On June 24, 2020, the Government of Alberta issued Order in Council 190/2020 to amend the Employment Pension Plans Regulation (Regulation) to provide additional forms of relief to administrators of Alberta-registered pension plans.
A summary of the amendments is as follows:
A temporary suspension of unfunded liability and solvency deficiency payments (special payments) until the end of 2020 for defined benefit or target benefit pension plans
An increase to the limit of funding excess to permit contribution holidays reducing or eliminating contributions for a single fiscal year of the plan
An exemption from the application of the Provision for Adverse Deviation (PfAD) on contributions until the end of 2020 collectively bargained multi-employer plans (CBMEP), which must include a PfAD when funding benefits
In addition, the Regulation was amended to provide clear authority that a statement, notice, document or other record or information required or permitted under the Employment Pension Plans Act (EPPA) or the Regulation may be provided, sent, delivered or filed by electronic means in accordance with Alberta’s Electronic Transactions Act (ETA).
SPECIAL PAYMENT RELIEF
To benefit from the temporary suspension on special payments, administrators must first obtain the consent of the Superintendent of Pensions. The relief can be provided retroactively to June 24, 2020, and extend through December 31, 2020. As this would result in a portion of scheduled contributions not being made, any experience losses attributable to the reduced remittances to the plan fund are to be identified in the plan’s next actuarial valuation report and amortized over a period not exceeding 15 years.
In applying for relief, the administrator must confirm that no benefit improvements will be made to the plan while participating in the relief and provide the estimated financial position of the plan (going concern and solvency) as of the date of application, along with an explanation as to why funding relief is sought. The regulator has indicated that each application will be judged on its own merit and that, consistent with the EPPA, the Superintendent may impose any other terms or conditions that may be considered appropriate before granting approval.
USE OF FUNDING EXCESS
The Regulation has also been amended to allow plans to temporarily increase the funding excess that can be used for purposes of a contribution holiday reducing or eliminating contributions that would have been or will be required in respect of one plan fiscal year. Under current rules, defined benefit plans that are more than 105 per cent funded on a going-concern basis can use what the Regulation defines as “accessible going concern excess” to offset plan contribution obligations.
Ordinarily, the amount of the contribution holiday is subject to the restriction that not more than 20 per cent of the excess can be used in a given fiscal year. This amount has been temporarily increased to 40 per cent for a single fiscal year of the plan (either 2020 or 2021). Unlike the temporary relief on special payments, the administrator is not required to obtain the advance consent of the Superintendent to take advantage of this one-time increase.
SUSPENSION OF PFAD FOR CBMEPS
The Regulation has also been amended to grant CBMEPs otherwise required to include a PfAD in calculating contribution obligations an exemption from applying the PfAD on current service contributions for contributions remitted in 2020. This exemption applies to any actuarial valuation in effect with an effective date on or before December 31, 2019, and is expected to reduce the funding obligation to the plans affected.
The Regulation has also been permanently amended to confirm that documents (such as statements, notices and other records of information) that are required to be provided, sent, delivered or filed under the EPPA or the Regulation may be transmitted electronically, in a manner consistent with the ETA. While hard copies of the required document must still be available upon request, this is a significant development that should assist administrators in both the current environment, given the constraints imposed by the response to COVID-19, and the future, once COVID-19-related restrictions are relaxed.
It is important to note, however, that the authority to rely on electronic documentation does not extend to beneficiary designations, which have been explicitly excluded from the Regulation. Additional reform, including to the EPPA and possibly complementary legislation such as the Wills and Succession Act, will be necessary before administrators can definitively rely on beneficiary designations that are either completed or filed by plan members electronically. Blakes will continue to monitor developments in this area and will keep you informed of any updates.
For a high-level summary of changes across the country, see our updated infographic.
For further information, please reach out to a member of our Pensions, Benefits & Executive Compensation group or your usual Blakes contact.
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