Links between pension fund directors and fossil fuels are “incompatible” for some Canadians.

A flare lights up the sky from the Imperial Oil Refinery in Edmonton, Alta.  Imperial Oil is one of several oil and gas companies with ties to executives at the top of some of Canada's largest pension funds.  (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press - photo credit)

A flare lights up the sky from the Imperial Oil Refinery in Edmonton, Alta. Imperial Oil is one of several oil and gas companies with ties to executives at the top of some of Canada’s largest pension funds. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press – photo credit)

Despite mounting pressure from Canadians who want their money to stop supporting oil and gas, the majority of the country’s largest pension fund managers continue to invest in the sector — and are run by people with deep ties to fossil-fuel companies.

CBC News reviewed publicly available biographies and resumes of executives overseeing Canada’s 10 largest pension fund managers and found that eight organizations have at least one senior member, either a board member or an executive, who actively directs a company in the oil or gas sector .

These companies include oil and gas exploration companies, pipeline operators, gasoline dealers and drilling rig contractors.

Current laws and regulations do not prevent directors from holding positions in pension funds and companies in the oil and gas sector.

“There is nothing wrong with a director sitting on more than one board. There is no statute prohibiting you from doing so,” said Prof Barnali Choudhury, a corporate governance expert at Osgoode Hall Law School.

However, Choudhury said she understands why this might raise questions for some. She encouraged members with concerns to turn to their pensions to advocate for stronger climate action.

CBC News spoke to several people who have done just that — and are campaigning to get their pension funds off oil and gas. Connections between board members and oil and gas companies make them question whose interests are really being prioritized.

“I will… invest in something that I know will harm you.”

Teri Burgess teaches 4th grade in Comox Valley on Vancouver Island, BC. She said children today are growing up in the shadow of a changing climate and the idea that part of their salary could help is beyond frustrating.

“It’s ridiculous to think that [pension directors] can both serve the needs of their members and sit on a different board,” said Burgess, who has two sons.

Submitted by Teri Burgess

Submitted by Teri Burgess

Burgess is attending her union’s annual meeting this weekend, where she plans to support motions calling for the British Columbia Teachers’ Union to advocate for the sale of her pension.

Members have called for divestments in the past, but Burgess and others say they haven’t seen nearly enough progress.

The pension fund manager holds stakes in a number of oil and gas companies, including ConocoPhillips, the company behind the controversial Willow oil drilling project in Alaska, according to a 2022 investment portfolio update on BCI’s website.

Burgess said she doesn’t want her income to be invested in the top drivers of greenhouse gas emissions.

“I don’t know of any colleague of mine in any school who wants to stand in front of the room and say, ‘Hey kids… I will continue to invest in something that I know is doing you harm.’ “

Burgess’ pension fund is managed by British Columbia Investment Management Corporation (BCI). Its executive vice president and global head of infrastructure and renewable resources, Lincoln Webb, is also the chairman of the supervisory board of the natural gas transmission network Open Grid Europe and a board member of Czech Gas Networks.

Neither Webb nor BCI’s media relations team responded to CBC’s multiple attempts to contact them for comment.

Meanwhile, BCI has acknowledged in previous statements that “climate change poses a systemic risk to the value of our clients’ portfolios and to the global economy,” and said it supports “the global path to net zero.”

It’s an example of how, despite differing climate commitments and net-zero policies from eight of Canada’s largest pension fund managers, there continues to be overlap between the oil and gas industry and these funds, which together account for about $1.96 trillion in net assets.

Whose interests are they pursuing?

According to retired economist Roy Culpeper, having retiree directors at oil and gas companies is simply “inconsistent”.

Culpeper, who lives in Ottawa, used to work at the federal Treasury Department. One of the directors of his pension fund manager – PSP Investments – is Miranda Hubbs, who also serves on the board of Imperial Oil.

“It seems to me … impossible to serve the interests of a large fossil fuel company on the one hand and the interests of the pension fund and its beneficiaries on the other,” Culpeper said.

While day-to-day investment decisions are not generally made by board members, they typically set strategy and approve overarching investment policies.

