Quebec’s pension fund: a proud Enbridge shareholder

In all, Quebec’s Caisse de dépôt et placement holds $5.4 billion in investments in oil-sands companies

by Paul Wells

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.




Browse

Quebec’s pension fund: a proud Enbridge shareholder

  1. I love Quebeckers and their cultue (grew up there and married to one), but it should come as no surprise that Quebec values as described by their politicians, media, and other elites are only possible with a heavy dose of hypocrisy.

  2. Is this one of those Quebec values that makes it young Trudeau’s oasis in the midst of the dark Harper desert?

  3. So I guess the rhetoric becomes “how can you claim to be against the oilsands when you profit from them” on one side and “as shareholders we demand our company act more responsibly” on the other. 

    • Ah, yes so now because the Quebec pension plan is a shareholder in three big players in the oil sands we can believe the oil companies are capable of acting responsibly and that the oil sands will come under increased environmental scrutiny.  Afterall, it is one thing to believe that Albertans and their government are in bed with the oil companies and their “dirty oil” but Quebec….non…can’t be so!

      • one is the rhetorical equivalent of the other.  The two facts are that many people of all sorts invest in all types of portfolios and that the oilsands aren’t environmentally friendly. 

        • Sorry, I beg to differ.  There is only fact we learned here today…that is that the oilsands aren’t environmentally friendly BUT don’t let your ideals get in the way of your investments.
          To pretend that people/provinces/companies cannot tailor their investments to suit their consciences is absurd.  Gee, I sure would like to get a look at Robert Redford’s portfolio….my guess is he isn’t investing in dirty oil in the belief that he will make it more environmentally friendly….but who knows hypocrisy abounds.

          • learning just ain’t your strong point then.

          • Oh, I learned plenty about you, GMFD…your ideals are flexible when it comes to justifying the behavior of the politicians you align yourself with.

          • “Sorry, I beg to differ.  There is only fact we learned here today…that is that the oilsands aren’t environmentally friendly BUT don’t let your ideals get in the way of your investments.To pretend that people/provinces/companies cannot tailor their investments to suit their consciences is absurd. ”

            Bet that one didn’t make it into the PM’s briefing notes while he was busy flogging off both his conscience and oilsands while on his recent China hop?

          • Although I know it doesn’t fit in with what you like to believe, we in Alberta are spending alot of research dollars in trying to find ways to make oil extraction from the oilsands as environmentally responsible as possible…afterall, everytime a duck dies in northern Alberta it is heard around the world..the oilsands are probably the most closely scrutnized resource project on the entire planet from an environmental point of view.
            I don’t understand why for some reason the coal industry gets a pass from people like Robert Redford and his ilk.
            It is amazing to me that while BP was spewing oil into the ocean, they were pointing fingers at Alberta’s dirty oil….what a joke.
            As for your mentioning China…pleese..you think they give a crap about environmentalism…you can’t see across the street there for the air pollution, not to mention the open pits of toxic materials.  People walk around with tumors the size of a second head on their shoulders and they don’t even have pain medication.

          • kcm2…you don’t know why coal isn’t higher on the radar of the so-called environmentalists despite their appalling environmental record??….could it be about political leverage for Obama and box-office blow-back for Robert Redford and his friends?  It is one thing to beak off about one small province in Canada with a population of only 3.3 million people, it is another thing to be seen attacking the American heartland.
            It is the same reason farming isn’t attacked even though all those farting cows are responsible for oh-so much climate-changing methane gas….are you going to hit people where they eat and attack “poor farmers”…?  No….that won’t get you any mileage….but go after some greedy oil companies….everyone loves to hate them.

          • Big oil largely did it to itself. As for big coal – it does not have a good rep in the US at all. Likely it has “better” or even slimier lobbyists than big oil if possible.

          •                        Total Canadian Carbon Emissions

            Alberta oilsands contribute between 3 & 5 % of total
            Canadian agriculture (methane from cows)  contribute 8.7 % of total
            Canadian coal-fired electricity contributes 13% of total

            Who gets ALL of the negative press?

          • Sure but you aren’t listening. Did you even read that link? That’s exactly why, at least in part the oil/tar sands gets all the negative press. The oil business, or parts of it anyway, are arrogant self absorbed idiots.

  4. In fairness to the Caisse, Enbridge is not an oil sand company. It owns oil and gas pipelines and gas distribution systems, including a share of Gaz Métro (where the Caisse itself is the largest shareholder). 

    It is also worth mentioning that the Caisse also owns stakes in a lot of natural gas infrastructure in Europe, including Interconnector, the largest gas pipeline between the UK and Belgium, Fluxsys, owner gas pipelines and a LNG terminal in Belgium and NEL, a gas pipeline in Germany.

    • Hmm…I wonder if Suncor is a big player in the oilsands…..hahahaha….just kidding.

    • Athabasca pipeline system, Canadian mainline, Alberta Clipper, Line 9.  There’s a little bit of bitumen going on there.

