward, Jean Chretien holding a copy of the Montreal Gazette visited Ovid Jackson’s Ottawa Office praising his efforts as the kind of action that made Government proud!
Ovid and Lyle shared their achievement with Caucus members, thereby opening many constituency doors to our BPG ambassadors. Shortly afterwards, Ovid wrote Bell President, J McLennan. The result was a Feb 8, 1996 meeting in Jackson’s Ottawa Office, Ed Beaty and Jackie Boileaux for BPG. Harold Giles, VP Human Resources, and Brenda Brown, Director HR represented Bell Canada. As Ed Beaty, BPG V P recalls, Ovid read Mr. Giles the riot act about corporate responsibility. He informed Giles, “Our Liberal caucus wants to see a satisfactory solution for pensioners.”
Early February, 1996 Harold Giles proposed various cost sharing proposals to Ed Beaty and me. We declined as our mandate demanded a minimum 100% top up. Mr. Giles expressed concern about meeting with Ovid Jackson on Feb 8. Could we please call him off? Again we thanked Ovid Jackson for the impressive impact he made! February 14, Valentine’s Day 1996 while on a family skiing sabbatical at Lake Tahoe, CA, I received an urgent phone call from Harold Giles insisting we immediately begin serious negotiations toward a final settlement. He asked me to abort my pre-paid vacation. His explanation was that the Bell Board ordered him to, “Fix it”.
March 4, 1996 Al Smith, BPG Board Member received Letter’s Patent making BPG a legal corporation by order of Industry Canada. It took 14 months of constant follow up but BPG was finally a legal entity, ready to sign an agreement.
March 5-25, 1996: BPG VP Ed Beaty and I had numerous meetings and contacts with Harold Giles and Brenda Brown to consider various scenarios. At the final face-to-face meeting with numerous Bell officials attending progress stalled. Head legal counsel for Bell cautioned us about our not having legal counsel present. We assured them that our Counsel, Murray Gold, Koskie Minsky had been retained but we thought lawyers were a hindrance to good-faith negotiations during this stage. Murray Gold would meet Bell legal representatives after we came to a reasonable understanding. Bell huddled after which 5-6 legal-looking members of their team departed. Progress accelerated and conditions that met or exceeded our mandate were mutually agreed to with very little rebuttal. We reached tentative satisfaction toward meeting the BPG mandate. Monthly compounded interest would continue at the ongoing rate plus 0.25%. Bell would retroactively compensate BPG and its members for all legitimate expenses back to Liquidation date August 12, 1994.
March 27, 1996, we signed the BELL ENHANCEMENT AGREEMENT jointly with Bell and the Liquidator.Shortly afterwards Harold Giles phoned to express Bell’s satisfaction with the Agreement and the outstanding professionalism of BPG. His only regret was that Bell took so long. On a personal note he said if we ever needed anything I should contact him immediately, provided it did not cost him money! All parties were completely satisfied with the outcome.
There were no losers. In the final stage Bell and BPG were negotiating toward mutual goals. Most importantly there was a sense of trust as progress gathered momentum. In that spirit we joined forces afterwards to convince Revenue Canada to reverse its tax decision. Bell paid no tax on top-up costs.
Unanimously, the BPG Board decided that BPG would and should continue. The main reason was to be ready and able to take remedial action before a crisis occurs.
In his letter dated 1996/04/26 sent to all participants in the in the Bell Group, Harold Giles, Group Vice President, Human Resources summarized the implications of the Enhancement Agreement. Bell’s contributions would total $15,000,000 over five years - $3,000,000 each year to reduce participant’s losses.
The Confederation Life fiasco was unnecessary and could have been avoided through prudent timely interventions. According to ASSURIS the successor to CompCorp all outstanding obligations were recovered with exception of $5 million paid by ASSURIS. We understand that Bell got its top-up costs refunded. Nov 12, 2002, Approved unsecured creditors received a 5th interim distribution resulting in a cumulative dividend to date of 100 cents on the dollar.
BPG’s 3-legged strategy: Political, Media* and Legal proved to be paramount, but without the incredible teamwork the endeavour would have probably failed! It became the model for other group RRSPs.
Confederation could have survived with minimal discretionary assistance from ASSURIS along with guarantees from government, much less than was needed to bail out the auto industry during the 2008 recession. The greatest cost was that Canada lost more than an insurance company. Confederation Life was a world-scale institution. What price did we pay in lost jobs and related business? The disruptions to people’s lives, the anxiety of employees and policy holders is immeasurable and will never be completely recovered. The enormous court and liquidation administration costs alone would surpass a prudently executed, recoverable bail out. It should never happen again, but what assurances are there that it won’t?
A strong and prudent BPG is our best security. I urge you to give your voluntary Board and Management the kind of support you provided your founding executive. Our strength is a growing membership and ongoing vigilance.
2015 marks the 20th anniversary of the Bell Pensioners’ Group! Many of our members are not aware of the tumultuous events that gave rise to our founding or of the important milestones we’ve reached in the intervening years.
