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I wonder how this province’s tens of thousands of working and retired public servants would feel if they knew that hundreds of millions...

I wonder how this province’s tens of thousands of working and retired public servants would feel if they knew that hundreds of millions of their precious and powerful pension-fund dollars are being dedicated to the pumping of tar sands bitumen across B.C. and to the export of raw logs?

I suspect they’d be righteously ticked. I have discovered that the British Columbia Investment Management Corporation (BCIMC) has heavy investments in Enbridge Inc. and Brookfield Assets Management, which owns Island Timberlands.

Enbridge needs no introduction. Its plan to pump bitumen from Alberta to Kitimat through the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline has galvanized many thousands of British Columbians in protest. Many of those protesters are public servants and the unions that represent them and they were very well represented when more than 3,000 citizens protested the pipeline on the front lawn of the legislature in October.

In last week’s column, I wrote about Island Timberlands and its plans to log in ecologically sensitive old growth stands on Cortes Island. The company likes to export raw logs to the U.S. and Asia. In that column, I mused about the provincial government’s lack of stewardship on the issue. Now, I know why my antenna was vibrating.

What we have here is a corporation joined at the hip with government which is investing public money to support corporate agendas that most of their clients oppose vehemently. I know some Third World tin pot dictators who would be green with envy.

What kind of coin are we talking about? In the case of Enbridge, 10.4 million shares worth $405 million. In the case of Brookfield, 6.5 million shares worth $205 million. (Source: BCIMC Investment Inventory List as of March 31, 2012)

BCIMC administers $92 billion that finance the retirement benefits of more than 500,000 members of public sector pension plans, including university and college instructors and staff, municipal employees, healthcare workers, firefighters, police officers, public servants, teachers, and employees of WorkSafeBC, ICBC and BC Hydro.

Established under the Public Sector Pension Plans Act in 1999, BCIMC is headquartered all snuggly with other government ministry offices over at the Selkirk Waterfront complex. The corporation advertises itself as an independently managed investment agency “at arm’s length from government thereby avoiding potential conflicts that can develop between government’s policy decisions and the management of public sector trust funds.”

This arm’s length relationship to government policy makers sounds pretty convincing on paper. But, the devil is in the details. In BCIMC’s case, the devil is the finance minister who appoints three of the seven members of the BCIMC board of directors. One of those three has to be the chair of the board.

The fact of the matter is that when this duck quacks it sounds just like any other government agency. Arguing that BCIMC is immunized against governmental influence is about as valid as making the same assumption about a corporation like BC Ferries with its theoretical independence.

BCIMC says it has started to actively monitor and encourage companies in its portfolio to implement responsible environmental practices. But, this is strictly a bottom line consideration. “If companies are aware of and responsive to the environmental and social impacts of their operations, they can reduce risk to long-term profitability,” the BCIMC spin doctors say.

They might want to consider a caveat about avoiding companies whose corporate agendas offend the majority of the population.

I hear quacking. M

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