Annual Meeting of Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan
Teachers Raise Concerns About Having a Say Where Pension Funds Invested
On April 13, in Toronto, the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan (OTPP) held its annual meeting for shareholders -- all those holding a valid Ontario teaching certificate who are employed either as classroom teachers or in other positions by an Ontario board of education, designated private school or designated organization. The meeting was held in-person at the Toronto Reference Library and virtually with at least 300 people attending altogether.
Outside the meeting a number of groups gave out information to participants about their views on the Plan's investments. This included 150 leaflets distributed by Empower Yourself Now about the Plan's investments in Stone Canyon Industries Holdings Inc., a U.S. company that is engaged in union-busting in Canada.
The chair of the OTPP board, Steven McGirr presided over the meeting while its President and CEO, Jo Taylor, as well as a number of other officers, addressed the meeting on the plan's performance in the last year, both from the standpoint of the returns it delivered as well as its provision of services for plan members.
The plan currently has 183,000 working members contributing to it, and 153,000 members collecting a pension. The average plan member collects a pension for 32 years. In 2022 the plan grew by four per cent and had assets of $247 billion at year end, an increase of $5 billion from the year before. It is fully funded for the 10th year in a row and has had a 9.8 per cent growth rate since its inception in 1990. In 2022 the plan paid $7.2 billion in pensions and benefits, compared to $6.9 billion the previous year, and has increased its pension benefits by 6.3 per cent to provide inflation protection to its members – something that was recognized by plan members in the audience as an important mechanism to ensure pensioners' incomes are maintained.
In 2022 the plan opened offices in San Francisco and Mumbai in an effort to broaden its international reach. It sees being in San Francisco as a way to put it at the head of advances in technology, and in Mumbai as a means to invest in a growing India and what it calls its "family-run businesses." One such "family-run business" is the Mahindra Group, an Indian multinational conglomerate which has operations in over 100 countries, with a presence in aerospace, agribusiness, aftermarket automotive components, construction equipment, defence, energy, farm equipment, finance and insurance, industrial equipment, information technology, leisure and hospitality, logistics, real estate, retail and education.
Throughout the presentations, officers emphasized diversification of their portfolio holdings as a means to weather global storms. This theme came up on a number of occasions to justify its global expansion as well as its investment in what are called risky ventures as well as industries which are large carbon emitters.
OTPP President and CEO Jo Taylor addressed the concerns of many about the plan's investment in a now defunct cryptocurrency exchange, FTX, as well as large fossil fuel companies and the growing presence of representatives of oil and gas monopolies on its Board of Directors. The Board is appointed by the Ontario Teachers' Federation and Ontario government which jointly manage the pension plan.
Taylor presented the OTPP's loss of $95 million in FTX as an experiment by its Venture Growth team in the field of cryptocurrency. Despite OTPP doing its due diligence and the use of outside consultants, FTX kept information hidden, he said. According to him, the OTPP's experiment was a means to gain entry into the cryptocurrency markets and learn about their functioning. They are learning from their mistake, but own the decision, he said.
Concerning investments in fossil fuels, Taylor presented the investments not as something that contributes to increasing carbon emissions, but as a means of influencing large carbon emitters by using the pension fund's power and influence to get them to reduce their carbon emissions. He cited natural gas generation in particular as a "transitional fuel" which will contribute to transitioning to the "green economy." In this respect he emphasized that the fund was investing $5 billion in "high carbon transition assets." All of this, he said, was a better strategy than divesting and would make a real world impact rather than passing the problems on to others to solve.
Following the presentations, questions submitted in advance and from the floor were taken. A number of questions responded to the assertion that the fund should maintain its investments in fossil fuels as well as permit representatives of some of the biggest polluters to sit on its board. Concerns were also raised about the plan's need to ensure that all its investments comply with the right of Indigenous Peoples to free, prior and informed consent regarding what is done on their lands. The OTPP's officers re-iterated their position about investing to influence emitters and cited as examples of their work with Indigenous Peoples investments in the privatization of Chile's public utilities, especially its water supply, whose infrastructure transits through Indigenous territories.
Erin Roy, President of OSSTF District 9, Greater Essex, speaks at Pension Plan meeting
The same argument about influencing the companies they invest in was not forthcoming when it came to the plan's investments in the union-busting holding company which is not negotiating in good faith with the workers at Windsor Salt in Windsor, Ontario. Both the President of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association, Barb Dobrowolski, and the President of District 9 of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation in Greater-Essex, Erin Roy, raised pointed questions about why the plan was not using its influence from its seat on the Management Board of Stone Canyon Industries Holdings Inc. and its 15 per cent stake in the company to uphold the values of plan members in the face of the company's union-busting activities in three provinces in Canada. Both noted that they have received many concerns from plan members about the actions of Stone Canyon and their pension monies being invested in union-busting.
