News/Canada

In the 20th century big business was strictly business.  

But in the 21st century companies can’t stay in business if they’re ignoring the environment, hushing talk of human and labour rights or not returning calls from shareholders who want to know what the board is doing and why.

Socially responsible investors are no longer on the fringe of the investment world. Where 10 years ago talk of ethical investing drew smirks and rolling eyeballs, today it’s a top-line concern of boards, CEOs and CFOs.

“The huge difference (compared to 10 years ago) is that we’ve seen acceptance in the mainstream,” said Michael Jantzi, CEO and founder of Jantzi Sustainalytics.

On the environment, social issues and governance, corporations now see non-financial issues, once considered “externalities,” central to running a successful business in the long term, said Jantzi, who established Canada’s socially responsible investing (SRI) stock index — the Jantzi Social Index — in 2000.

“We’re only going to see an increased level of interest in these issues,” he said.

Particularly on the environment, corporations now regard the risks as anything but external, said Social Investment Organization executive director Eugene Ellmen.

“The BP disaster really was a wake-up call. It was a wake-up call for the mainstream industry,” said Ellmen.

SRI investors knew BP was running risks in the Gulf of Mexico long before it happened and avoided the stock. Investors who ignored the environmental risks paid the price.

The investment industry in Canada is not the world leader in sustainable, socially responsible investment.

With 13 separate jurisdictions and regulators at the federal level opting for voluntary codes of conduct and optional enforcement, the global investment industry is setting the tone.

Two international covenants have become central pillars in the world of ESG (environment, social and governance) investing. The Carbon Disclosure Project includes 534 institutional investors around the world representing $64 trillion in assets. The corporations and investment funds that subscribe to the London-based CDP are committed to researching and publishing the amount of carbon their business operations release into the atmosphere.

Four-hundred-and-eighty-five investment managers, 220 asset owners and 168 professional service partners with $22 trillion in assets under management have signed the United Nations-backed Principles for Responsible Investment. The stock market meltdown of fall 2008 didn’t drive the big investors away from ESG. The largest number of UNPRI signatories came on board after the crisis.

In Canada, the big public pension funds are leading the way. The Caisse de dépot et placement du Quebec, OPSEU Pension Trust, British Columbia Municipal Pension Plan and Canada Pension Plan Investment Board are all signatories to the UNPRI.

“On the Canadian scene specifically, I think we’ve got some great leadership here in the pension community,” said Jantzi.

When the big pension funds call up asking about future environmental liabilities, Canada’s publicly traded companies respond.

“Institutional investors are continuing to press for more disclosure on environmental, social and governance issues,” said Jantzi. “And the companies are having to respond.”

Canadian markets will be led more by global trends than local regulation, according to Jantzi.

“On a global scale, Canadian financial markets just don’t have a huge amount of heft,” he said.

Canadian regulators, particularly the Ontario Securities Commission, are beginning to set conditions that will make SRI standard practice. The OSC may soon require publicly traded companies to “say-on-pay.” The SRI community has long demanded that boards reveal how much CEOs and other senior management make — and disclose what incentives are built into their compensation.

Even without enforceable say-on-pay rules, ESG Services, working for Ethical Funds and its parent NEI Investments, has been researching how oil sands company CEOs are paid, and whether their pay is tied to reductions in environmental liabilities.

They’ve found that the oil sands bosses get paid even if nobody knows how much it will cost shareholders to clean up vast tailing ponds or compensate native communities for downstream health outcomes.

For private investors — people who typically buy mutual funds at tax time — the chance to influence corporate Canada on the environment, social issues and governance has expanded exponentially in a decade. Where once persistence was required to persuade a financial advisor to sell an SRI mutual fund, now all the big banks offer socially responsible funds.

There’s also been a series of buy-outs of smaller SRI mutual fund companies that have made the funds more easily available. Where Ethical Funds were once only available at some credit unions they’re now sold through Desjardins Bank and the independent brokers that deal with Northwest and Ethical Investments (NEI). Acuity mutual funds are now similarly available through the much larger distribution network of AGF Management Limited.

“It puts the socially responsible mutual fund companies on more equal footing,” said Jantzi. “A lot of those advantages haven’t fully kicked in yet.”

While the funds are more available, it doesn’t mean that they’ve been impressing investors with great results.

“The industry has been somewhat disappointed,” said Ellmen.

The JSI has struggled to keep pace with conventional stock indices since the 2008 meltdown.

“I don’t put too much stock in short-term results,” said Jantzi. “The financial sector continues to struggle and we’re heavily weighted in the financial stocks.”

Holding considerable bank and insurance stocks means holding less in oil or gold mining — the resource sectors that have kept Canadian stock exchanges afloat the past two years.

“It’s a social index. It’s weighted differently, as you would expect. Over a shorter period of time you will see things struggle,” said Jantzi.

Even with disappointing recent results, Canadians continue to be interested in ESG factors in their investments. Social Investment Organization polling suggest 70 per cent of Canadian investors want more information about socially responsible investing, said Ellmen. With between two and three per cent of Canada’s pool of mutual fund money invested in SRI funds, there’s “huge room for growth,” he said.

Catholic, United Church committee work on marriage statement

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OTTAWA - A joint committee from the Catholic Church and the United Church of Canada are in the draft stages of a shared statement on marriage, despite being on opposing sides of the marriage debate.

The draft is the result of six years of focused dialogue on marriage and it could be another two years before it is made public. It will be a joint statement but not a consensus document, said Julien Hammond, an Edmonton archdiocese ecumenical officer who has participated in the dialogue on behalf of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB).

“The readers will be surprised the dialoguers have so much agreement,” he said.

Hospital boards evolve, not always for the better

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When Ontario Minister of Health Deb Matthews appointed a supervisor to run Windsor’s Hotel-Dieu Grace Hospital Jan. 5, the government-appointed new man took charge of the hospital’s board — including responsibility for the hospital’s Catholic mission and identity.

The previous board chair was dismissed 10 days before Christmas by Catholic Health International, which owns the hospital. That followed a provincial investigation last summer that highlighted an “alarming lack of respect between medical leaders, senior management and the board of directors.”

The dismissed board chair would not comment on whether the board was getting the job done at the Windsor hospital. Read More

John Paul II's beatification delights Canadians

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John Paul IITORONTO - Canada’s Polish community is rejoicing, but not particularly surprised, that Pope John Paul II will be beatified in May, said Fr. Chester Chmurzynski, pastor at St. Anthony’s Roman Catholic Church, a Polish parish in Oakville, Ont.

“It’s no surprise,” said Chmurzynski, who was a student of the late pope during his seminary years in Krakow, Poland. “Right after his death, people were already saying ‘Santo subito.’ (sainthood now).

“He was a good teacher and a good example. For students, he was very tough. But he was also very friendly and always smiling. He was a good man.”

On Jan. 14, Pope Benedict XVI approved a miracle attributed to Pope John Paul II’s intercession — the cure of a French nun from Parkinson’s disease — the last step needed for his beatification set for May 1, Divine Mercy Sunday.

On that day, Pope John Paul II will be declared “blessed” and granted restricted liturgical honour. Another miracle is needed for canonization, whereby the Church would declare him a saint and worthy of universal veneration.

Pope Benedict sped up the beatification process in 2005 by abolishing the normal five-year waiting period for the introduction of his sainthood cause. Three separate Vatican panels approved the miracle, including medical and theological experts, before Benedict XVI signed the official decree.

Canadian Church to enter into dialogue with Evangelicals

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Margaret O'GaraOTTAWA - The Catholic Church in Canada has agreed to begin a formal theological dialogue with Evangelicals. 

“It’s a new thing in Canada,” said Margaret O’Gara, a theology professor at Toronto’s University of St. Michael’s College who has been involved in Protestant, Anglican and Orthodox dialogue for the past 35 years. She will be among the Catholic participants.

“We all have the expectation that this will be a personally enriching experience and that, hopefully, we will contribute to the strength of the Church in Canada,” said David Freeman, who is strategic interface vice president for the Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada.

