Ontario Central (formerly Toronto & Area) Chapter History

Commemorating BPG’s 20th Anniversary: by Dan Braniff

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.

Founding Organization

Chapter Chairs Elected: (Also serve as Corp Directors)

London, Neil Burgess                     Montreal, Rheal Proulx                 Ottawa, Bill Tawse

Quebec City, Gaston Perrault     Toronto, Ken Beach

Corp Directors:

Ed Beaty VP                                        Jacqueline Boileaux Secretary                    Bill Spratt

Bob McLachlan                                  Al Smith, Incorporation

Dan Braniff, President

 

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. 

======================================================

Some additional History

 

BPG was originally called the Bell Pension Recovery Group (BPRG).

The first newsletter (bulletin) was issued on Thursday, May 11, 1995.

The Toronto Chapter Leader was Ken Beach.

The membership was 285.

The original members of the Toronto Chapter Advisory council were:

    Ron Buckner - Chairperson

    Martin Murphy - Treasurer

    Gerry Moss - Assistant Treasurer

    Fred Kempster - Assistant Treasurer

    Dave Grieve - Membership

    Russ Donaldson - Security

    Brian Fitzgerald - Collections - Passed away July 30, 1998 (age 60)

    Alice Gould - Bulletin Coordinator

    Dave Kerr - Radio Contact

    George Payne - Telephone Network Coordinator

    Anne Barwell - Telephone Network Coordinator - Toronto

    Ken Murchison - Telephone Network Coordinator - Hamilton   

    Carol Reid - Telephone Network Coordinator - St. Catharines

    Alex Robinson -  Telephone Network Coordinator - Oshawa 

  

May 1997 until January 2001

Chair - Carol Reid

Members of the Toronto Chapter Committee

Sandra Vella

Russ Donaldson

George Payne

Gerry Moss

Ken Harris

Anne Barwell

Dave Grieve

Barb Price

Alice Gould

Martin Murphy

Fred Kempster

Alex Robinson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

January 2001 until May 2005

Chair - Russ Donaldson

Members of the Toronto & Area Chapter Committee

Sandra Vella

Dorothy Paudler

Ed Bulgin

Gerry Moss

Dorothy Dunbar

Joan Lynen

Dave Grieve

Carole Robbins

Ralph Iceton

Martin Murphy

Sheila Noble

George Payne

Fred Kempster

Ken Harris

Anne Barwell

Titus Ramkhalawawansingh

Alice Gould

 Barb Price 

Jim McColl

Alex Robinson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

May 2005 until May 2008

Chair - Jim McColl

Members of the Toronto & Area Chapter Committee

 Titus Ramkhalawawansingh

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 Price 

Anne Barwell

Don Smith

 Don Crone 

Phil Thomson

Russ Donaldson *

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

* Russ "retired" effective December 31, 2006 after many years of dedicated service to BPG.

** 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.

April 1 2014 Chapter name changed to Ontario Central

 

 

Nov 2008 until April 2011

Chair – Al Bowcott

Members of the Toronto & Area Chapter Committee

 Titus Ramkhalawawansingh

Dave Barrett

Jim McColl

Dorothy Paudler*3

Carole Robbins

Ed Bulgin

Alice Gould

Glen Simpson

Sandra Vella

Phil Thomson

Ken Harris- Secretary

 

Martin Murphy*1

Janet Clarke-Armstrong

Dorothy Dunbar

Joan Lynen

 Barb Price-Wallace 

Anne Barwell

Don Smith

 Don Crone *2

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*1 Martin Resigned 2010

*2 Don resigned 2010

*3 Dorothy resigned 2008

 

April 2011 until Present

Chair – Titus Ramkhalawansingh

Members of the Toronto & Area Chapter Committee

 Cathy Vendramin*1

Dave Barrett

Al Bowcott

Judy Buckley

Carole Robbins*4

Ed Bulgin*3

Alice Gould

Marianne Goreki

Sandra Vella*10

Clara Fabrizi*5

Ken Harris*6- Sec

Camie Tang-Chang*2

Bruce Armstrong

Janet Clarke-Armstrong*7

Dorothy Dunbar

Jim Goherty*11

 Barb Price *9

Anne Barwell*8

Don Smith

Phil Thomson

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*1Cathy became Secretary October 2013

*2Camie joined  November 2014

*3Ed resigned  2012

*4Carole resigned 2012

*5 Clara joined November 2013 resigned November 2014

*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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



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