  5. “And if, on the other hand, anyone’s a beneficiary, Quebec retirees will get to share the wealth.”

    Shouldn’t this news get a frame of some other kind? I know PW did not go there at all but i can see some already are. Your average Joe investor is not likely to be aware where all his/her retirement $ is stashed. I could ph my spouse and ask her if she’s aware of where all her teacher’s funds are stashed currently and what harm they might be doing…but i already know the answer…i’m too busy, have you walked the dogs and washed the floor yet? I haven’t so i wont.

    This’s got to mostly be about what the 1% are up to in our name, that’s if there’s anything really wrong with having your bucks in the oil busness anyway, unless you’re a die hard enviro – then you’re a hypocrite obviously. 

    • I am sorry kcm2…you believe that this has “got to mostly be about what the 1 percent are up to in our name”.  I am sorry but all those people in Quebec who are getting daycare for $7.00/day when they live in a have-not province…..do you honestly believe that that they don’t know that the money to pay for that fanatastic social program comes from Alberta’s dirty oil?  I think you give the average man/woman too much credit..most aren’t willing to let their ideals get in the way of living.

      • Maybe i am. I’m a cynic when it comes to people and money, but maybe you ought to aquaint yourself with how equalization actually works…they don’t just get on a plane in Calgery, fly over Quebec, open the window and dump the money out you know; it is a wee bit more nuanced then that.

        Do you seriously believe that’s how the political process works? Folks in Quebec who want affordable daycare because women want to return to the workforce for all kinds of reasons that have as much to do with culture as politcs; that they consciously wake up and rub their greedy little French paws together and chortle – “Mon ami, what a day! I’m going to screw AB today, mon dieu i am!”

        • I am not suggesting anybody from Quebec consciously wakes up with a plan to screw Alberta.  What I am saying is that it isn’t possible that the people who make their home in Quebec do not know that they live in a “have-not” province.  Therefore, they must realize that their province is the receipient of transfer payments from “have” provinces and some of those “have” provinces are “have” provinces because of oil…and one of them is Alberta and that money comes from dirty oil.  What makes you assume they care where the money for their pension fund is invested as long as the return is good?

          • We’ll see if thet care when if this story gets wide circulation wont we?
            Choosing whether or not to live within their means is for Quebecers to decide right?There’s nothing stopping a right wing deficit slashing party from running for office if there’s popular support. Or do you advocate phoning up Edmonton to clear their budget priorities with Premier Redford?

          • Whatever Quebec’s “budget priorities” are is not the concern or business of Premier Redford…she gets no say on transfer payments to have-not provinces and given that she is increasing the money spent on Alberta’s social programs, I doubt that she would object at any rate.  The only point I am making…obviously not clearly….is that it would be hypocritical for Quebecers to ‘fret” about getting money from dirty oil at this point when they have been receiving proceeds from it for some time.

          • As i said that would depend on who really knew what and how much.I have little doubt the political class and the business community [ liberal academia too] have been aware of the hypocrisy for a long time – ordinary folk less so.

  6. People’s ethics often get checked at the door when it comes to their pension funds.

    • That sounds like a modernized revamped quote from Orwell. Just have to substitute dividends for PFs and empire for enbridge…nothing new under the sun eh! Specially when it comes to ethics, politics and lot of lovely $. 

    • I expect investment funds to make as much money as they can while following the law and regulations (that’s why ethical investment funds, which I don’t invest in, are advertised as such, the other funds aren’t ethical).  If limits should be placed on them, I expect government to adjust the laws and regulations.  I have faith in the investors, I’m a little concerned about the government.  

      I also dislike sky is falling every restriction on a company kills everyone’s retirement and robs gramma nonsense.  If growth happens more slowly then that’s what happens.

  7. If Quebec separates, can their pension plan still hold shares in Canadian oil companies?

    • If China should reinvade Tibet should Chinese oil companies still be able to make a profit off the oilsands?

      • Mine wasn’t an “ethical” question, it was simply a request for information…can a foreign country’s govt pension plans own large blocks of stock in Canadian oil companies?

        • Sorry, no idea.

        • Sure they could. They already hold substantial South American, Asian and European equity, as does the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Fund. There are few limits on investing overseas. 

          As always, I feel compelled to point out that any question beginning with “If they separated” has a very big “if” in it. 

          • Haven’t noted up the rules lately, but while there are no prohibitions in the current system from registered plans (pensions, RRSPs, etc.) holding foreign investments, there have historically been limitations.  Assuming a separate Quebec would be pragmatic and not have any such limitations, how “sovereign” could it then really claim to be?

  8. So the growing opposition to the new pipeline hasn’t made Quebec do a massive sell, and it feels its investment will still be profitable then?  Almost as if the business could still make money for its shareholders anyway, even?

  9. Hilarious. And expected.

    Ho hum. Quebec, hypocrisy, what else is new?

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *