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A founding father of Federal Retirees

Claude Edwards was elected to the job of president three times and leaves a lasting legacy for retirees through his significant on-the-job victories.

Claude Edwards came to the job of eighth president of the then-Federal Superannuates National Association as a seasoned and energetic labour leader who heralded a series of positive changes over his nine-year tenure. Having been elected three times for the top job, he’s remembered as an effective president.

“I have fond memories of Claude,” says Helen Cheng, his long-time executive assistant. “He was intelligent, knowledgeable, astute and had a good sense of humour.”

Edwards had served as president of the Civil Service Federation of Canada and the Public Service Alliance of Canada and had been a member of the public service superannuation advisory committee. He had made his mark as someone who was adept at promoting and defending the interests of federal public servants and had received the prestigious Order of Canada for those efforts and other volunteer work.

“One of Claude’s big assets in the job,” says Jean-Guy Soulière, who served as his executive director for several years, “was his enormous contacts with the labour movement. He also had very good contacts with senior politicians, the prime minister and everyone else and he really is responsible for putting the organization on the map.”

In the president’s role, he assumed power after Bill C-33, which promised to guarantee indexed pensions, died on the order paper. As a result, there were some urgent matters to address. The Association asked the government to increase the surviving spouse's allowance above the present 50 per cent level; permit spouses who married a superannuate after the latter's retirement to be eligible for survivors' benefits; and increase the residual death benefit of $500 to the maximum compatible with the resources of the fund.

The first two requests went unfulfilled, but Bill C-55, which received royal assent in 1992, provided an option to those who married after retirement to obtain, at the cost of a reduced annuity, a survivor pension for their spouses. It was less than the Association had asked for, but it was a step in the right direction. In addition, the paid-up death benefit was increased from $500 to $5,000. Meanwhile, the bill introduced the Pension Benefits Division Act, which allowed a separated or divorced spouses to receive his or her share of the member's pension entitlement in the form of a lump sum payment into a Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) or other pension plan rather than a monthly plan, which would end with the member's death. Pension advisory committees were also established for the Canadian Forces and RCMP. 

Claude Edwards
Claude Edwards

Other positive changes during Edwards’ tenure came in the form of appointments. The Association’s president was appointed to the management board of the newly created Public Service Health Care Plan (PSHCP) and to the advisory committee on the Public Service Superannuation Act (PSSA), which was reconstituted after four years of dormancy with a mandate to begin a comprehensive review of the Public Service Superannuation Act.  In addition, an Association vice-president was appointed to the Canadian Forces’ pension advisory committee.

Soulière says Edwards was also known as the father of the dental plan for Federal Retirees.

“He and I and another member of staff had numerous meetings with then Finance Minister Paul Martin,” Soulière says. “I remember us meeting in a restaurant and negotiating for a dental plan for pensioners.”

During his time in office, Edwards also provided a change in direction, moving the Association’s advocacy from one that reacted to government measures that had been passed to one that took a more proactive approach. For example, in its 1994 budget, the new Liberal government imposed another cut to seniors’ incomes by income-testing the age tax credit, a move that caused upwards of 25 per cent of seniors to lose all or part of the credit. The same government announced it would launch a review of the public pension and income security system.

Further, when rumours swirled that the CPP/QPP could be reduced or eliminated for “affluent” seniors, Edwards and his team helped form the Coalition of Seniors for Social Equity (COSSE), made up of five major national seniors' groups and endorsed by many others. Edwards was appointed pro tempore chair. An early win for the coalition was its release of a report titled Seniors' Income: Myths and Reality, which documented the gradual erosion of the universal income for seniors since the mid-1980s, among other important points. In his next budget, Martin stated that the CPP/QPP would not be income-tested.

Health care soon became an issue for COSSE and Edwards was among 250 who held a three-day conference called “One Voice” in Montreal in 1994. Among the concerns was the fact that the primary features of Medicare — universality, accessibility, comprehensiveness, portability and public administration — were under attack.

Also in 1994, the position of executive director was created and Soulière assumed the role. By 1997, the Association reached the 100,000-member mark.

Soulière says one thing many don’t know about Edwards is that he was a key player in the founding of the association when it was formed 60 years ago. At the time, founder Fred Whitehouse, who was a colleague of Edwards in the federal labour movement, reached out to his old friend to help him establish the Association.

“Claude was there at the very outset,” Soulière says. “He was in the background, but he was there as one of the active supporters of the creation.”

Soulière remembers his old boss and later his peer as “tough.

“He was a competent labour leader and he was a fantastic negotiator — he was thinking strategically all the time. He and I worked tremendously together. It was a very professional relationship.”

Another major accomplishment Soulière recalls was the purchase of a building for Federal Retirees. Edwards backed him on his preference to buy rather than rent when PSAC needed to repatriate the office space Federal Retirees had occupied. After the Association made the purchase, it named the building — and its subsequent building on Shefford Road — after Edwards.

“Claude is very much part of the history of the association,” Soulière says. “I’ve never seen a person so strategically oriented.”

When he retired from his volunteer work with the Association, Edwards received a lifetime membership award. He died on May 16, 2010 at the age of 94. Edwards served in the RCAF in Canada, the United Kingdom and Holland during the Second World War and subsequently joined the Department of Veterans Affairs.

About the author

Jennifer Campbell is the editor of Sage magazine and Sage60