‘Invested in their destruction’: B.C. teachers ask for pension divestment from fossil fuels

Members of the BC Teachers Federation (BCTF) protested in Vancouver on Wednesday, calling for a “fossil-free and weapons-free portfolio.”

The rally, organized by BCTF Divest Now and Van Climate Strike Coalition, was held outside of the BCTF’s offices in an effort to get the attention of the federation’s President Clint Johnston, says Jillian Maguire, co-founder of BCTF Divest Now.

Maguire says teachers, like herself, are calling for the crown corporation that manages their pensions to stop investing into fossil fuels and weapons manufacturing.

She claims twice a month, British Columbia Investments Corporation (BCI) receives 11.5 per cent of their members’ salaries, which are handed over to BCI through the Teachers’ Pension Plan.

“BCI invests heavily into fossil fuels and weapons, so we have $1.25 billion in the Teachers’ Pension Plan invested in fossil fuels,” she said.

But on the brink of an impending drought-filled summer in B.C., Maguire says some teachers are upset that their pensions are contributing to industries that are fueling climate change.

“B.C. still has fires going from our last fire season, and this year is looking to be hotter and drier and worse,” she said.

“We spend our careers caring for children, and to wake up every day and think that all that care we’re having for our children in the classrooms is being destroyed with our pensions, and we have no choice in it.”

According to a study by the Global Carbon Project, carbon emissions from fossil fuels reached an all-time high in 2023, at a total of 36.8 billion tonnes. Researchers with the project are calling efforts to reduce fossil fuel emissions “painfully slow” and say global action to transition away from fossil fuels is not happening fast enough to slow climate change.

Meanwhile, extreme weather events all over the world continue to become more frequent and intense as a result of human-caused climate change.

At the BCTF, Maguire says two consecutive resolutions have been passed at the federation’s Annual General Meeting, asking its leadership to lobby the Teachers’ Pension Plan to change the way it invests.

However, at the moment, Maguire says only one letter has been sent by BCTF leadership, and it was by the federation’s former president — not current.

“We are charged with the most important task, caring for children, so we can’t be invested in their destruction,” she told CityNews.

According to a report by Corporate Knights, BCI does not have a policy to actively restrict the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure. It also states at least 80 per cent of BCI’s carbon-intensive investments have “set mature net-zero aligned commitments or are the subject of direct or collaborative engagement by BCI.”

BCI has allegedly promised to invest $5 billion into sustainability bonds by 2025. But according to Corporate Knights’ overview of the largest Canadian pension funds, it also has the highest percentage of holdings in “red flag” companies — or companies that are “counterproductive to sustainable development.”

Maguire says she feels like her salary is being used as a fossil fuel subsidy.

Last week, Maguire said she was happy to hear BCTF’s Vice President Carole Gordon attended a divestment seminar, but says she’d still like to see more action from Johnston — including a public statement.

If a statement was issued by the BCTF, Maguire says it would then be up to the Teachers’ Pension Plan to re-write its “statement of investment policies and procedures,” which would then give BCI the direction to change the members’ portfolio.

“What we’re asking for is a fossil-free and weapons-free portfolio, so teachers can sleep at night,” Maguire said.

She adds a divestment seminar will be held on March 6 for teachers interested in learning more about the action.

CityNews has reached out to the BCTF and BCI for comment.

With files from Raynaldo Suarez.

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