We have come a long way from the small but determined founding group of Bell pensioners who wanted nothing more than to safeguard the rights and benefits we earned during our careers. While we are now a membership of over 10,000 strong, what hasn’t changed is our resolve to continue advocating for your rights and to empower you with information concerning your valued pensions.
Here is a brief retrospective of our history, as documented by Dan Braniff, our first President, and a tip of the hat to those who have shaped it in indelible ways:
A Grassroots movement responds
On August 12, 1994 the global financial industry and policy holders were rocked by the announcement that Confederation Life, a 150+ year old insurance company with a previous AAA rating, was to be liquidated. Bell employees and pensioners were stunned to realize that their Supplementary Pension Plan was not guaranteed and their retirement nest eggs were in jeopardy. Bell “accepted no responsibility” to protect plan members against any default by the liquidation.
In a Globe & Mail story covering the issue, two London, ON Bell retirees, Neil Burgess and Harvey Hall, rallied pensioners to stand up and fight. They were soon contacted by many equally-concerned Bell retirees and word spread. “These brave volunteers accepted unknown personal risks, gave generously of their time and paid expenses out of their own pockets for our effort. It was a classic ‘all-for-one, one-for-all’ grassroots reaction,” recalls Dan Braniff, Founding President of the BPG.
Organizational chapters soon sprung up in Montréal, Québec, Ottawa, London and Windsor. BPG was officially formed in May 1995 with a structure and mandate to “represent the individual and collective interests of members during the liquidation of Confederation Life assets to ensure the maximum recovery of members' investments (l00% principal and interest).” Members Bob Wilson, Neil Burgess, Bill Tawse and Dan Braniff arrange to meet with a representative of the Liquidator to understand the complex process to come and BPG’s role in it.
Thoughtful, Sustained Strategy
BPG put forth several options to Bell to settle the situation, all of which were rejected. BPG then set to work on a three-pronged strategic plan of attack that comprised political, media and legal angles. They retained the best legal firm for their situation and launched a well-coordinated campaign to engage all Federal MPs, provincial MPPs and MLAs, in Ontario and Québec in their effort, including Cabinet members, former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and former Ontario Premier Mike Harris.
But it was the fervent interventions of Ovid Jackson, Member of Parliament for Owen Sound Grey-Bruce that won BPG essential political and media support. Ovid was instrumental in keeping our case on the radar of high-ranking politicians and whose successful idea it was to
present a petition to Parliament signed by our members and supporters – which was accepted by the House. Ovid also wrote to Bell President John McLennan and secured a meeting with company representatives demanding action from Bell to settle the impasse.
“The political lobbying was a monumental success thanks especially to the coordination by our Ottawa Chapter and overwhelming member participation,” comments Dan.
BPG kept up the pressure and the issue in the public eye; over 100 articles about their cause were published in national newspapers during the struggle. Many meetings with Bell officials ensued, concluding with the successful negotiation on March 27, 1996 of an Enhancement Agreement with Bell, brokered with the help of Ed Beaty, that guaranteed appropriate financial compensation upon liquidation of Confederation Life.
Perhaps the most significant achievement of BPG was the Court’s precedent-setting ruling for payment of interest to policy holders. Compounding value at double digit prevailing rates during the settlement period meant that BPG members received about twice their invested dollar value. Even those who were covered by CompCorp guaranties benefited by the windfall. The liquidator indicated that it was BPG’s persistent convincing arguments that persuaded Judge Lloyd Houlden to accept BPG as the de facto voice of all three million policy holders when he awarded the entitlement of compounding interest.
The hard-fought victory was to be a model for other Group RRSPs. “Our 3-pronged strategy proved to be paramount but without the incredible teamwork the endeavour would have probably failed,” affirms Dan.
With trust between BPG and Bell restored, the two organizations joined forces to successfully convince Revenue Canada to reverse a previous decision on tax implications of the settlement.
A Legacy on which to Build
The BPG Board would later decide that BPG should continue to advocate on behalf of pensioners’ rights, ready for pre-emptive action should another threat occur. Today, BPG continues to advocate on many fronts, including intervention in legislative and policy issues with both Federal and Provincial governments and other stakeholders in the pension area.
Looking to the future, we believe there is more of a need than ever for a strong and unified voice representing Bell pensioners. We are committed to working with you to successfully protect our pensions and benefits for the next 20 years - and beyond.
Chapter Chairs Elected (also serve as Corporate Directors):
Timeline of Key Events
|August 1994||November 1994||Jan-May 1995||1995-1996||March 1996|
Confederation Life collapses. Bell accepts
Bell retirees Neil Burgess and Harvey Hall rally pensioners to “stand up
Bob Wilson, Neil Burgess,
In May, BPG officially forms.
BPG launches a sustained media, political and legal campaign to keep
BPG and Bell sign an Enhancement Agreement guaranteeing appropriate compensation to policy holders.
