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COVID-19 Measures Taken by Pension Regulators Across Canada Bulletin
Posted in Pensions

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, pension regulators across Canada have been announcing special measures to help protect the interests of pension plan members, assist pension plan administrators and ensure the ongoing financial health of pension plans, particularly given the negative impact that current financial market conditions have had on the funded status of pension plans.

This bulletin summarizes the measures that have been announced to date. It will be updated as new measures are introduced.

Canada Revenue Agency[1]

  • Waiver of 1% minimum employer contributions for DC Plans: On May 5, 2020, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) announced it will waive the requirement for employers with defined contribution plans to contribute at least 1% of the total pensionable earnings of all active members for the remainder of 2020. The requirement will only be waived if the plan is amended to suspend accruals under the plan for the year, meaning that there will be no employer or employee contributions made to the plan after the amendment. Plan administrators who wish to take advantage of the waiver must submit an amendment to the Registered Plans Directorate.
  • Proposed Relief for RPPs: On July 2, 2020, the Department of Finance released draft regulations that would amend the Income Tax Regulations to provide relief to employers who sponsor registered pension plans or salary deferred leave plans by:
    • Adding temporary stop-the-clock rules to the conditions applicable to salary deferral leave plans from March 15, 2020 – April 30, 2021;
    • Removing restrictions that prohibit an RPP from borrowing money;
    • Extending the deadline for decisions to retroactively credit pensionable service under a defined benefit plan or to make catch-up contributions to money purchase accounts;
    • Permitting catch-up contributions to registered pension plans to be made in 2021 to the extent that 2020 required contributions had been reduced;
    • Setting aside the 36-month employment condition in the definition “eligible period of reduced pay” for the purpose of using prescribed compensation to determine benefit or contribution levels; and
    • Allowing wage rollback periods in 2020 to qualify as an eligible period of reduced pay for prescribed compensation purposes.

The announcement did not specify when the draft regulations would come into effect.

  • Extension of election deadlines to credit eligible periods of reduced pay – extended by 1 month: CRA is extending the deadline for plan members to elect to have the eligible period of reduced pay credited as pensionable service under the plan from April 30, 2020 to June 1, 2020, or a later date acceptable to the Minister of National Revenue. If plan members require a later date, they should write to the Registered Plans Directorate providing the specific details for the delayed election, for the purpose of being “acceptable to the Minister.”

Federal[2]

  • Moratorium on solvency payment requirements for DB plans: On May 27, 2020, the Solvency Special Payment Relief Regulations, 2020 came into effect, establishing a moratorium on solvency special payment requirements for federally regulated defined benefit pension plans for the period of May 27–December 30, 2020. The regulations also provide accommodations for solvency special payments made since April 1, 2020, allowing them to be deducted from the plan’s normal cost contributions or going concern special payment requirements that become due from May 27–December 30, 2020. Furthermore, interest is not payable on solvency special payment instalments that became due between March 31–May 27, 2020. More information can be found here.
  • Restriction on transfers: Effective March 27, 2020, OSFI has temporarily prohibited all portability transfers and annuity purchases relating to defined benefit provisions of pension plans. The payment of pensions to retirees and other beneficiaries is not impacted by this freeze. OSFI will review this temporary measure in the coming months as it monitors the impact of COVID-19 on defined benefit pension plans. During the temporary freeze period, administrators of federally-regulated pension plans may request the federal Superintendent’s consent to a transfer or annuity purchase based on plan-specific or special circumstances. Please note that on May 7, 2020, OSFI announced an easing of these restrictions, allowing members who are within 10 years of pensionable age to transfer the value of their pension benefit out of the plan, provided that the plan text allows members to do so, and subject to certain transfer criteria.
  • Extension of filing deadlines: OSFI is extending the deadlines for certain actions and annual filing requirements under the Pension Benefits Standards Act, 1985 (Canada) and the Pooled Registered Pension Plans Act (Canada):
    • AIRs, Financial Statements, etc. – extended by 3 months: The deadline for annual information returns, certified financial statements, auditor’s report filing confirmation, actuarial report and actuarial information summary, which is usually six months after plan year-end, has been extended to nine months after plan year-end.
    • Annual member statements – extended by 3 months: The deadline for sending annual statements to members, former members and spouses, which is usually six months after plan year-end, has been extended to nine months after plan year-end. OSFI advises that administrators should notify recipients of the delay.
  • Suspension of consultation initiatives and policy development: OSFI has suspended a number of consultation initiatives and policy development work related to new or revised guidance until conditions stabilize. The full list of suspended initiatives can be viewed here.
  • Consultations on options for further relief: On April 15, 2020, the federal government also announced that it will consult with stakeholders over the coming months to provide potential relief from 2021 funding obligations.