Freeman will be the Evangelical co-chair of the dialogue, with Regina Archbishop Daniel Bohan as the Catholic co-chair.

The first set of meetings will take place March 24-25 in Toronto.

Anglicans invited to Catholic Church conference

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Archbishop CollinsOTTAWA - Toronto Archbishop Thomas Collins has invited Anglican groups interested in joining the Catholic Church through the formation of a Canadian Ordinariate to attend a conference in Mississauga March 24-26.

“To help move our dialogue and planning forward, I would like to extend an invitation to all those interested in Anglicanorum coetibus to join me for a conference dedicated to this topic,” Collins said in an open letter posted Jan. 18 on the Toronto archdiocese’s web site.

“I look forward to meeting with clergy and laity from across the country this March to engage in prayer, fellowship and dialogue as we move forward with this important initiative.”

Selected by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Collins is the episcopal delegate for Canada charged with liaising with Anglican groups interested in an ordinariate, the congregation and the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Collins has invited Fr. Christopher Phillips, who founded the first Anglican Use parish in the United States in 1983 under Pope John Paul II’s Pastoral Provision, to attend the conference.

Christian-Muslim dialogue expanding

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TORONTO - For most interfaith dialogues vast theological differences and hundreds of years of mutual suspicion and prejudice are quite enough to deal with. The National Liaison Committee of Muslims and Christians wants more.

The official dialogue between Christians and Muslims in Canada decided to take on poverty, climate change, the Millennium Development Goals, faith formation of the next generation and politics at its annual dinner on the campus of the University of Toronto Jan. 11.

Collins pulls no punches at start of Irish visitation

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Toronto Archbishop Thomas Collins' apostolic visit to the Irish archdiocese of Cashel and Emly started off with a reality check on the harm done by priests who abuse their position of trust for sex.

"Even one priest gone wrong causes immense harm, and throughout the world priests have done unspeakable evil," Collins told a penitential service at Thurles Cathedral in County Tipperary on Jan. 16.

Collins' visit is in the wake of the sexual abuse scandal that came to light in the Irish Church. It was mandated by Pope Benedict XVI last March.

Hollywood takes liberties with exorcism rite

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ExorcismTORONTO - Exorcisms have always piqued the Hollywood imagination and provided a steady source of material for filmmakers in the horror genre. And with a new movie set for release Jan. 28, plus a reality-TV series on exorcists, Hollywood is once again entering the battleground of good versus evil.

The Rite, a horror film featuring Anthony Hopkins, is based on a book by journalist Matt Baglio about the accounts of an American exorcist. Meanwhile, the Discovery Channel is working on a reality show called The Exorcist Files.

Fr. John Horgan, a scholar on exorcisms and pastor at Vancouver’s Sts. Peter and Paul parish, was a consultant to the 2005 movie The Exorcism of Emily Rose, a movie loosely based on an actual case in Germany.

He cautions that Hollywood versions of exorcism usually provide a “liberal” interpretation of the actual rite. Scenes of “being chained and tied up has nothing to do with the Catholic rite of exorcism,” he said.

Jantzi stock index trailed TSX in 2010

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TORONTO

Mining and banking helped end 2010 on a positive note for investors who care about the environment, labour and community standards and transparent corporate governance. But over-all, ethical investors lost ground relative to conventional stock indices.

The Jantzi Social Index grew 11.95 per cent in 2010. That trailed the 13.84-per-cent growth in the S&P/TSX 60 and 17.61 per cent in the S&P/TSX Composite.

Gay rights trump conscience rights in Saskatchewan

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CATHOLIC REGISTER STAFF

The right of gay couples to be married free from discrimination trumps the freedom of religion and conscience rights of Saskatchewan’s marriage commissioners, the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal has ruled.

A unanimous decision released by the court Jan. 10 said any scheme that would allow marriage commissioners to refuse service to gay couples “would perpetuate disadvantage and involve stereotypes about the worthiness of same-sex unions.”