Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has said the province had no choice but to move forward on its pension plan. “There was a 50-50 chance we were going to have to implement the ORPP,” she said in June.
The six workers to benefit most from the scrapped Ontario Retirement Pension Plan are executives pocketing an average of $336,666 in severance for a few months’ work.
That’s part of the $70 million spent by Kathleen Wynne’s government to develop the ORPP, according to a 65-page Ministry of Finance report released Thursday while the premier is on holiday.
Another 27 employees will share $1.68 million in severance — an average of $65,522 each as they search for new jobs. There were 33 staff in total.
Wynne has credited the ORPP effort — which would have provided pensions to the two-thirds of Ontarians who don’t have company plans — with convincing other provinces to agree to a landmark deal in June to bolster the CPP, saving hundreds of millions in development costs for the Ontario plan.
But opposition parties quickly zeroed in on the golden handshakes for executives who started work between January and June.
They include CEO Saad Rafi and Neala Barton, the senior vice-president of communications, marketing and public affairs who was press secretary to Dalton McGuinty in his final term as premier.
The severance payouts “are an insult to people in this province who can’t afford to retire,” said New Democrat MPP Jennifer French (Oshawa).
“This is another sad example of Liberals putting the needs of their friends ahead of the needs of Ontarians.”
Rafi most recently helmed last summer’s Pan Am Games, where Barton also served as his communications lieutenant, and previously served as deputy minister of health under the Liberals.
While Rafi was entitled to a $428,794 bonus for his Pan Am work, he turned it down, the government said in January as he was appointed to the $525,000-a year ORPP job that wrapped up July 19.
Other senior executives are finishing by the end of this week and mid-August.
Finance Minister Charles Sousa defended the $70 million, which includes up to $15 million for contingencies as the Ontario plan winds down operations and contracts with vendors.
“To ensure the timely launch of the ORPP, critical work was undertaken, including the procurement of specialized legal, technical, actuarial and economic analysis,” he said in a statement, noting the figures will be reviewed by auditor general Bonnie Lysyk.
“All major procurements were carried out competitively and in a transparent manner.”
Progressive Conservative MPP Julia Munro (York-Simcoe) called the $70 million “yet another example of Liberal waste and mismanagement at the expense of Ontarians’ hard earned tax dollars.”
“In typical Liberal fashion, this government needlessly and recklessly pushed their agenda forward, putting politics ahead of Ontario’s best interest.”
The $70-million figure is much higher than expected and previously reported in the media. Last year, the ministry’s annual estimates showed $14 million was budgeted for the ORPP with another $1.53 million this year, including $860,000 for salaries.
According to the report, costs included $12.1 million for a five-year sub-lease of two furnished floors of office space at 2 Queen St. E., $17.6 million for consultants, $3.5 million in legal fees, $757,900 for staff recruitment and $508,000 for branding and communications.
The ORPP office was ramping up efforts to begin collecting premiums from about 4 million workers and their employers in 2018, which the report described as a gargantuan effort.
Were it not for the CPP accord signed by other provinces in June and ratified in July, another 100 workers were to be hired for the Ontario plan this month, another 100 in September and 250 more into 2017.
The annual budget was set at $240 million for next year and $140 in fiscal 2017-2018, the report said, echoing remarks from Wynne last month that “the largest cost has not yet been incurred.”
“No pension plan on this scale had been established in Canada in several decades,” Rafi wrote in the report, citing the long days and intense effort involved in building a pension plan from scratch.
“By the year 2020, it was estimated that our organization would serve 4.5 million plan members and 450,000 employers.”
By ROB FERGUSONQueen’s Park Bureau
Thu., July 28, 2016