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B.C. teachers push to divest pension fund from oil and gas companies

Teachers' associations in Surrey and Revelstoke will put forward motions at the BCTF's AGM this weekend, calling on the teachers' federation to divest from fossil fuel companies.
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Squamish elementary teacher Kim Benson is among a group of teachers pushing the BC Teachers' Federation to divest from fossil fuel companies.

A group of B.C. teachers is calling on the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) to pull all of its investments out of companies supporting the fossil fuel industry. 

The call comes a day before the start of the BCTF annual general meeting, where teachers' associations in Surrey and Revelstoke (in partnership with the Greater Victoria Teachers' Association) are scheduled to put forward motions to divest teachers’ pension plans from holdings in all fossil fuel companies. 

The motions also call for the BCTF to put more pressure on pension board members to set policy that would guide the BC Investment Management Corporation – which invests the pension’s money – to allocate a greater share of investments into greener ventures.

“Just start with the Royal Bank. They are fossil fuel funders,” said Squamish teacher Kim Benson, pointing to the bank's investment in the $6-billion Coastal GasLink pipeline.

“We’re invested in Russian oil and gas, Indonesian oil… We do not have control.”

As of 2020, the B.C. Teachers' Pension Plan had over $34 billion worth of invested assets and over 100,000 members.  

Benson, who together with North Vancouver teacher Jillian Maguire began organizing the push to divest from fossil fuels a few months ago, said putting forward the motions is the first step in a public campaign to push the BCTF toward more climate-friendly investments. 

While Benson says there are many teachers who support divestment in fossil fuels, a core group of about six have taken to weeding through the BCTF’s investment portfolios to understand just how much money is backing fossil fuels. 

So far, she says they have found at least 10 companies funded by B.C. teachers’ pensions that are directly linked to the fossil fuel industry.

According to a 2021 BCI investment inventory posted to the group’s website, the corporation holds nearly $73 million in investments with Linde PLC, the world’s largest industrial gas company, nearly $24 million with China Petroleum & Chemical-H, nearly $84 million with the Russian energy corporation Lukoil PJSC, and $2.3 million with Imperial Oil. 

BCI also has nearly $8 million in public equities investments in Kinder Morgan. 

BCI manages nearly $200 billion in assets for B.C.’s public sector and is one of the largest asset managers in Canada, according to the corporation’s website. 

It’s not clear what percentage of those investments is directly held by the teachers’ pension plan, or how many more fossil fuel companies the union backs.

“We have grown our fortunes for far too long off the backs of our students’ futures. It is horrifying to us that the BCTF still has holdings in these earth-destroying corporations,” Maguire said in a pre-written statement.

She later added: “If we vote for the divestment motion, the next step is to figure out where our funds are invested. Maybe we need a dedicated person at BCI to help us sort that out.”

Neither BCI nor BCTF president Teri Mooring were immediately available for comment.

According to its Climate Action Plan, “BCI’s approach to managing long-term risks and opportunities brought on by climate change is informed by scientific consensus.”

Or as BCI senior vice-president for public markets Daniel Garant puts it in the document: “We don’t see divestment as a practical solution for large institutional shareholders.”

Public pension funds have faced mounting pressure to divest from fossil fuels in recent years. On Feb. 10, 2022, the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board committed to making the portfolio of Canada’s largest pension plan net-zero by 2050. 

The move came after commitments from other large pension funds such as Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, and the Investment Management Corporation of Ontario, among others.

While the CPP Investment Board failed to rule out a “blanket divestment,” it did say it would increase green and transition investments to $130 billion by 2030.  

“This is serious business. We can’t keep following the rules we’ve applied to ourselves. The rules don’t work anymore,” said Benson. “The BCTF has successfully avoided this thus far.”

“But we decided we’d apply pressure this time in the face of climate catastrophe.”

Correction: March 20, 2022
An earlier version of this story misstated the worth of B.C. Teachers' Pension Plan's invested assets. As of 2020, the pension plan had over $34 billion worth of invested assets.