The response from the plan officers was that because they were not owners of the company, they could not really direct its management to do business differently, but that they would "have a conversation" about the matter. They did not respond to the question about why they were investing in a company that goes against the values of the plan's members in the first place, nor the clear double standard in how they say they are using their investments in fossil fuels to influence companies to comply with their obligations to reduce carbon emissions, but are unable to intervene when it comes to workers' rights. The silence in response to these concerns was not appreciated by those present.
A number of questions raised concerns about the plan's global investments, with some advocating for greater investments in Canada and Canadian entities. A number of members raised concerns specifically about the state of the world and its bifurcation, and in one case, the increasingly lawless actions of the U.S. and NATO in unilaterally freezing assets of countries like Russia, and of individuals, and that this could also become something applied to Canada and Canadians. Concerns were raised about whether the plan had investments in Russia and how it justified its investments in India. Concerns were raised about the plan's participation in the World Economic Forum alongside global elites who comprise the very richest people on earth and rule the world in various ways.
OTPP representatives explained that the best response to global uncertainty and what they called the threat to the functioning of society was diversification of their portfolio. The plan's Chief Investment Officer made it clear that they have little to no investments in Russia, and that the plan feels that, "despite concerns," it can gain returns on infrastructure development and the growing population in India.
Overall, the concerns raised show the consciousness of the OTPP's members -- that they want the investments of their pension plan to reflect their values as teachers and educators of the younger generation. The fact that their role is limited to a once-a-year annual general meeting in which they get to ask 60 second questions for one hour and do not really have a way to direct their pension fund in a meaningful way was obvious, as no real way yet exists where they can participate in deliberation on their pension plan and its role and make their views known. This is a challenge facing all workers in Canada with respect to their pension funds. The aim of the pension industry to make the highest returns irrespective of where the members' money is invested, and that "business is business," does not meet with the expressed desires of the majority of teachers.
To view a video of the teachers' call on the pension fund to help stop union-busting at Windsor Salt click here.
1. Mahindra Group Revenue – US$ 19 billion (2022)
Owner: Anand Mahindra
Number of employees: 260,000+ (2022)
Mahindra & Mahindra
Mahindra & Mahindra Financial Services Limited
Club Mahindra Holidays
Mahindra Lifespace Developers
Mahindra Ugine Steel
Mahindra Agri Business
Mahindra Heavy Engines Ltd
Mahindra EPC Irrigation Ltd.
Mahindra Water Utilities Ltd.
2. According to Wikipedia, the Chairman Emeritus of Mahindra & Mahindra, Keshub Mahindra, was Managing Director of Union Carbide India Ltd. when its negligence caused the Bhopal Disaster on the night of 2-3 December 1984, considered the world's worst industrial disaster. Union Carbide made pesticides. More than 500,000 people were exposed to the highly toxic gas methyl isocyanate (MIC) that leaked from the plant. Estimates vary on the death toll, with the official number of immediate deaths being 2,259 and the number reported by residents much higher. Only in 2008 did the government of Madya Pradesh pay token compensation to the family members of 3,787 victims killed in the gas release, and to 574,366 injured victims. A government affidavit in 2006 stated that the leak caused 558,125 injuries, including 38,478 temporary partial injuries and approximately 3,900 severely and permanently disabling injuries. Others estimate that 8,000 died within two weeks, and another 8,000 or more have since died from gas-related diseases.
Union Carbide India Ltd. (UCIL) was majority owned in the United States, with Indian government-controlled banks and the Indian public holding a 49.1 percent stake in it. Between 1986 and 2012, civil and criminal cases against Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) filed in the United States were repeatedly dismissed as the U.S. courts focused on UCIL being a standalone entity of India. In 1989, UCC got away with paying $470 million (equivalent to $907 million in 2021) to settle litigation stemming from the disaster.
Civil and criminal cases were also filed in the District Court of Bhopal, India, involving UCC, UCIL, and the CEO of UCC, Warren Anderson. In June 2010, seven Indian nationals who were UCIL employees in 1984, including the former UCIL Chairman Keshub Mahindra were convicted in Bhopal of causing death by negligence and sentenced to two years imprisonment and a fine of about $2,000 each, the maximum punishment allowed by Indian law. All were released on bail shortly after the verdict. An eighth former employee was also convicted, but died before the judgment was issued.
All Mahindra paid was a fine of Rs1 Lakh, equivalent today to $1,631.73 Canadian.
3. "Teachers' Pension Plan Major Investor in U.S. Company Attacking Windsor Salt Workers," Empower Yourself Now, March 9, 2023
This article was published in
Number 23 - April 25, 2023