BC Investment

Pro-media: watchdogs or lapdogs?

Katie Hyslop has a worthwhile piece in The Tyee about the British Columbia Investment Management Corporation. Teacher Decries Pension Plan’s ‘Unethical’ Investments, The Tyee, Nov. 13/12

“[Paul] Hutcheson started researching the B.C. Teachers’ Pension Plan in 1999 after learning the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan invested in Talisman Energy. At the time Talisman, an oil and gas company, owned Arakis Energy, a company with connections to oil and gas in Sudan. The government of Sudan, when not evicting residents from land for oil and gas development, was conducting a bloody civil war using this fuel to run its war machines.

“Disturbed, Hutcheson took a look at B.C.’s plan. He found not only investments in Talisman but in British American Tobacco, which in addition to manufacturing and selling cigarettes had suppliers in Malawi accused of child labour and abuse; Comcast, an American cable, digital phone, and Internet company which sells on-demand pornography; and other corporations he considers unethical…”

Ms. Hyslop focuses on investment policies related to teachers’ pensions and that fits her education beat at The Tyee. However, while her contribution is worthwhile, it addresses only a small part of a larger story.

I’ve tried to interest corporate media in bcIMC but they prefer stories about four-star officers caught with pants at half mast. Those reports are more titillating than examinations of unethical investments and safer than covering self-interested actions of executives who hide behind well constructed barriers of secrecy, reinforced by endless legal and PR resources.

The Tyee is a news provider with one foot in the alternative stream and the other planted deeply in the mainstream. The online publication is brave in treatment of some issues – Andrew Nikiforuk’s work on the environment for example – but timorous in other coverage.

I asked a person with long provincial political experience about my concerns over bcIMC. The response,

“From what I understand, unlike many funds, they make decisions without ethical or other considerations. You are right that there are a lot of opportunities for self interest and few if any people keep an eye on what they do, either from an ethical or personal self interest point of view.

“I for one was very surprised by the tobacco investments. That’s not what a government and its entities should be investing in.”

Any readers who agree this subject should be more fully explored should say so in every available forum. Introduce it on radio talk shows, on internet forums and in union meetings. Write letters to the media and to politicians and party hacks.

There is almost $100 billion at stake, spread around the world with little concern for the capital needs of British Columbia or the ethical concerns of its citizens.

Scroll through items here about bcIMC.

4 replies »

  1. I should mention,Norm,that bcIMC covers more than teachers. It covers a whole range of employees in the provincial,municipal,and K-12 sectors as well. What bothers me most about this is that this plan is run under a joint trusteeship,in other words both unions and employers make the decisions whereas prior to the 1990's the plan was under the administration of a superannuation commission.Theoretically we as union members have some say in how the plan is run and how the money's invested.


  2. True, but the say is more theoretical than actual. Clearly, individual investment decisions should not be subject to political influence but broad statements of investment policy are very appropriate matters for the government and representatives of pension beneficiaries to establish. However, there ought to be maximum transparency and stringent oversight to ensure that policies are followed without benefits flowing to any other than fund beneficiaries.

    We have a system that fails badly in accountability and transparency.


  3. Agreed. Of course union members demand (rightfully imo) that there's enough money in the plan for their retirement. I feel the problem is the perception that so called “ethical” investments don't earn as high a rate of return as other,less ethical investments. And trying to get agreement between the various stakeholders can be a challenge,too. There's been a movement to abolish the “90” rule so that more folks can retire earlier with unreduced pensions. That's a really tough sell.


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