Vancouver city council hears concerns over pension plan investments
Vancouver will spend the next year developing a “positive screening process” for its direct investments in Canadian banks and credit unions.
City council approved that recommendation today (October 9), along with a call for staff to investigate what options are available under provincial legislation for Vancouver to invest its own pension funds.
Councillors voted after hearing from a series of speakers, some of whom urged the city to take steps to divest pension investments from fossil-fuel companies.
Marc Lee, a senior economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, said the top 30 companies listed in a staff report on the Municipal Pension Plan include six of the top 50 carbon polluters in the world.
“Pension funds that ignore climate risk I believe are not living up to their fiduciary responsibility,” Lee told council. “Fund management isn’t just about the returns for existing retirees or soon-to-be-retired workers. Young workers must be treated equally, so quantifying and accounting for climate risk is necessary, as it will be several decades before they retire.”
Vancouver and other municipalities across the province participate in the Municipal Pension Plan, which is managed by the B.C. Investment Management Corporation (BCIMC) and has a membership of over 280,000 people.
Lee noted that the BCIMC also has holdings in Enbridge and Kinder Morgan, two companies proposing major pipeline projects in B.C.
UBC professor Patrick Condon joined Lee in urging council to consider divestment from industries that are changing the climate.
“For me and others it seems really clear that there is a moral requirement to understand for the first time certainly in this decade that the idea of an ethical investment in the carbon industry is a bit of an oxymoron,” he said.
Green councillor Adriane Carr suggested an amendment calling for the city to request that the Municipal Pension Plan divest from the fossil-fuel, weapons, and tobacco sectors.
“When a body wants to align its investments with its goals, it has to do so knowing that there may be areas of investment that simply do not align, such as the fossil fuel industry,” she said.
Council voted to refer that motion to staff for consideration in their development of a screening policy.
Vision Vancouver councillor Andrea Reimer, who introduced the motion earlier this year that prompted the pension plan report, called for a “thoughtful and patient” approach to developing a screening policy.
“I hope that whatever standard we set is one that across Canada each city can look at thoughtfully in terms of their own investments, pensions and otherwise,” said Reimer.