Environmentalists are calling on faculty and other professional staff at the University of Victoria to divest their pension investments from the controversial pipeline company Enbridge.
The Western Canada Wilderness Committee has gone through the pension plan investments for people at UVic and found the plan serving faculty has about $4 million invested in Enbridge.
“We want [UVic] to get their money, their pension funds, their endowments out of companies like Enbridge,” said Torrance Coste, Wilderness Committee campaigner
Calgary-based Enbridge Inc. is seeking to build a 1,150-kilometre pipeline, the Northern Gateway, to carry bitumen, a heavy, tar-like substance from the Alberta oilsands to Kitimat. There it would be loaded onto tankers for shipment to refineries overseas.
A federal review panel, holding hearings into the proposal, has been told that the pipeline is too risky, causing great harm to the environment if it leaks.
Kristi Simpson, member of the board of trustees for the UVic pension plan with the money invested in Enbridge, said it’s important to remember the pension plan is not part of the University of Victoria.
It belongs to its professional employees and faculty members. The plan is administered at arms length by trustees who hire investment managers.
Under B.C.’s Pension Benefit Standards Act, the pension must be administered in line with the best financial interests of plan members. So things such as climate change, pollution or the ethics of an investment aren’t up for consideration.
“The position of the Wilderness Committee is not something the board of trustees could consider,” Simpson said. “They need to look after the best interests of the plan members.”
But Andrew Weaver, UVic climate scientist and announced Green Party political candidate, said he believes ethics and environmental concerns should be part of a pension trustees’ thinking.
Weaver said he realizes the issue is complicated. Trustees are bound by law. Also, a good argument can be made that shareholders can influence the behaviour of companies in which they hold a stake. But he said there should be discussion on how things like pension funds can be administered with ethics in mind.
“I don’t think it’s the be all and end all to just say ‘;the fiduciary responsibility means we can’t,’ ” he said.
UVic student Matt Hammer, the responsible investment co-ordinator for the university environmental group, CommonEnergy, said calls for divestment should be made with caution.
The pension plan secures the future of thousands of members and must be treated carefully, he said.
“There are options out there where you can maintain financial responsibility while still making ethical decisions.”
Enbridge could not be reached for comment.