British Columbia[3]

  • Restriction on transfers: The BC Financial Services Authority (BCFSA) has not announced any new restrictions on transfers. However, in its bulletin regarding issues stemming from COVID-19, BCFSA points to section 72(3) of the Pension Benefits Standards Act (British Columbia), which already restricts transfers from a pension plan that would impair the solvency of the plan (unless the transfer is made with the consent, or by direction, of the Superintendent). Thus, in BC, it is the administrator’s responsibility to determine whether a transfer would impair the solvency of the plan and restrict lump-sum transfers, where appropriate. If an administrator intends to restrict a transfer, BCFSA expects the Superintendent to be notified in writing along with an actuarial cost certification from the plan’s actuary attesting to the deterioration of the solvency position of the plan and a description of the administrator’s proposal for suspension of payment of commuted values (CV) during the interim period.
  • Suspension of contributions to a defined contribution plan: In light of the CRA waiver of the 1% minimum employer contribution, BCFSA has confirmed that administrators may reduce the level of employer or employee contributions to a defined contribution pension plan by amendment. Such amendments cannot be retroactive. Further, if employer contributions are suspended, employee contributions (if any) must also be suspended. If the suspension of contributions results in benefits ceasing to accrue under the plan, the administrator must apply to the Superintendent in accordance with section 95 of the Pension Benefits Standards Act (British Columbia) to avoid termination and windup of the plan.
  • Funding: If a defined benefit plan or target benefit plan wishes to extend the amortization periods for unfunded liabilities and/or solvency deficiencies, it can make an application to the Superintendent. The Superintendent will consider such requests on a case by case basis. The application must include a description of the circumstances and any other information, including financial statements, required by the Superintendent to make a determination.
  • Extension of filing deadlines: Effective March 30, 2020, the BCFSA has extended the deadline for various actions:
    • Annual member statements – extended by 60 days: Annual statements for members that were due between March 30 - December 29, 2020 have been given an extension of 60 days. This means that a plan with a fiscal year end date of December 31 must provide its members with annual statements by August 27, 2020 instead of June 29, 2020.
    • Termination statements– extended by 30 days: Termination of active membership statements that were due by March 30, 2020 have been given an extension of 30 days.
    • AIRs and Financial Statements - extended by 60 days: Annual information returns and financial statements that were due between March 30 - December 29, 2020 have been given an extension of 60 days. This means that plans with a fiscal year end of December 31 must now file their annual information return and financial statement by August 27, 2020 instead of June 29, 2020.
    • AVRs – extended by 90 days: Actuarial valuation reports and actuarial information summaries that had a review date of December 31, 2019 and/or a due date in 2020 have been given an extension of 90 days. This means that plans with a review date of December 31, 2019 must file their valuation report by December 29, 2020 instead of September 28, 2020.

Alberta[4]

