Record numbers attend BC Pension Forum

By July 11, 2007News

On May 24, the 2007 BC Pension Forum brought together pension leaders and activists in Vancouver to examine the state of pension plan governance, funding and investment. Held jointly by the BC Federation of Labour and SHARE, the third biennial event attracted more than 125 pension trustees, union leaders, pension activists and advisory committee members—a 25% increase from the 2005 BC Pension Forum.

Attendees were treated to a welcome by BC Federation of Labour President Jim Sinclair, who set the stage for the day by stressing the importance of pension funds to working people. He pointed to the need for trustees to be active owners of the companies in their portfolios, referring to the recent news that the majority of shareholders of CN Rail failed to support a resolution calling on the board to account for why it granted a full bonus to the company’s CEO in a year of worker deaths and environmental disaster due to train derailment. Mike Musaraca, trustee for the US$42 billion New York City Employees Retirement System (NYCERS), took the podium for the morning keynote, providing an inspiring look into NYCERS work as an activist fund “to use the power of capital to change behavior.” Musaraca stated that for this change to be possible a growing number of “institutional investors [need] to demand that their service providers, analysts, consultants, managers, brokers, research firms and rating agencies integrate environmental, social and corporate governance variables into their on-going analysis of companies in the same way that financials are now scrutinized.”

The morning panel was a debate on one of today’s most challenging investment policy decisions facing pension trustees: whether to construct a broadly diversified portfolio or to focus on an approach that emphasizes the assessment of plan liabilities when setting investment policy. Daryl Jones, Vice President of British Columbia Investment Management Corporation argued for diversification. Michael Borden, Vice President, Phillips, Hager and North Investment Management, spoke in favour of liability-driven investment.

Noted author of the book The New Capitalists, Jon Lukomnik provided the afternoon’s keynote speech on working towards a civil economy by using worker capital to build corporate governance. In drawing the connection, Lukomnik explained that “The money that circulates in global capital markets is our money,” referring to the immense sums of deferred worker’s wages invested through pension funds. He concluded with the simple logic of why active ownership matters:  “Our money, our companies, our choice.”

Throughout the rest of the day, ‘breakout’ sessions took place that encouraged both discussion and debate. These sessions ranged from crucial topics such as understanding the OAS/CPP link to cutting edge trends impacting pension funds like P3s and climate change. The workshops were a favourite for many attendees because, as one conference-goer explained, “More participation was encouraged” and question periods brought opportunities for interaction.

Copies of all documents from the 2007 BC Pension Forum, including the agenda and presentations, are now available online on the SHARE website.