Founding Members are Recognized on the Occasion of BPG`s 20th Anniversary
Former Presidents at the Ontario Central AGM on May 6, 2015
L to R: Russ Donaldson, Caol Reid, Dan Braniff (Founding President), Jim McColl and Al Bowcott
Ottawa Chapter Founding Members at the AGM on May 20, 2015
L to R:John Elliot, Marilyn Easterbrook (Ottawa Chapter Chair), Claire Collis, Roy Coleman, Dan McDonald (BPG President), Peter Wall
London (519) Chapter Founding Members at the SWO AGM on May 5, 2015
L to R: Dan McDonald (BPG President), Garth Lowther, Don Graham (SWO Chapter Chair), Norm Walker, Don Williams, Gary Styan
Quebec Chapter Founding Members at the AGM on June 3, 1995
L to R: Dan McDonald (BPG President), Paul-Emile Gosselin, Jean Lamer (Quebec Chapter Chair)
Some Members of the Montreal Chapter since 1995 at the AGM on June 4, 2015
L to R: Louis-Philippe Charbonneau, Denyse Fournier, Yves Sauve, Gladys Scully, Walter Pearce, Murielle Laverdiere
On May 11th 1995 the inaugural meeting of the Bell Pension Recovery Group was held at the Royal Canadian Legion at 11 Irwin Street in Rexdale. This initial meeting established the organization and was a precursor to subsequent meetings with Bell Canada and the pension plan trustees. The situation and events that led to this founding meeting led to the creation of what is now the Bell Pensioners Group and are documented in the first hand account by Dan Braniff which can be accessed in Section A above. This article is intended to document key players and the evolution of the Toronto Chapter, now the Ontario Central Chapter, since the formation of the group and builds on the initial article to look at our leadership teams over the years and also examines how the group has adopted new ideas and technology to evolve the organization into an efficient and modern operation thanks to a talented and dedicated group of volunteers who have volunteered their time, skills and knowledge in continually improving our processes. The memories of the past chapter chairs tell the story of the chapter since it’s birth. The board members listed served with that chair for various periods of time not necessarily the entire period. A more accurate and comprehensive listing can be found on the chapter website.
BPG Ontario Central Chapter Operations Evolution
The behind the scenes look at out operations and evolution
The Toronto Chapter Board continued to meet regularly at the Royal Canadian Legion at 11 Irwin 4 times a year to fold newsletters and stuff envelopes and mail them. This was prior to the widespread adoption of the internet and proliferation of email and it constituted the main expense of the chapter. Over time the newsletter our primary communication tool has evolved and computer programs such as Word and Publisher have enabled the newsletter to evolve into a professional and polished document distributed primarily by email. This evolution along with our use of a professional printing house has enabled us to use publication mail rates for mailing and have enabled the chapter to trim costs considerably and so the annual dues have remained at $20 for 25 years which has been sufficient to run the chapter and even generate a surplus. This has been greatly helped by an advertising arrangement with The Personal insurance company that provides a significant contribution in return for ad’s in our newsletter and a once a year special mailing that they pay for and includes a promotion from the Personal. This also helps to facilitate membership renewal. In recent years the chapter has started exploiting social media primarily Facebook in an attempt to reach current employees as well as existing members. This medium has taken on a life of it’s own and while there is some sharing of pensioner related material most attention is paid to amusing news stories. Other platforms such as Linkedin have failed to draw an audience. Our chapter has been learning how best to reach members and potential members via this medium since it is how the new generation of potential members communicate and quite a departure from the start of BPG when various teams were established to contact potential members by telephone.
During the period up to 2011 our general meetings at Pavilion Royale regularly attracted 400-500 members with the largest attendance topping 600 spurred by concerns discussed earlier by the chapter chairs. At the volunteer level, our team managed to cope very well with these large numbers using procedures not designed to deal with these kinds of loads. Our Treasurer, membership and newsletter mailing procedures in particular needed major overhaul. At our chapter board meetings (then referred to as “stuffing meetings), held at the Legion. The mornings were used by our chapter executive to manually fold, stuff and seal newsletters in manila envelopes, which were then delivered to the Post office by the chapter chair, who was also the author of the newsletters and responsible for having them printed. The afternoons were then taken up with chapter business. The whole process began a few weeks earlier, when the membership coordinator would print name and address labels which were distributed to a small committee of volunteers who would apply the labels and affix postage. Today the entire process is handled by a commercial printing house which prints folds and inserts the newsletter into envelopes and delivers to Canada Post. We have since introduced our online newsletter and online payment facility, greatly reducing the number of printed newsletters to be mailed. We have also negotiated a “publications” mail rate for our newsletters - less than half the regular first class mail rate.
Our “in house” web site has been replaced by the integrated commercially provided web site we have today. This web site uses a CMS or customer managed approach which allows individual chapters to update their sites using an approach that requires no specialized training or expertise.
Most recently the chapter in partnership with the other Ontario chapters has initiated a Facebook page which is open to our members to share while humorous stories are most popular the page is also used to share more serious articles relevant to retirees and pensioners. It was important to establish this medium to better reach current active employees.
So in summary, as technology and capabilities have evolved, we have recruited volunteers with the necessary skills to keep pace with the world around us.
