Getting answers about the Caisse

Charest's stonewalling means Quebecers will be kept in dark

CDPQ-Subprimes - qui sont les coupables?

Yesterday's belated pick of the Caisse de dépôt et placement's new chairman of the board and the finance minister's insistence that he'll bring it "stability and rigour" shouldn't deter attention from the real issue.
Identifying what caused the Caisse's $39.8-billion loss in 2008 remains imperative. But that's impossible because the Charest government says no to either an independent public inquiry or to a special investigation by the auditor-general. So much for the possibility of probing the inner workings of the Caisse.
And don't expect Henri-Paul Rousseau, its former head, to perform a public autopsy of this debacle on Monday when he speaks to a crowd of admiring peers at the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal.
A special parliamentary hearing would have been a good start. But it wouldn't have had the time, the resources, the independence, and the thoroughness of an inquiry or an auditor-general's probe. So without a serious probe, it's back to politics.
Jean Charest says the government will respond during question period and during the ministry's credit hearings in April. There are three problems with this. First, the atmosphere in the National Assembly will be too fierce. Second, Charest's only goal will be to deny any responsibility. Third, the opposition's goal will be to blame him for everything. Result: no substantive answers. As federal Liberal aide Eddie Goldenberg used to say: There's a good reason why it's called "question period," not "answer period." This predictable spectacle is sure to leave Quebecers feeling cynical, helpless and angrier still.
Quebecers want answers to some key questions. Why did the Caisse buy up much more of this toxic asset-backed commercial paper than all other Canadian pension funds combined? Was it because it was a major shareholder of Coventree, a Toronto firm that sold the stuff? Why did Desjardins and the Banque Nationale also buy so much? What does that say about the nature of the rapport between the Caisse and Quebec's elite business milieu? Is it too close?
Why did the Caisse lose $6 billion of the record $8.9 billion it dished out to cover the risk of investing more aggressively abroad? Last week, the Caisse itself recognized that it holds "a much higher proportion of private and real-estate investments outside of Canada" than other pension funds in this country. Why?
The question is vital because even the Caisse states that this explains in good part why its performance was worse than that of other Canadian funds.
Does this rush to invest so much abroad stem from the changes the Charest government made in 2004 to the Caisse's mission and governance? In 1965, when premier Jean Lesage created the Caisse, he said: It "cannot be seen as only an investment fund like the others," adding it's there "to better the long- term development of Quebec." His goal was to turn the fund into a powerful lever for collective enrichment. This is what distinguished it from other Canadian funds.
In 2004, Charest changed the mission, favouring "optimal profit," instead. In Le Devoir, Action Nationale director Robert Laplante wrote that in the last few years, the Caisse's investments in Quebec decreased from 46 per cent to 17 per cent. If the Caisse's upcoming annual report confirms this, altering its mission could explain in part why it rushed to make short-term gains by investing aggressively abroad in risky ventures made worse by the economic crisis.
So what now? The government rejects any serious probe. Being the one who modified the Caisse's mission, it's also sure to refuse returning to Lesage's vision. What an irony. It was a Liberal government that weakened the collective enrichment component of the mission given to the Caisse by the Liberal government that fathered the Quiet Revolution.
In face of all this, shareholders' advocate Yves Michaud suggests an extra-parliamentary, citizen-based commission hear the views of independent experts, founders of the Caisse, and citizens. If that got serious media coverage, Quebecers would at least get an interesting educational forum. Call it citizen empowerment.
As for the Parti Québécois, one option is for it to commit to restoring the Caisse to its original mission should it form the next government.

Laissez un commentaire

Aucun commentaire trouvé