Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the hon. member for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve on his excellent speech. In my opinion it was very pertinent. The people listening will certainly have recognized how one ought to act if one is seeking transparency in the handling of public funds.
I am particularly happy to take part in this debate on the NDP motion. I am happy because in the past, I also introduced, with a colleague, a bill along the same lines.
When trying to be transparent, one concern must be the criteria for investment. Workers who entrust their savings to pension funds have the right to know where their money is going.
This is why I think pension fund administrators should, in their annual reports, present the social, ethical or environmental considerations that they have taken into account before making their investments on the financial markets.
Must pension plan boards be compelled to make socially responsible investments? I think they must. I believe it would be a very good idea if we could, at the very least, oblige the administrators to adopt a policy like this themselves and let their contributors know about it.
Concretely, half the money traded on world financial markets belong to small investors in pension funds. This represents, Canada-wide, some $600 billion, about $90 billion of that for businesses under federal control. That is the money of workers, and it has become one of the major engines of globalization. These investors hold considerable influence in their hands with the potential to bring about sustainable development anywhere and everywhere on this planet.
An ethical investment policy would encourage businesses to provide broader progress reports than a mere financial report, because it introduces the concept of a three-fold approach to accountability: a financial statement coupled with a social and environmental statement. This new approach can very readily be integrated with the company's general strategy.
Institutional investors, pension funds in particular, carry considerable financial clout. Half of the shares of major Canadian corporations are owned by pension or mutual funds. In Quebec, the assets of complementary pension funds are estimated at over $100 billion, some $30 billion of that in the government and public employees pension plan.
In Canada, we find that pension fund administrators, lacking a precise definition of their fiduciary obligations, feel they do not have enough latitude to take social responsibility into consideration in their decisions.
Because the only demands upon them concern the financial aspect, these fund administrators must be capable of proving they have invested well from the financial point of view, regardless of where they have invested. For example, they may have invested in companies that use child labour. This is important, and this is what we are opposed to. The funds of the public, the pension funds of small investors, which the government has in its hands, must be invested in businesses that are not involved in human rights violations.
As I said, some governments have already adopted changes to their legislation to facilitate the introduction of non-financial criteria for their investment policies, particularly ones to enhance accountability on this aspect. This is the case in the United Kingdom, Belgium and France.
In Canada at present socially responsible investments, that is investments for which at least one of the three approaches to ethical investment is applied, apparently total around $50 billion, close to $5 billion of that in ethical funds and another $5 billion in union funds such as the CSN or the FTQ.
The federal government's role in promoting corporate social responsibility is to lead by example. In fact, when it purchases goods and services, the government supports economic development or is responsible for managing capital entrusted to it. We may wonder if it would be appropriate for this government to compel the companies it does business to apply socially responsible principles.
Even if I agree that retirement fund boards and administrators are responsible for determining to what extent retirement fund investments will be based on criteria to ensure social responsibility, I believe that the state can act to ensure that these choices are more transparent.
In the United Kingdom, Germany and France, retirement fund administrators or trustees are already required to make public the investment policies behind their pension plan investment policy. Observers believe this is a step in the right direction.
In Quebec, under the previous government, a parliamentary commission considered this issue. When will the federal government decide to act? No one knows. Consequently, we hope that government members will vote in favour of the motion by our NDP colleague.
In conclusion, investments can be made according to criteria that promote constructive corporate behaviour and balance between profitability and social responsibility.
Socially responsible investment means, first and foremost, that workers must be made aware of how their money is being invested. As a result, they need access to relevant information about the purpose of investments being made on their behalf.
While finance minister, the current Prime Minister said he supported the principles underlying the NDP motion. Now he just has to turn his words into actions.