Database and Bulk Emailing
Perhaps the most important tool used by the chapter is our membership Database. The use of Microsoft Access as the chapter database was introduce by Dave Grieve and has proven to be a powerful tool in the management of the chapter. Subsequent database/membership managers have continued to enhance the capabilities of this tool. After Dave Grieve, Jim McColl, the late Dave Barrett and currently Dave Milne have managed our membership records. This tool enables us to collect and generate member statistics and to generate distribution lists that can be directed to geographic areas across our immense geography. The efforts of each of the successive database primes have yielded an application that would be unrecognized by the initial adopters as each brought their own ideas to enhance reports and applications. The Database coordinator also utilizes a program “Groupmail” to enable us to efficiently send out messages to our membership either newsletters or newsblasts to alert members to important information. The database coordinator can manipulate the data extracted to prepare customized mailing lists directed to specific geography as well as to various categories such as paid and unpaid members. In so doing we are able to match the capabilities of much wealthier organizations. Members will never be 100% satisfied and as the world changes there will be calls to develop other forms of membership renewal and payment which will be researched and adopted if within the financial and technical capabilities of our volunteers.
Financial Evolution and Tools
Our financial records have gone from relatively primitive bookkeeping tools at the start to what we have today. Gerry Moss our Treasurer introduced Quicken as an accounting tool to record member payments and chapter financial records. This enabled the generation of all manner of reports and statistics to help better manage the chapter. In 2018 the chapter transitioned from Quicken to Quickbooks under the leadership of Kathy Stoddart and Jim Fikis. While this was not necessarily an improvement in tools it streamlined the accounting process and tools used by all chapters to enable the efficient compilation of individual chapter financial records into a consolidated financial record at the National level. This eliminated considerable duplication of effort by the chapter and National Treasurer. We have come a long way from the era when hundreds of payments were received at member meetings at the Pavillion Royale and had to be manually recorded counted and deposited to a more streamlined process of online payments directly deposited into our accounts. More and more members are opting for this method of payment rather than cash and cheques helping to simplify the effort required by our treasurers.
Membership recruiting and retention has also made use of these tools with the aid of the primes and with the cooperation of the Bell Human resources department. Bell has enabled us to reach potential members by the inclusion of information in our annual PIC report as well as the personalized statements about our pension. In 2019 they permitted retiring employees to indicate their willingness to share contact information with BPG. They have also helped to facilitate visits to several of the main worksites to help recruit members as many current employees will tell us they never heard of the Bell Pensioners Group. Bell’s willingness to work with us has been invaluable not only in recruitment but in enabling us to escalate the relatively small number of pensions and benefit issues that surface. The biggest challenge has been getting our members to help recruit former friends and colleagues and getting members to renew membership each year instead of leaving it all to a small team of volunteers.
The chapter board continues to meet monthly primarily by conference call except to plan and organize activities and to help generate and introduce new ideas to help the chapter run efficiently and better help our members. However, one constant source of frustration is the diminishing membership and the constant need to convince people to renew membership. The excellent state of our pension plan and the shift from the Defined Benefit pension plan to the Defined Contribution plan means that our potential membership will continue to shrink and without a crisis as existed back in 1995, it will be a challenge unless we evolve to include members of the Defined Contribution cohort of retirees.
Ken Beach ... Chair 1995
Ken was the initial leader of the Toronto chapter at the organizing meeting working with chair Ron Buckner. Ron was not able to obtain a first hand account of Ken’s work.
Ron Buckner ... Chair 1995-1997
Ron was the second chair of the Toronto Chapter and as such had to work with a team to create the operations of BPG and spread the word at a time in which there were no tools such as email and the internet in wide spread use. Ron’s team created telephone calling pyramids to reach the members and potential members. At some of the meetings they ran out of food as there was no good way to forecast attendance but everyone pitched in to help make sandwiches led by Russ Donaldson for an unexpected busload from London.
It was also a difficult time as many people were desperate and some looking at financial ruin and so asking for advice we could not provide. There were many calls to politicians, the press and anyone who it was felt could help the situation. The details on how it was all resolved is in the 20th Anniversary article penned by Dan Braniff the prime leader is linked at the start of this article.
Ron’s founding team included Martin Murphy, Gerry Moss, Fred Kempster, Dave Grieve, Russ Donaldson, Brian Fitzgerald, Alice Gould, Dave Kerr, George Payne, Anne Barwell, Ken Murchison, Carol Reid and Alex Robinson.
Carolyn Reid ... Chair 1997-2001
We had a 12-member committee & we used to meet at the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 286 at 11 Irwin Rd. in Etobicoke. It was our prime objective to increase the membership and retain those we had. We contacted former work mates & encouraged them to join BPG. We sent out newsletters. We stuffed envelopes & addressed them ourselves. We arranged for annual General meetings which were held at the Pavillion Royale banquet hall on Dixie Road in Mississauga. It was a good team & we had great co-operation from all. Mostly word of mouth/telephone was used to reach potential members and we scanned the Bell retirees list in the Company newsletter to fund potential members.