  • Suspension of special payments, PfAD exemption, and use of funding excess: On June 24, 2020, the Employment Pension Plans Regulation (Alberta) was amended to permit the relief measures set out below. Please note that plan administrators must apply in writing to the Superintendent of Pensions for temporary relief. Temporary relief is not permitted until the Superintendent has approved the application for relief.
    • Temporary suspension of special payments: Unfunded liability and solvency deficiency payments may be temporarily suspended from June 24, 2020 – December 31, 2020 for defined benefit and target benefit pension plans.
    • Exemption from PfAD: Collectively bargained multi-employer plans that are otherwise required to include a provision for adverse deviation (PfAD) for contributions remitted in 2020 can apply for an exemption from applying the PfAD on current service contributions. The exemption applies to any actuarial valuation in effect with an effective date on or before December 31, 2019.
    • Use of funding excess: Plans may temporarily increase the funding excess that can be used to reduce or eliminate contributions which would have been required to fund benefits for a single fiscal year of the plan.
  • Restriction on transfers: The Alberta Superintendent of Pensions has issued a reminder to all plan administrators to comply with section 74(3) of the Employment Pension Plans Act (Alberta), which states that administrators must not transfer assets out of the pension fund if the transfer would impair the solvency of the plan. While this does not amount to a full freeze of transfers, administrators must consider the impact that the current financial market conditions have had on the solvency of their plan and not rely on actuarial valuations that may not reflect the current status of the pension fund. The Superintendent is encouraging administrators to consult with its office for guidance when considering a transfer.
  • Extension of filing deadlines: Alberta has also extended the deadlines for various actions:
    • AIRs, Financial Statements, AVRs – extended by 180 days: Annual information returns, audited financial statements, and actuarial valuation reports and cost certificates that were due to be filed between March 31 - June 30, 2020 have been granted an extension of 180 days.
    • Member statements – extended by 180 days: Annual member disclosure statements and plan summary or member-driven event disclosure statements that were due to be issued between March 31 - June 30, 2020 have also been granted an extension of 180 days.
    • Amortization Periods, Remitting Contributions – case-by-case basis: At this time, there is no general extension for amortization periods for unfunded liabilities and/or solvency deficiencies, as well as the deadline for the remittance of employer and employee contributions. Instead, the Superintendent’s Office will discuss extensions for these matters with administrators on a case-by-case basis.
  • Witness signature on waiver forms: On June 3, 2020, the Superintendent of Pensions announced that the witness signature requirement on certain waiver forms may be delayed by up to 60 days. During the 60 day period, a pension plan administrator may pay benefits even if the witness signature has not been provided. However, if the witness signature has not been received within 60 days, the administrator must adjust benefits as if the member had not selected the option requiring the waiver form. This temporary measure is retroactive to March 17, 2020 and in effect until the end of the state of public of public health emergency.
  • Notice of reduction in member contributions: On June 3, 2020, the Superintendent of Pensions announced that plan administrators are no longer required to provide advance notice to members of a reduction in employee contribution rates. Administrators will still need to provide notice of the change, but the notice may be issued within 60 days after implementation. This temporary measure is retroactive to March 17, 2020 and in effect until the end of the state of public of public health emergency.
  • Electronic communication: On June 24, 2020, the Employment Pension Plans Regulation (Alberta) was amended to confirm that a statement, notice, document, or other record or information required or permitted under the Employment Pension Plans Act (Alberta) or its regulators to be provided, sent, delivered, or filed by electronic means in accordance with the Electronic Transactions Act (Alberta). However, the amendment does not apply to the designation of beneficiaries.

Saskatchewan[5]

  • Suspension of contributions to a defined contribution plan: On May 6, 2020, the Saskatchewan Financial and Consumer Affairs Authority (FCAA) announced it will allow plan amendments to suspend employer contributions in a defined contribution pension plan under the following circumstances:
    • The amendment must suspend both employer and member contributions. An amendment that only suspends employer contributions will not be registered;
    • The amendment must be on a go-forward basis only; and
    • The suspension of employer contributions is a temporary measure, so the amendment must set out the time period for the suspension.

The FCAA will not terminate a plan solely because the plan has been amended to temporarily suspend employer and member contributions for a period that lasts no longer than December 31, 2020. The amendment be disclosed to members within 90 days of registration.

  • Restriction on transfers: Effective April 16, 2020, the FCAA has temporarily frozen all transfers or payments out of defined benefit plans, as the Superintendent of Pensions has determined that transfers or payments from defined benefit plans would impair the solvency of pension funds. The FCAA will review this measure in the coming months. During this temporary freeze, administrators may request the Superintendent’s consent to a transfer or payment based on plan-specific or special circumstances.
  • Extension of filing deadlines: The FCAA has extended the deadlines for certain filing and disclosure deadlines for pension plans registered in Saskatchewan:
    • AIRs – extended by 3 months: Annual information returns that were due between March 31–July 31. 2020 have been given an extension of three months. For instance, a plan with a fiscal year end date of December 31 must now file its return by September 30, 2020 instead of June 30, 2020.
    • Annual member statements – extended by 3 months: Annual disclosure statements that were due between March 31–July 31, 2020 have been given an extension of three months. For instance, a plan with a fiscal year end date of December 31 must now provide its members with annual statements by September 30, 2020 instead of June 30, 2020.

