graph showing arrow going downA first-ever mid-year report by the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System (OMERS) can’t draw attention away from the systemic underperformance of OMERS investment returns, says the CUPE Ontario.

“Just like a single cold day doesn’t mean temperatures aren’t rising, half a year of investment returns tells us very little about the long-term performance of our pension plan,” said Fred Hahn, President of CUPE Ontario. “Clearly, this is a desperate move to mislead and distract in response to growing concerns about how OMERS operates. We can’t let them distract us from the fact that OMERS has undeniably underperformed compared to similar defined benefit pension plans and funds for over the last 10 years.”

A report issued by CUPE Ontario, Not Just One “Tough Year”: The Need for a Review of OMERS Investment Performance, examines how OMERS investments have performed compared to other large defined benefit pension plans and funds, also revealing how OMERS has underperformed compared to its own internal benchmarks.

OMERS’ claim that its 2020 return of -2.7%, or a loss of $3-billion, was due to the economic impacts of COVID-19 is unsupported in comparison to other major plans who were investing in the same economic climate and had healthy returns regardless. As well, though OMERS has publicly claimed its 2020 results weren’t indicative of its strength as a long-term investor, the report’s comparison of OMERS’ 10-year returns with those of eight comparable plans, in periods both before and including 2020, shows that’s untrue, according to the union.

Following the report, in July, the City of Toronto unanimously passed a motion calling on OMERS to significantly improve its disclosure and transparency about investment performance which would enable plan members and employers to better evaluate its performance. Also in July came the news that a former OMERS executive is suing OMERS in what is being described by some as the “largest individual claim in Canadian employment law history.” Finally, just this week, CUPE has filed a legal challenge about OMERS’ treatment of paramedic members accessing earlier retirement options.  

“There are some undeniable, systemic, and long-standing issues,” said Hahn. “And, although we’re glad the mid-year results are positive, we’ll continue to stand by our position, increasingly supported by other stakeholders in the plan, that the serious longer-term underperformance of OMERS merits an expert, independent review, conducted by Sponsors and other representatives of plan members. We’ll keep pushing for an independent review of OMERS’ poor long-term investment record because solid returns are in the best interests of both plan members and employers. Increasingly it’s also clear that investment performance cannot be separated from governance and overall operations. It’s time for transparency and accountability if we want to ensure the decent retirement that front-line workers deserve.”