The Surviving Spouses Pension Fairness Coalition is a national lobby group seeking the repeal of unfair clauses in the federally regulated pension plans, which deny the benefits of a survivor pension to some spouses.
We comprise pensioners associations, trade unions, seniors’ organizations and other groups who are eager to protect the rights and interests of retirees and their spouses. These organizations represent more than 5.2 million Canadians. They are listed in the Partners page.
The Coalition was conceived in 2012 and became public with development of this website, in 2014.
A Fairness Issue
In the six federal Acts regulating pension plans, the definition of the eligibility to a survivor pension contains exclusion clauses related to the retiree’s marital history:
a) If the retiree is over 60 at the time of the union, the spouse is not eligible. This clause is found in the Canadian Forces and the RCMP pension plans.
b) If the union happens after the retirement date, the spouse is not eligible. This clause affects Public Service and
Crown Corporations retirees, as well as retirees from the private sector under federal jurisdiction (banks,
transportation, communications, etc).
c) For Judges, if the union happens after they cease to hold office, the spouse is not eligible.
d) For Members of Parliament, if the union happens after they cease to be a member, the spouse is not eligible.
These exclusions have roots in ancient history:
At the turn of the 20th century, in United States, young ladies were marrying veterans of the Civil War (1861-1865) in order to get their pensions. The American government drafted legislation to prevent these “deathbed marriages” and they referred to it as “gold digger” legislation.
In 1901, the Canadian government enacted similar legislation in the Canadian Militia Pension Act. It allowed the government to deny benefits to military widows who they deemed unworthy. Today¸ a survivor pension is denied if the marriage takes place after the retiree reaches age 60.
Since then, succeeding governments have written additional language to include the spouses of those who marry after retirement, thus restricting an ever wider range of Canadians in public and private sectors.
“Gold-digger” legislation may have been needed 119 years ago but today it is simply archaic and unfair.
Our Actions (2015-2019)
Early in 2015, in view of the election on October 15, we wrote to the party leaders seeking their commitment to correct this unfair situation. The leader of the Liberal Party, Justin Trudeau, the Leader of the New Democratic Part, Thomas Mulcair and the leader of the Green Party, Elizabeth May responded positively. As for the leader of the Conservative Party, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, we did not even receive an acknowledgement notice.
Soon after the election of the Liberal Government, we undertook a communication process with the Prime Minister, the ministers directly responsible for each of the six Acts regulating the pension plans and a few indirectly responsible We explained to them the problem, presented our goal and our arguments in view of gaining their support for our cause.
We were counting on the fact that the minister of Veterans Affairs and associate minister of National Defence, Kent Hehr, had in his mandate to “ eliminate the ‘marriage after 60’ claw-back clause so that surviving spouses of Veterans receive appropriate pension and health benefits ‘’. This major change in the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act appeared to us as a first step and we were hoping that it could lead to more changes.
In August 2017, a replacement occurred, Seamus O’Reagan was appointed. In July 2018, we received a letter from him indicating that “...the Department of National Defence’s staff is assessing requirements ...” related to this eventual legislative change. And in 2019, another minister was appointed. Finally, no results.
The NDP Private Member’s Bill
The Coalition collaborated closely with the New Democratic Party in the preparation of a Private Member’s Bill proposing changes in the six pension plan acts restricting the right to the benefits of a survivor pension.
MP Irene Mathyssen introduced the PM Bill C-397 in February 2018. The NDP also launched a public petition to collect support in favor of the Bill. The Coalition advised its partners, inviting them to circulate the petition among their membership.
Given our previous experience, we decided that it was not worth taking action during the 2019 election campaign. Simply, we learned that it is easy to get a promise during a campaign but there is no guarantee that it will be kept.
We will contact the NDP leader, Jagmeet Singh, asking for the NDP to sponsor a new Private Member’s Bill similar to that of Irene Mathyssen. Irene has retired and her Bill is no longer on the Order Paper. It should be sufficient to reproduce the language in the previous bill as there has been no change in the legislation to render it inappropriate or invalid.
With the new minority composition of the House of Commons, we envision new approaches in the pursuit of our goal. We are preparing new plans and suggest that you regularly check our News page.