The “team” included the following members Sandra Vella, Russ Donaldson, George Payne. Gerry Moss, Ken Harris, Anne Barwell, Dave Grieve, Barb Price, Alice Gould, Martin Murphy, Fred Kempster and Alex Robinson.
Russ Donaldson ... Chair 2001-2005
I can’t believe it was that long ago. The things that stick in my mind the most are the incredible volunteers that assisted in running our chapter. The steady growth in membership that we enjoyed. The meetings at the Legion to stuff the newsletters into their envelopes and mail them off. keeping in mind that those were the days before we were able to capitalize as much on the use of the internet as BPG is today. Assisting in solving Pensioner problems. But more than anything else, I remember with great fondness all the wonderful meetings that we held at the banquet facility on Dixie Road. The turnout of pensioners (often standing room only), were incredible. Seeing and hearing from so many friends and former colleagues is an experience I will never forget! I truly did enjoy my time as chair of the Toronto Chapter of BPG. I wish OCC continued good success in the future!
Russ’s team included Sandra Vella, Dorothy Paudler, Ed Bulgin, Gerry Moss, Dorothy Dunbar, Joan Lynen, Dave Grieve, Carole Robbins, Ralph Iceton, Fred Kempster, Ken Harris, Martin Murphy, Sheila Noble, George Payne, Anne Barwell, Jim McColl, Alex Robinson, Titus Ramkhalawansingh.
Jim McColl ... Chair 2005-2008, Membership Coordinator 2001-2005
In 2006 our pension plan which had been running with a large valuation surplus for many years, suddenly reported a steep drop due mainly to declining interest rates, poor stock performance and a change in valuation methods mandated by the government. This in turn created anxiety amongst pensioners and led to a rapid growth of our membership to an all time high of over 4000 members. This was the situation when Jim McColl became chapter chair, after serving for 5 years as membership coordinator. The deficit situation continued despite large contributions from Bell when the world-wide financial crisis struck in 2008. Our pension plan experienced a meltdown of nearly 20%. Additionally, during this period, a consortium lead by Ontario Teachers Pension plan was gearing up to take control of Bell Canada. Also, the Federal Government introduced Pension Income splitting due in no small part to lobbying efforts by former BPG president Dan Braniff.
Jim’s Team included Dave Barrett, Sheila Ylipelkola, Dorothy Paudler, Carole Robbins, Ed Bulgin, Alice Gould, Ralph Iceton, Sandra Vella, Fred Kempster, Ken Harris, Dave Grieve, Martin Murphy, Janet Clarke-Armstrong, Dorothy Dunbar, Joan Lynen, Barb Prive, Anne Barwell, Don Smith, Don Crone, Phil Thomson, Russ Donaldson and Titus Ramkhalawansingh.
Al Bowcott ... Chair 2008–2011
At the beginning of my tenure as chair of the Toronto Chapter the economic downturn was having a significant negative impact on BPG’s solvency ratio. This combined with the pending takeover of Bell by the Teachers’ Pension Group and the uncertainty regarding the future funding of our pension deficit, caused significant concern among pensioners. As result we enjoyed a significant increase in BPG membership.
In the latter half of 2009 financial markets began to return to normal, due to financing difficulties the Teachers Pension Group withdrew its bid to take Bell private and Bell had demonstrated its intention to continue funding the pension deficit.
Unfortunately, in 2010, membership renewal defaults increased and attendance to chapter meetings started to decrease. Regarding the latter, a survey taken at the time, members located in the eastern portion of the GTA complained about the time and inconvenience of traveling to chapter meetings in Mississauga. In response we scheduled our first chapter “satellite” meeting in the CAW Union Hall, Oshawa on October 23, 2009. Both meetings were very successful and well attended with about 250 showing up in Mississauga and another 250 in Oshawa. In response to the decline in membership renewals we initiated a vigorous Telephone calling campaign to convince defaulting members to maintain their membership.
All in all, it was an extremely busy time for your Chapter Board of Directors and they did a terrific job responding to the challenge.
Al’s team included Titus Ramkhalawawansingh, Dave Barrett, Jim McColl, Dorothy Paudler, Carole Robbins, Ed Bulgin, Alice Gould, Glen Simpson, Sandra Vella, Phil Thomson, Ken Harris, Martin Murphy, Janet Clarke-Armstrong, Dorothy Dunbar, Joan Lynen, Barb Price-Wallace, Anne Barwell, Don Smith, Don Crone.
Titus Ramkhalawansungh ... Chair 2011-2018, Treasurer 2004-2010
The two periods of service were considerably different. As treasurer it was a time of rapid and tremendous growth and payments were all cash or cheque. It was very frightening to leave these meetings with thousands of dollars in $20 bills until they could be safely deposited which was an unusual experience as bank tellers eyed one with suspicion until properly identified. So meetings were large and hectic with huge amount of cash to be processed after meetings and we prepared and issued new membership cards each year.
As chair from 2011 to 2017 we experienced our first slow down and even decline in membership. It was also the time when we started to make use of the internet to distribute newsletters and other communication electronically and we also started to have meetings in Oshawa, North Yotk and Barrie. Many remember the large meetings in Mississauga with fondness but there is no going backwards.
