Jun 19, 2023
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In Board of Trustees of the IWA – Forest Industry Pension Plan v. Superintendent of Pensions, 2023 BCFST 3, the Trustees challenged a Superintendent refusal to accept amendments to the pension plan. The Trustees wished to amend the plan such that all members of any withdrawing employer would have their benefits reduced by 25%.  The BC FST supported the Superintendent’s refusal to allow the amendment.

The amendment was not crafted for a specific withdrawal of an employer but in anticipation of potential employer withdrawals.  Much of the decision focused on the amendment contravening the BC Pension Benefits Standards Act and Regulations which contain slightly different provisions from other jurisdictions.  However, some general comments may be useful as guidance on the issue beyond BC. 

The BC FST generally acknowledged the potential negative impacts of withdrawing employers on a pension plan with dwindling active members making contributions.  Those potential negative impacts were not sufficient without specific actuarial information to justify the amendment.  Further, the arbitrary reduction of benefits by 25% without regard to an actual deficiency in the plan was seen as contrary to the Board’s fiduciary duty.  The BC FST contrasted this case with Neville v. Wynne which supported an uneven reduction of benefits in a plan where there was a deficit in the plan fund and the trustees assessed specifically the impact of reductions on different categories of members.  The reductions in Neville were not determined in anticipation of adverse impacts but specific to an actual deficit. 

Regulators in a number of jurisdictions have or are considering guidelines encouraging MEPPs to develop policies that anticipate various adverse impacts and how the trustees would respond to them.  This decision does not contradict such guidelines but suggests the need for careful thought about the balancing of interests and the information upon which trustee decisions can be made.

This blog provides some of the highlights of the case, not a full review.  If you wish to discuss the case in more detail in relation to a particular pension plan or circumstance, please contact one of Cavalluzzo’s experienced pension lawyers, listed below.

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