Lost the battle, won the war

July 29, 2019

The Federal Court of Appeal renders judgment in the PSHCP case

On June 24, 2019, the Federal Court of Appeal in Ottawa rendered its judgment in the National Association of Federal Retirees challenge of Treasury Board’s changes to Public Service Health Care Plan (PSHCP) premiums that saw most retirees’ contributions increase to 50 per cent from 25 per cent beginning in April 2015. 

Federal Retirees subsequently consulted with its legal counsel and the National Board of Directors and has decided not to seek leave to appeal the FCA judgment to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Some members have questioned the wisdom of pursuing this case in court. Recall that the Association was successful in protecting low income pensioners who still pay a 25-per-cent share; that annual deductibles were removed for the PSHCP; and the move to 50:50 cost-sharing was gradually phased in over four years. Federal Retirees believed its participation in this agreement was coerced, that it was the result of bad faith bargaining by the Treasury Board, and that our right to freedom of association under the Charter had been interfered with.

The appeal court found this premium increase was lawful and our Charter right had not been infringed.

Still, there are a lot of positives in the court’s decision, especially recognition of our right to represent all federal retirees. “You have made an investment in getting your rights recognized by the courts and you have achieved that. Short of total victory, it’s as good a result as we could have hoped for,” says David Law, Counsel for Federal Retirees.

From the outset, the board of directors was careful and deliberate before deciding to appeal to the Federal Court and then the Federal Court of Appeal. All factors were considered including our responsibility to protect our benefits (our raison d’être); the advice from our lawyers; the fact our members come from numerous and varied backgrounds; and the board’s fiduciary and due diligence responsibilities. 

“Everyone has a right to his or her opinion but rest assured that the decisions taken by the board of directors in this case were very carefully considered and taken in the best interests of all our members,” says national president Jean-Guy Soulière. “We perhaps have lost the battle but if you read the court’s decision in its entirety, we may have won the war. While this did cost us a total of slightly more than half a million dollars over a period of five years — and includes all the costs of the original Federal Court case and the subsequent appeal — no one should question our resolve or our ability to protect our benefits or our willingness to try to protect our members and keep unwanted action by the government in check.”

This court case goes to the heart of why Federal Retirees needs a strong and growing membership base so we can continue to advocate on behalf of our members. Federal Retirees and its individual branches maintain healthy reserve funding to defend our pensions and benefits and to pursue important legal cases like this.