Titus’s Team included Cathy Vendramin, Dave Barrett, Al Bowcott, Judy Buckley, Carole Robbins, Ed Bulgin, Alice Gould, Marianne Goreki, Sandra Vella, Clara, Fabrizi, Ken Harris,, Camie Tang-Chang, Bruce Armstrong, Janet Clarke-Armstrong, Dorothy Dunbar, Jim Doherty, Barb Price, Anne Barwell, Don Smith, Phil Thomson, Glen Simpson, Kathy Stoddart, Kerri Murphy, Karen Lawson, Pam Fox, John Bell, Dave Milne and Mike Nicoloff
Carol Ann Cole ... Chair 2018-2020, Corporate Board 2000-2008
Replacing Titus has not been easy. He knows so much more than I will ever know about Ontario Central Chapter. However, I’ve learned to be okay with that.
Above all else we are here to ensure our pensions are protected. Currently Bell is an excellent partner for us. Our pensions are fully funded.
My main area of concern today is our declining membership. We need to address a number of things: Some of our members are no longer able to come to our meetings. The younger pensioners see no need to drive to and from meetings when they can get all the information they need on line. Social media is ‘all things’ to many of our members. Our goal now is to figure out the best way to reach and keep our members. We have improved our social media reach significantly and are looking for new and alternative ways for you to reach us. Any ideas?
Carol Ann’s team included Titus Ramkhalawansingh, Jim Fikis, Kathy Stoddart, John Bell, Sharon MacIntosh, Karen Lawson, Marianne Goreki, Barry Zimmermann, Julie Dupuis, Kerri Murphy, Camie Tang-Chang, Rahana Khan, Pam Fox, Jim McColl, Dave Milne, Mike Nicoloff, Glen Simpson, Mike Nicoloff, Phil Thomson and Natalie Wright.
BPG Twenty Five Years of Adcocacy, Innovation and Leadership!
February 6, 2020
Since the official founding of BPG on May 11th 1995 the organization has evolved led by successive presidents and their respective boards. Each president faced unique challenges as the pension and regulatory landscape changed along with our relationship with Bell. There were many accomplishments some large and others incremental while building and fostering a strong and positive working relationship with Bell. Among the greatest successes on the government side was income splitting while on the Bell side we have helped to improve communication between Bell and pensioners and the best evidence of this is the excellent and comprehensive annual pension statement as well as helping to enhance communication channels to pensioners. We were also instrumental in helping to create a strong alliance of similar organizations to more effectively lobby government at all levels across the country. Our presidents from 1995 to 2020 have documented the key issues, events and challenges they faced to help capture our story and so preserve the history of our initial 25 years:
Dan Braniff (1995-1997)
BPG founders recognized there was no model to fit our situation. We would have to create one to achieve member’s financial recovery. We needed a road map that would give us the best chance. We decided to employ a 3 pronged approach Political, Media and Legal and later we added a 4th element working with the Liquidator.
An ad hoc committee emerged. I was recruited to be founding President, Ed Beaty, Vice President. And we assumed the role of BPG Negotiators.
Legal: We invited 10 legal firms to bid for representation. BPG’s legal committee hired Murray Gold, Koskie Minsky, Toronto. The BPG Board approved a sliding scale member fee that would cover costs. The assessment fee was proportionally based on exposure risk. Most members were satisfied that this was fair and reasonable under the circumstances. A provision for hardship cases helped.
Political: Early on, our local chapter contacted Ovid Jackson, Federal MP for Owen Sound requesting guidance. Ovid offered a start-up plan that seemed almost perfect. BPG would organize a Petition to the Parliament of Canada and gather as many signatures as possible from the local community, including relatives, friends, “any person or group that supported BPG’s endeavour”. Ovid made a formal presentation to the full House of Commons with BPG members and friends attending in the Parliamentary Gallery, occasionally breaking the rules of silence with slogans of support.
Media: Ovid scheduled a media conference in the Parliamentary Press Room in conjunction with our Petition. We were initially disappointed to see many empty chairs but were comforted by Ovid’s explanation that media routinely participated from the hotel bar across the street through a cable link! As a result, dozens of media carried our story. I received several media calls on my cell phone on my drive home from Ottawa. Media coverage continued as news of our struggle gathered momentum, nationally and locally, thanks to effective efforts of many members. We had a great start!
Liquidator: Initially Bell rejected our requests for a meeting, insisting we were on our own. They accepted no responsibility! After several unsuccessful attempts to change their mind, I contacted the Liquidator, Robert Sanderson, KPMG who was appointed President, Confederation Life in Liquidation asking for his assistance. Robert immediately asked how he could help us. He agreed to invite Bell and us to meet with him. Bell agreed to attend and subsequent meetings followed whenever requested by either BPG or Bell. It was a very successful series which paved the way to signing the Enhancement Agreement by Bell, BPG and the Liquidator.