Culpeper’s concerns are shared by Andy Kroeker, executive director of West Elgin Community Health Center in southwestern Ontario.

“I don’t understand how this conflict can’t be real,” he said.

Kroeker’s pension fund – HOOPP – represents Ontario’s healthcare workers and already has a tobacco-free investment policy.

Like tobacco, Kroeker said, climate change is a threat to people’s health and should be treated the same way.

“I think HOOPP is making some progress … but I expect a full divestment,” he said.

Carolyn Hicks Productions

Carolyn Hicks Productions

Pension fund managers deny conflicts of interest

CBC reached out to all of the pension organizations and individuals named in this story. Neither of them agreed to an interview. Three responded with written statements.

A spokesman for the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board said via email that “there is no point in proposing a conflict of interest because a director has experience in a particular area.”

The CDPQ stressed that it had divested itself of 90 percent of its oil production assets as of June last year, and said the board member, who works with Texas oil and gas exploration company Pioneer Natural Resources, has a focus on climate and sustainable investments.

A spokesman for AIMCo said: “Board members are not selected based on their particular industry experience, but rather for the complement of skills and acumen they bring.”

For the sake of transparency, CBC also reviewed the list of board members and managers of its own pension plan. None of them had obvious ties to companies in the oil or gas sector.

Canadian pension funds lag behind others

Sustainable finance organization Shift Action is tracking the climate commitments of Canada’s largest guesthouses and recently rated their sustainability in a certificate.

Shift Action senior manager Patrick Derochie said while some funds are showing signs of progress through net-zero targets and more investment in renewable energy, there is still a long way to go.

“Canada is behind on this issue,” said Derochie.

The New York State Pension Fund and Europe’s largest pension fund (APB) have both decided to drop fossil fuel stocks.

In Canada, Quebec pension fund manager CDPQ is the only one that has committed to excluding oil producers from its portfolio, but not gas.

Mark Bochsler/CBC

Mark Bochsler/CBC

“The investment decisions of these pension funds can determine how quickly we phase out fossil fuels, how quickly we reduce carbon emissions,” Derochie said.

Derochie wonders if directors who sit on the boards of fossil fuel companies are trying to push oil and gas interests at the pension fund.

“This pension fund director who has to serve the interests of Imperial Oil… that’s very different from the best interests of either you or me.”

Who are the bond fund leaders linked to oil and gas?

Judith Athaide:

Maria Jelescu Dreyfus:

  • Board Member of Caisse de dépôt et Placement du Québec (CDPQ, Quebec Pension Fund Manager).

  • Board member of Pioneer Natural Resources (Texas oil and gas exploration and production company).

Ashleigh Everett:

Brian Gibson:

  • Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Investment Management Corporation of Ontario (IMCO).

  • Board member of Precision Drilling Corporation (Alberta oil and gas rig company).

Miranda Hubbs:

  • Board member of the Public Sector Pension Investment Board (PSPIB).

  • Board member at Imperial Oil (Canadian petroleum refiner, crude oil and natural gas producer).

Lorraine Mitchelmore:

  • Board Member of Alberta Investment Management Corporation (AIMCo).

  • Board member at Suncor (oil producer and refiner in Alberta).

  • Board member of Cheniere Energy (LNG terminals owner and operator based in Texas).

Barry Perry:

  • Board member at CPPIB.

  • Board Member of Capital Power (Alberta power generation company that owns and operates natural gas, solar and wind power plants).

Debbie Stone:

  • Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan (OTPP) board member.

  • Washington Gas board member.

  • Board member at NuVista Energy (oil and gas exploration, development and production company).

  • Board member of Parkland Corporation (Alberta-based fuel supplier and operator of Chevron, Pioneer, Ultramar and Esso), board member of Trican Well Service (supplies oil and gas well equipment and services).

Lincoln Webb:

  • Executive Vice President and Head of Infrastructure and Renewable Resources at BCI.

  • Chairman of the Board of Directors of Open Grid Europe (gas transport network).

  • Board member at Czech Gas Networks.

Nicholas Zelenczuk:

  • Board member of the Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan (HOOPP.)

  • Board Member at Teine Energy (Alberta-based oil and gas exploration, development and production company).


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