Manitoba[6]

  • Restriction on transfers: The Manitoba Superintendent of Pensions has issued a reminder to all plan administrators that if the pension plan’s solvency position has declined since the last actuarial valuation report, administrators must take the necessary steps to assess whether future transfers would impair, or further impair, the solvency of the plan.
  • Extension of filing deadlines: Manitoba has extended the filing deadlines for annual information returns. The new filing deadlines are between June 30–August 31, 2020, depending on the plan’s fiscal year-end dates. More detail can be found here.
  • Actuarial valuation reports: Manitoba is allowing plan administrators to elect to have a plan reviewed prior to the statutorily required review date.

Ontario[7]

  • Restrictions on transfer: The Ontario Financial Services Regulatory Authority (FSRA) has issued guidance on transferring CVs and purchasing annuities when an Ontario-registered defined benefit pension plan’s transfer ratio has declined since the most recently filed valuation report by 10% and is now below 0.9, including:
    • If the administrator “knows or ought to know” that the transfer ratio has been reduced (i) to less than 0.9 when it was at least 1.0 or (ii) by at least 10% when it was less than 1.0, then all CV transfers and annuity transfers are automatically suspended.
    • In the above circumstances, administrators may apply to FSRA for approval to continue CV transfers and/or annuity purchases.
    • If an administrator receives such approval and then subsequently knows or ought to know that the plan’s transfer ratio has declined by an additional 5%, the administrator must again cease CV transfers and decide whether to apply again for approval to continue transfers and/or annuity purchases.
    • If an administrator decides that the best course of action is not to apply for approval until plan stability improves (a decision which FSRA states should be made with legal and actuarial advice), it must notify the FSRA.
    • The FSRA has also listed certain exceptions where it will generally permit a CV transfer (such as shortened life expectancy and certain death benefits).

Further detail on the limitations on CV transfers and annuity purchases by FSRA can be found here.

  • Suspension of contributions to a defined contribution plan: FSRA has confirmed that as a result of COVID-19, defined contribution plans may be amended on a go-forward basis to temporarily suspend employer and employee contributions and that such amendments will not result in FSRA ordering the plan to be wound up.
  • Member disclosure: While the FSRA does not have the ability to extend the timelines related to member disclosures, it announced that no administrative penalties will be levied provided that plan administrators communicate with FSRA to inform them of the challenges in meeting the member disclosure requirements and a reasonable proposed plan of action.
  • Extension of filing deadlines: The FSRA is allowing plan administrators to submit filing extension requests up to 60 days via the FSRA’s Pension Services Portal. For extension requests beyond 60 days, administrators must submit their filing extension requests by email to their assigned Pension Officer.

Quebec[8]

  • Updated solvency considerations: On April 16, Retraite Quebec announced that all payments (transfers and refunds) to be made between April 17–December 31, 2020 must consider the degree of solvency that reflects the plan’s current financial situation. Specific guidance on determining the degree of solvency can be found here. On July 15, 2020, Quebec published a draft regulation under the Supplemental Pension Plans Act (Quebec) which will codify this measure when published.
  • Maintenance of active membership during suspension of benefits: On July 15, 2020, Quebec published a draft regulation under the Supplemental Pension Plans Act (Quebec) which provides that a temporary suspension of benefits accrued will not constitute termination of active membership. The suspension of benefits must start on or after July 15, 2020 and cannot exceed one year.
  • Actuarial valuations not required: On July 15, 2020, Quebec published a draft regulation under the Supplemental Pension Plans Act (Quebec) which provided that actuarial valuations will not be required as at December 31, 2020, under a private sector pension plan whose funding level as at December 31, 2019 is less than 90%.
  • Extension of filing deadlines: On April 16, 2020, Retraite Quebec announced a general extension of three months for providing certain documents to Retraite Quebec and to members, including annual member statements, certain actuarial valuations, AIRs, financial reports, termination reports, and notices of annual meeting. For more information please see this table. On July 15, 2020, Quebec published a draft regulation under the Supplemental Pension Plans Act (Quebec) which will codify this measure when published,

New Brunswick[9]

  • Restrictions on transfer: The New Brunswick Financial and Consumer Services Commission (FCSC) announced that due to current market volatility, all plan administrators have reason to believe that the transfer ratio or termination value funded ratio has been reduced by more than 10% overall since the review date of the most recently filed actuarial valuation report. Thus, a recalculation is required prior to the transfer of CV or transfer values from pension plans.
  • Suspension of contributions to a defined contribution plan: FCSC has confirmed that as a result of COVID-19, defined contribution plans may be amended on a go-forward basis to temporarily suspend employer and employee contributions and that such amendments will not result in the FCSC ordering the plan to be wound up pursuant to subsection 61(1) of the Pension Benefits Act (New Brunswick).
  • Extension of filing deadlines: The FCSC has updated its various filing deadline extensions:
    • AIRs – extended by 90 days: Annual information returns that were due to be filed by June 30, 2020 have been granted an extension of 90 days. This replaces the previous 30-day extension of annual information returns that were due by April 30, 2020.
    • Member statements – extended by 90 days: Annual written statements to members that were due by June 30, 2020 have been granted an extension of 90 days.
    • AVRs, cost certificates – extended by 90 days: Actuarial Valuation Reports and Cost Certificates due to be filed by September 30, 2020 have been granted an extension of 90 days. This replaces the previous 30-day extension of actuarial valuation reports that were due by April 30, 2020.

Nova Scotia[10]

  • Extension of filing deadlines: The Nova Scotia Finance and Treasury Board has updated its previous filing deadline. Annual information returns and actuarial valuation reports that were due between March 31 and June 30, 2020 have now been given an automatic filing extension until August 31, 2020.

Prince Edward Island

  • No measures announced: As of July 16, 2020, the Finance Minister has not announced any relief measures.

Newfoundland and Labrador[11]

  • Extension of filing deadlines: On June 1, 2020, the Newfoundland and Labrador Superintendent of Pensions announced new extensions of filing deadlines for annual information returns. Administrators no longer need to request an extension in writing. The length of the extension will vary depending on the original filing deadlines. The specific extensions can be found here. Other circumstances may also be considered by written or email request to the Superintendent of Pensions.

[1] Canada Revenue Agency, “Temporary Covid-19 relief measure for money purchase (defined contribution) pension plans” (May 5, 2020), https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/services/tax/registered-plans- 

administrators/whats-new.html?utm_source=registered_plans&utm_medium=eml#rpp

[2]    Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions, “Letter to Federally Regulated Private Pension Plans - OSFI Actions to Address Issues Stemming from COVID-19” (March 27, 2020), https://www.osfi-bsif.gc.ca/Eng/pp-rr/ppa-rra/Pages/Pen20200327_let.aspx; OSFI has also posted an FAQ on the COVID-19 measures: https://www.osfi-bsif.gc.ca/Eng/pp-rr/Pages/PenFAQ_Cov.aspx

Department of Finance Canada, “Government announces relief for federally regulated pension plan sponsors” (April 15, 2020), https://www.canada.ca/en/department-finance/news/2020/04/government-announces-relief-for-federally-regulated-pension-plan-sponsors.html;“Coming into force of regulations providing relief to federally regulated private pension plan sponsors” (May 29, 2020): https://www.canada.ca/en/department-finance/news/2020/05/coming-into-force-of-regulations-providing-relief-to-federally-regulated-private-pension-plan-sponsors.html “Government introduces draft regulations providing relief for registered pension plans” (July 2, 2020), https://www.canada.ca/en/department-finance/news/2020/07/government-introduces-draft-regulations-providing-relief-for-registered-pension-plans.html

[3] BC Financial Services Authority, “COVID-19: Relief Measures for Pension Plans in British Columbia” (March 30, 2020), https://www.bcfsa.ca/pdf/Pensions/bulletins/PENS-20-002.pdf

BC Financial Services Authority, “COVID-19: Frequently Asked Questions” (April 29, 2020), https://www.bcfsa.ca/pdf/Pensions/bulletins/PENS-20-004.pdf