Our relationship with the Liquidator reached its pinnacle when Robert Sanderson, President of Confederation Life in Liquidation asked if BPG would agree to represent all Confederation Life policy holders! This increased our members by hundreds adding incredible muscle to BPG endeavours. Judge Holden, legal justice for liquidation subsequently ruled that current interest rates could be claimed from industry insurance setting a legal precedent for future liquidations.
Members deserve so much of the credit for our success. Their ingenuity and commitment set new standards for volunteering. What a victory! And we achieved it along with long- term relationships that could not be better!
Not too surprising, many BPG members subsequently volunteered to assist in the very successful struggle for Pension Income Splitting. Their accomplishments were equally outstanding as they displayed incredible entrepreneurial resourcefulness. They persevered where many would have given up.
After the dust settled Harold Giles, Bell’s VP Human Resources called to thank us for the professionalism and the outstanding interpersonal relations experience he and his team enjoyed in our dealings. Mutual respect has continued to throughout the 25 years and continues with a fully funded pension plan and an ongoing sound relationship with the Bell Human Resources team.
Don Beauchamp (1997-2001)
When I became President, we had about 1400 members by May of 2001 we had grown to 5,300 members. Our main objective at that time was to shepherd the Confederation Life Liquidation Agreement. This great victory for our members resulted in full recovery of their Capital, as well as interest. Our Board made the decision that BPG needed to continue on, grow its membership and become a lobby group for all Pensioner’s issues.
Some of the other key milestones during my time as President were:
Lobbying Bell against having Taxable Benefits charged on Group Life insurance premiums.
I am sure that my fellow Board members from this timeframe take great pride in how the BPG has continued to grow and champion the rights of all pensioners.
Linda Lumsden (2001-2005)
My experience working with BPG and all of its members was wonderful. Our membership continued to grow as did our relationship with Bell. In the early years of my presidency.
I focused on improving our dialogue with Bell. In the past it had been very contentious and my goal was to let them know BPG wanted to work with them not against them. Our goal was to do our due diligence in protecting our pension and benefits while being an advocate for the company that funded that pension.
Over my tenure our relationship improved to the point that Bell started to market BPG in the In Touch newsletter to all retirees. During my tenure we also found that the federal government was not moving in a direction to protect pension plans. We started to work with the legal firm of Koskie Minsky to develop a group of companies with similar issues to lobby the government. This group continues to lobby today on our behalf and has made strides in getting our points across.
I would like to thank all the BPG members who have supported this essential group and to say how much I enjoyed meeting you in my visits to all the chapters. We must be our own advocates and continue to do all we can to protect our pensions and benefits.
Pam Went (2006-2008)
Two things stand out for me from my tenure as BPG President.
First, I was blessed with highly skilled Board members and pension advocates. When I read my own archives from that time I am continuously impressed with the professionalism and commitment of that great group.
Secondly, it was like getting a crash course in Civics as the Board and the Pension Committee navigated their way through various Federal Government ministries and agencies in BPG’s bid to address the shortcomings of the Pension Benefits Standards Act (PBSA). Countless submissions were made and meetings held, with key bureaucrats and politicians in Finance, HRSDC and the Seniors’ Directorate. We engaged with the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI) and the C.D. Howe Institute. BPG was called as a witness at the 2007 Federal Pre-Budget Consultation (PBC) and again at the Ontario Expert Commission on Pensions. It was gratifying to see part of our submission, word for word in the 2007 PBC final report. BPG was a founding member of the Canadian Federation of Pensioners and by 2008, it was clear that our organization was gaining recognition as an advocate not only Bell pensioners but also for pensioners across the country.
Raymond Bertrand (2008-2010)
During my term major activities were mostly related to the pension situation and our objective to assure complete protection of our pensions.
Our main concern was the solvency funding deficit. Funding hovered in the 80 % range. Meetings and position papers submitted to Finance Minister, the Office of the Superintendant of Financial Institutions (OSFI) and concerns with the Pension Benefits Standards Act (PBSA) and our recommendations. BPG was seen as a well organized and a credible.
In January 2009 Finance Canada issued a Pension Plan Consultation paper to which we responded and met with government officials. In response a Consortium of 7 major sponsors responded to the paper outlining proposed changes to the PBSA to resolve the solvency funding problem. Analysis showed an approximate 25% solvency funding shortfall with the proposed rules should the plan be terminated. Yet the plan would be considered fully funded. This was discussed with the government people.
Thinking back what foremost comes to mind is the dedication, professionalism and leadership exerted by those involved in formulating and promoting our views and recommendations to governmental and political arenas.
In early 2008 the Ontario Teachers Pension Fund made a bid to purchase Bell. The potential ownership change raised serious concerns about the future of our benefits and pensions. We answered retirees questions and attempted to reassure with limited information. Bell confirmed that our Benefits and Pensions would be maintained. The change was approved by the CRTC and Industry Canada . However financial concerns were raised by some a court ruling quashed on the sale
A relief for had the changeover proceeded and our benefits-pension plans not maintained legal actions would ensue and be very costly
Bob Farmer (2010-1013)
I was President during a time of change for pension plans. The impacts of the financial downturn of 2008 were being felt, and Bell’s pension plans were not exempt. Deficits of 20% and more persisted; a stark contrast to Bell’s history of years of full funding. I clearly recall the particularly large turnouts at the chapter meetings, and the many question that were asked. There’s nothing like a potential crisis to pique interest.
