This is the most entertaining story I read in any of four newspapers this morning. Le Devoir brings us a report from a left-leaning think tank Jacques Parizeau launched (as a retired private citizen) in 1999, which asserts that Quebec’s Caisse de dépôt et placement holds $5.4 billion in investments in oil-sands companies, including $2.7 billion of Enbridge stock.
That’s a lot.
The Caisse holds and invests the assets of 25 provincial funds, including the Quebec Pension Plan. It used to try to be all “strategic” and invest in ways that would build Quebec — the whole thing was born at the height of the Quiet Revolution in 1965 — but one of the first things Jean Charest did when he came to power was to change its mandate to make it seek high return on investment as a first priority.
The report’s two authors say the Caisse’s holdings in three oil-sands companies — Enbridge, Suncor and Canadian Natural Resources — is nearly double the value of its holdings in the 45 Quebec companies in the Caisse’s portfolio.
The rest of the tale is told in tones of mounting terror. “The ‘wool sock’ [a familiar folkloric term to describe the place where savings would be stashed] of Quebec’s men and women is put to use developing fossil fuels in Western Canada,” the authors write. This “goes against the values and public policies of [the Caisse's investors'] own society.”
The Caisse disputes the authors’ figures, and offers Le Devoir a set of numbers at the lower end of the billions-of-dollars scale, but whichever side is right, it’s pretty clear Quebec’s public pension fund is into the oil sands big time.
This is one of those stories that makes you realize the world isn’t wired the way everyone tells you the world is wired. Jack Layton approved election ads in Quebec in 2008 suggesting the federal Conservatives would “make us slaves to the oil men.” If anyone’s a slave, it turns out it has been accomplished directly from Quebec City, with no federal middleman. And if, on the other hand, anyone’s a beneficiary, Quebec retirees will get to share the wealth.