[4] Superintendent of Pensions, “EPPA Update 20-01 – COVID-19 Relief Measures” (April 1, 2020), https://open.alberta.ca/dataset/43f3c7e1-c31f-4a69-afe1-44c772a91b09/resource/9ab7d113-84c5-4ac5-993f-574ccc1209a3/download/eppa-update-20-01.pdf’; “EPPA Update 20-03 – Additional COVID-19 Relief Measures” (June 3, 2020), https://open.alberta.ca/dataset/43f3c7e1-c31f-4a69-afe1-44c772a91b09/resource/e8d10967-fee7-42ae-834c-dba4029a6428/download/eppa-update-20-03.pdf; “EPPA Update 20-04 – Additional COVID-19 Relief Measures” (June 24, 2020), https://open.alberta.ca/dataset/43f3c7e1-c31f-4a69-afe1-44c772a91b09/resource/17f60fa8-34f3-4a90-8f7c-7a017fed762e/download/eppa-update-20-04.pdf

[5] Saskatchewan Financial and Consumer Affairs Authority, https://fcaa.gov.sk.ca/whats-new/news/pensions
“NOTICE: Freeze on Transfers or Payments out of Defined Benefit Plans” (April 16, 2020), https://www.fcaa.gov.sk.ca/public/CKeditorUpload/Pensions/Communication_and_notice_-_Freeze_on_transfer_or_payments_out_of_Defined_Benefit_plans_-_FINAL_-_April_16_2020.pdf and Q&A: https://www.fcaa.gov.sk.ca/public/CKeditorUpload/Pensions/CV_Transfers_-_Q_A_FINAL_-_April_16_2020.pdf

 “Deadline Extensions for Pension Plans” (April 2, 2020), https://fcaa.gov.sk.ca/public/CKeditorUpload/Pensions/FCAA_Announcement_-_COVID-19_Relief_Measures_-_FINAL_April_1_2020.pdf

[6] Manitoba Office of the Superintendent – Pension Commission, “Communique #1 – Covid-19 Administrative Matters” (May 11, 2020),  https://www.gov.mb.ca/finance/pension/pdf/communique_1.pdf

[7] Financial Services Regulatory Authority of Ontario, “FSRA Announces Changes to Regulatory Requirements due to COVID-19” (March 27, 2020), https://www.fsrao.ca/newsroom/fsra-announces-changes-regulatory-requirements-due-covid-19, “Pension Sector Emergency Management Response – No. PE0200INF” (April 24, 2020), https://www.fsrao.ca/industry/pension-sector/guidance/pension-sector-emergency-management-response, and “Limitations on Commuted Value Transfers and Annuity Purchases (DB Pension plans) – No. PE0202APP” (May 22, 2020): https://www.fsrao.ca/industry/pension-sector/guidance/limitations-commuted-value-transfers-and-annuity-purchases-db-pension-plans#note7

[8] Retraite Quebec, “COVID-19: Temporary easing measures regarding the administration of supplemental pension plans” (April 16, 2020), https://www.retraitequebec.gouv.qc.ca/en/actualites/2020/Pages/20200416.aspx

“Publication of a draft regulation regarding SPPs in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and new information added to the temporary easing measures’ Frequently Asked Questions” (July 15, 2020), https://www.retraitequebec.gouv.qc.ca/en/actualites/2020/Pages/20200715.aspx

[9] Financial and Consumer Services Commission, “COVID-19 Update”, https://fcnb.ca/en/covid-19-update

[10] Nova Scotia Finance and Treasury Board Notices: https://www.novascotia.ca/finance/en/home/pensions/notices.aspx

[11] Newfoundland and Labrador Pension Regulation Notices: https://www.gov.nl.ca/snl/files/pensions-pdf-2004-filing-extensions-AIRs-covid19.pdf and https://www.gov.nl.ca/snl/files/pensions-pdf-2006-NewFilingExtensions-AIRs.pdf

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  • Sophia  Ma
    Associate

    Sophia Ma is an associate in Lawson Lundell’s Pensions and Employee Benefits Group. She works with senior legal counsel to advise plan sponsors and administrators on legal matters regarding pension and benefits plans. She also ...

  • Meghan  Popp
    Associate

    Meghan is an associate in the firm’s Pension and Employee Benefits Group. She acts for boards of trustees and other sponsors of pension and benefit plans in the private and public sectors in British Columbia, Saskatchewan and ...

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