Due at least in part to the widespread decline in pension plan funding, the federal government asked pension plan stakeholders – including BPG – for their thoughts on whether and how pension legislation should be changed. Our many suggestions had one objective in common: greater security for pension plan members. And we delivered that message to Bell pensioners, MPs, bureaucrats, and senators over many months. In this effort, BPG and Bell management agreed to disagree on a number of points. However, we worked hard to keep the good relationship that Bell and BPG enjoy. Ultimately, many – but not all – of BPG’s proposals were adopted.
BPG increased the power of its advocacy work by teaming up with other like-minded pension plan organizations through the Canadian Federation of Pensioners (CFP). BPG strongly influenced the advocacy initiatives of CFP and all its member organizations. In my last year as BPG President, I was also the President of CFP.
Daniel McDonald (2013-2016)
The government was seeking views on the approach and elements of a federal Target Benefit Plan (TBP) framework that included the conversion of existing Defined Benefit (DB) and Defined Contribution (DC) pension plans to TBPs, even in a non-windup situation, should Bell’s DB plan be changed to a target benefit plan, our pension income could fluctuate year-to-year depending on the financial performance of the pension fund and employees’ willingness to make plan contributions. In our response to the consultation paper, BPG urged the government to exclude the conversion of DB plans to TB plans from the proposal and to put in place a consent process that would give each retiree the option to retain his/her current DB pension plan. With BPG’s work associated with the CFP organization, the Government accepted a consent process.
A BPG survey was proposed to all members, the main objective was to assess members’ satisfaction with the services and information provided by BPG and assess members’ satisfaction with the services provided by the Bell Benefits and Manulife groups. The outcome of the survey was: Members’ perception of BPG was highly positive with a high level of satisfaction regarding the information provided by BPG through various means.
BPG proposed to Télébec’s retirees the establishment of a new Chapter which would provide the required expertise to answer requests associated to their DB Pension and Benefit plans,the implementation was successful.
Patte Seaton (2016-2019)
The solvency ratio for the Bell Canada pension plan steadily increased from 93.8% as of December 31, 2015, to 100% by December 31, 2018. (Notable interest: The Solvency ratio was only 84% in 2012). Bell displayed their commitment to pensioners by fully funding the DB pension plan.
Sears Canada bankruptcy in October 2017, with an 20% shortfall in the funding for its defined pension plan, became a call for action for BPG and many other pension groups across Canada. Our Government regulations did not protect these pensioners!
With solvency steadily improving and Bell’s continuing strong financial performance, BPG directed our efforts to changing government bankruptcy regulations and opposing pension legislation that weakened pensioners financial positions (but often supported Corporate interests).
As founding members (2005) of the Canadian Federation of Pensioners, BPG continues to partner with them to advocate with governments, industry and private organizations for changes to regulations and laws to enhance protections for pensions for all Canadians. Our joint meetings with federal officials and MP’s have focussed on the need for legislative changes to better protect pensioners from the harm caused to them when employers become bankrupt.
In 2018 BPG welcomed a new Chapter – Aliant Atlantic - representing the 4 east coast provinces (previously Bell Aliant) and headquartered in St. John’s, Newfoundland Labrador.
Membership during this period of time was around 10k – hitting 11k with the addition of our 7th Chapter.
May 1997 until January 2001
Chair - Carol Reid
Members of the Toronto Chapter Committee
January 2001 until May 2005
Chair - Russ Donaldson
Members of the Toronto & Area Chapter Committee
May 2005 until May 2008
Chair - Jim McColl
Members of the Toronto & Area Chapter Committee
*1 Russ "retired" effective December 31, 2006 after many years of dedicated service to BPG.
*2 Members who have now retired from the committee - Thanks from all of us for many years of excellent service provided by these volunteers
During the time frames shown above, some of the "volunteers" will have left the chapter committee as others came on board. Chapter responsibilities have also changed throughout the years.
November 2008 until April 2011
Chair - Al Bowcott
Members of the Toronto & Area Chapter Committee
Ken Harris (Secretary)
*1 Martin Resigned 2010
*2 Don Resigned 2010
*3 Dorothy Resigned 2008
April 2011 until April 2018
Chair - Titus Ramkhalawansingh
Members of the Toronto & Area Chapter Committee+
Anne Barwell *8
Ken Harris*6 (Sec)
+ April 1 2014 Chapter name changed to Ontario Central
*1 Cathy became Secretary October 2013
*2 Camie joined November 2014
*3 Ed resigned 2012
*4 Carole resigned 2010
*5 Clara joined November
*6 Ken resigned 2012
*7 Janet resigned 2014
*8 Anne resigned 2011
*9 Barb resigned 2011
*10 Sandra deceased Sept 2011
*11 James deceased 2014