Earlier this month, about 20 teachers marched in front of the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan offices to protest their plan’s investments in fossil fuel assets, particularly what they believed to be a stake in the controversial Kinder Morgan pipeline in Alberta and British Columbia.
“We sometimes hear from members about particular concerns they have, and in this case climate change is obviously a very important issue,” says Rhonda Kimberly-Young, spokesperson for the Ontario Teachers’ Federation, which co-sponsors the plan.
“We take those concerns very seriously,” she adds. “If we hear those concerns, then we certainly make sure the plan administration is aware of them so the plan can look at the strategies they’re using and make sure that they are taking the whole concept of responsible investing seriously. But the process for how the plan does that, it really is up to the plan administration to make those decisions.”
Kimberly-Young also notes plan administrators have a fiduciary duty to plan members and an obligation to try to ensure they can keep their pension promises.
According to the Ontario Teachers’ website, the plan has investments of at least $150 million in Canbriam Energy Inc., a natural gas company based in Western Canada, and Scotia Gas Networks Ltd., a gas distribution company in Britain. It also invests in Cubico Sustainable Investments Ltd., a renewable energy infrastructure company.
“We advised them at the outset that we’re not part of Kinder Morgan, which was their original question,” says Deborah Allan, spokesperson for the plan.
“Divestment just means somebody else buys the shares. So we want to understand what companies’ plans are, what their approaches are. . . . We just feel if we’re engaged with them from the outset and can gain a better understanding of their approach, then we have an opportunity to influence, as opposed to just sell the stocks to somebody else who doesn’t care.”
Allan notes if both plan sponsors — the Ontario Teachers’ Federation and the Ontario government — adopt a divestment policy, the plan regulations will have to change.
Toronto350.org, which organized the protest, hasn’t returned Benefits Canada‘s request for comment.