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Big Fossil Investments Give Canadian Banks an ‘Interest in Continued Growth’

Canada’s five biggest banks were among the fossil industry’s top investors between 2000 and 2015, according to a report last week by the Corporate Mapping Project (CMP), with the Royal Bank of Canada placing second only to ExxonMobil as the sector’s biggest single backer.

“This study shows that substantial ownership and strategic control over Canada’s fossil fuel sector are in the hands of a few major players, including all the Canadian big banks and several U.S. investment funds, governments, and some wealthy families—many of which are located outside Canada,” notes the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, one of the lead organizations behind the CMP.

“And, these investors have high stakes in maintaining business as usual rather than addressing the industry’s serious climate issues. They have both an interest in the continued growth of the sector and the economic power to shape its future.”

That reality that runs headlong into the “looming climate crisis” documented earlier this month by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, report co-author and University of Victoria sociologist William Carroll told the StarVancouver

“Financial institutions, pension funds, and asset managers together own substantial blocks of shares in many of these companies,” Carroll added in a CCPA release. “Each institutional investor may own less than 10% of any single company, but as a group they own far more. This places them in a position to exert control as a ‘constellation of interests’.”

“Some of the world’s largest transnational corporations continue to control several of the largest Canadian fossil fuel firms,” agreed co-author Jouke Huijzer of Vrije Universiteit in Brussels. “But what stands out in this study are the many comparatively small yet significant holdings of institutional investors that form constellations of interests in partnership with the top-level management of fossil-fuel companies.”

The report lists the industry’s top 25 owners, based on their share of sector revenues between 2010 and 2015. Exxon leads at 6.57, followed by RBC at 3.35%, the Desmarais Family Residuary Trust at 2.46%, BlackRock Inc. at 2.44%, U.S.-based Capital Group Co. Inc. at 2.21%, and Toronto-Dominion Bank at 2.03%. Bank of Montreal places ninth on the list, at 1.98%, Bank of Nova Scotia 11th at 1.71%, CIBC 13th at 1.39%, the Province of Quebec 15th at 1.1%, the People’s Republic of China 23rd at 0.76%, and the Government of Canada 25th at 0.56%.

The extent of foreign ownership notwithstanding, Carroll said the proportion of Canadian investors in the industry’s ownership profile points to a failure in past efforts to ensure domestic ownership of essential industries. “Decades ago, foreign control of Canada’s energy sector (and other sectors) was seen as a threat to Canadian self-determination and democracy,” he noted. “But the trend towards more Canadian corporate control of fossil fuel extraction appears to have made little difference in how the industry functions.”