Madam Speaker, it is a great pleasure to rise to speak to Bill C-231. I am so glad to see the bill has been brought forward, as it addresses the very important issue of how money in federally sponsored plans will be invested in the interest of all Canadians. I would like to acknowledge my colleague from Cowichan—Malahat—Langford and his staff for all their hard work in bringing the bill to the House.
The bill takes the investment approach of the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, which is responsible for managing the funds that will be used to pay CPP beneficiaries well into the future. The management of this fund is critically important to the future well-being of Canadian workers and retirees, but the no-holds-barred investment mandate of the fund managers requires some real common-sense tweaking.
I first became aware of the potential problems with the board's management mandate in 2016 when a colleague of mine, a member from Victoria, sent me an email detailing severe human rights abuses at a mining site in Eritrea that was owned by a Canadian mining company. The email further detailed that the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board was a significant shareholder in the Canadian mining company and was at least indirectly tied to the abuse occurring at the Bisha mining site in Eritrea. My staff and I were shocked as we unearthed more information about the abuses. Military personnel were being employed to basically keep the mine workers in a state of slave labour, and this included arbitrary arrests and detentions and even killing workers who were not producing desired results. I seriously wondered how this was possible. How could the fund that Canadians pay into to secure their retirement be used to support such obvious and tragic human rights abuses?
As my staff and I continued to study the question, the answer started to become clear. The mandate of the Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board, with a huge fund of over $400 billion, 1,500 full-time employees and offices on three continents, was to make as much money as it possibly could through its investments, with very little holding it back. This is its mandate, as defined by the CPPIB Act:
(c) to invest its assets with a view to achieving a maximum rate of return, without undue risk of loss, having regard to the factors that may affect the funding of the Canada Pension Plan and the ability of the Canada Pension Plan to meet its financial obligations on any given business day.
As members can see, the only limitation, to put it in plain English, is this: Do not lose any money.
We thought there must be some certainty, with all these restrictions, on how this board could invest the monies of hard-working Canadians. We continued through the act and researched the board's internal documentation, but we could find no restrictions at all. What we did find were guidelines, committees and policies, none of which were binding and none of which seemed to have much of an effect on the enormous number of investment decisions made by the board. More and more, the board's investment oversight seemed to be a function of its PR department rather than anything related to the operational and investment departments.
Shortly after receiving the email from my colleague, I attended a meeting at the parliamentary finance committee at which the representatives of the CPPIB, including its president, were scheduled to appear. I decided to take some of my own concerns and questions directly to them. I asked them if they were aware the mining company they had invested in to the tune of one and a half million shares was engaged in supplying labour to the Bisha mine under conditions that have been described as slave labour. I also asked if they could describe the measures and procedures they have in place to ensure that they avoid investing in companies linked to human rights violations.
I think the CPPIB representatives were caught off guard and unprepared for such a line of questioning. The answers I received were what we would expect from a company president or a company lawyer when they really do not have a good answer: empty and hollow allusions to guidelines and good intentions. However, I did get a promise that someone from the board would follow up and give me a more detailed answer in the days following the committee meeting.
What I ended up getting was a letter from their chief PR person. In this letter, he spouted some vague commitment to being good corporate citizens, but also said this:
Nevsun Resources represents one of approximately 2,500 public companies we are invested in around the world. As at March 31, 2016, CPP Investment Board held 1,519,000 shares in Nevsun Resources totalling a market value of $6 million. We sold much of our position since our last reporting period and our current exposure to the company totals less than $1 million....
I was a bit dumbfounded by this response. The letter seemed to be saying that, because it invested in so many companies worldwide, it could not possibly know what was going on with them. This hardly seems to be a reasonable approach. I was even more shocked by the dubious logic. It is like saying now we are only 20% responsible for investing in a company that is killing its workers, which does not add up and it defies any kind of common sense. I do not think it is something most Canadians would believe.
This is a very important bill. Right now, the CPPIB, which again is responsible for the fund that hard-working Canadians contribute to every year, is investing in companies involved in weapons manufacturing, private for-profit American prisons that detain immigrants and children, companies that are guilty of serious human rights violations and companies responsible for contributing to the global climate crisis.
Is it unreasonable to expect that an organization dedicated to investing public funds should do so with some types of ethical restrictions? I do not think so, and I think many Canadians would agree. What we want and what this bill seeks to do is to have the Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board take a proactive approach of due diligence in its investment policies, leveraging our more than $400-billion pension fund by investing only in companies with ethical business practices and divesting from those that create weapons of war, contribute to climate change and other environmental problems or oppress people around the world through unethical labour practices and human rights violations.
It makes no sense to me, and I think to most Canadians, that the government should not be able to do something about questionable investments made by funds that are governed by acts of Parliament. The situation with Revera long-term care homes is a good case in point. Revera is a for-profit company, wholly owned by the Public Sector Pension Investment Board, an entity created by the federal government to manage pension funds from public sector workers. Revera has been roundly criticized for the mismanagement of its homes, especially during the pandemic.
During the first wave of COVID-19, its homes had the most number of deaths in the industry, and during the second wave, it is again seeing significant outbreaks in its homes across the country. CBC has just announced that Revera had another 100 outbreaks of COVID-19 this morning, including 50 of its workers. There is a course of complaints from its workers about understaffing, a lack of PPE, and overtime and pandemic bonuses are not even being paid.
The problems at Revera are the same that we have found throughout the for-profit, long-term care sector right across the country. It is a model that does not work for guaranteeing the safety of our loved ones. As with some other problematic investments of the CPPIB, it is a problem that the government can do something about.
As Canadians who pay into the fund, which is managed by the CPPIB, we are, by extension, all shareholders in the companies that benefit from the fund's investments. A lot of influence can be had by divesting from companies that conduct themselves in a way that we view as objectionable or unethical. By amending section 35 of the CPPIB Act, which is what this bill seeks to achieve, we can require the board to take a proactive approach to ethical investment, and I am sure that is what Canadians want.
Today, I have heard that a lot of people here believe in the bill in principle, and I encourage us all to work together. Let us move the bill forward and get it passed. I encourage all my colleagues to support the bill today.