The Ontario Municipal Employees’ Retirement System (OMERS) is one of Canada’s largest pension funds. Serving 289,000 municipal workers employed by cities across Ontario, OMERS has net assets of over $105 billion that are intended to support members in their retirement. This year, however, has seen OMERS swamped by numerous scandals.
It is currently in the crosshairs of its largest constituent union, the Ontario chapter of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE). In May 2021, CUPE Ontario, the public-sector union that represents almost half of the fund’s members, released a report indicting the pension fund for chronic underperformance on its investments. While other large funds managed to navigate 2020 without taking significant hits, OMERS’ asset value contracted by almost 3 percent. Given that OMERS pensions derive 70 percent of their funding from investment returns, this has raised serious concerns for plan members.
CUPE Ontario has been quick to point out that this was also not just a case of one bad year. OMERS has failed to meet its own benchmarks multiple times over the past decade and trailed behind other pension funds of comparable size. The problem is not simply one of flagging returns on investment. OMERS, like other Canadian pension funds, is deeply implicated in fossil fuel investments and the financialization of what should be social goods. The consequence of these investment decisions is that pension funds often inadvertently harm the people they exist to serve — working members dependent on public services and planning for a secure retirement.