The University of Guelph’s grandstanding move to divest its endowment portfolio of fossil fuel stocks is an insult to Canada and its critically important oil and automotive sectors.
Last month, U of G’s board of governors overwhelmingly voted to divest itself of oil stocks for non-financial reasons, thereby joining a coven of universities in British Columbia and Quebec that demonize oil. The Guelph, Ont.-based university caved to pressure by the student group Fossil Free Guelph, which organized a one hour sit-in and repetitive propaganda campaigns. Pathetic.
This capitulation to fanaticism led to the resignation this week of the university’s chancellor, Martha Billes, a philanthropist and controlling shareholder of Canadian Tire Corporation, one of Canada’s most successful companies.
“For over 40 years, I have been an investor in business ventures including the oil businesses in my home city of Calgary and my family business, Canadian Tire Corp. My decision to resign as chancellor was prompted by the incompatibility of my business interests with the board of governors’ decision to divest from fossil fuel companies in its endowment portfolio,” she wrote in her resignation letter.
Her remarks to a local paper were even more pointed: “If it weren’t for the Canadian oil development, many of the advantages across this country would never have happened. The university, to make a statement against an industry that has been paying their bills for many years, I find untenable.”
The board’s decision is hypocritical, considering that the region’s economy is driven mostly by the auto industry, which is totally tied to oil. Southwestern Ontario is nearly as important as Alberta and Saskatchewan in terms of Canada’s economic output and exports. Without oil and autos, the Canadian economy would be a big version of Prince Edward Island’s.
I called Seymour Schulich, a business success who is Canada’s largest donor to many universities, and his reaction was simply: “It is easier to find a unicorn than to find wisdom on a university board of governors.”
It is easier to find a unicorn than to find wisdom on a university board of governors
These boards are often comprised of inappropriate placeholders, and a few have become patsies to a larger movement that scapegoats oil, cars and free enterprise in the climate change debate. Yet their opposition to oil and cars totally misses the mark. Demand, not supply, is the cause of increased carbon emissions, along with the United Nations’ glaring exemption from emissions controls on China, India and other developing countries. As a result, these countries have become monstrous pollution machines, burning mostly coal to build their economies and produce their junk exports.
The UN is a joke for allowing this, but where are the so-called environmentalists? Fossil Free Guelph should be demanding bans on all those cheap imports of clothes, furnishings, plastics, electronic devices and fresh produce that are transported on planes and giant container ships, and bought up by students and everyone else.
Not surprisingly, given Schulich’s statement about how lame boards are, Billes had only one ally on the board, Garret Bos, during the vote on fossil fuel investments. Based on the brief biographies of those who sit on the board of governors, he is the only engineer and technologist in the mix. He also holds a real-world job, not an advisory, academic or public-sector position, and is the school’s information security officer.
The rest of the roster is comprised of academics, students, one labour lawyer, retirees and people whose careers are, or were, attached to the public sector. Notable, however, was its chair, a retired Royal Bank of Canada executive with an arts degree whose pension-paying former bank employer is among the world’s Top 10 investors in fossil fuels, according to an environmentalist website.
Fortunately, Martha Billes has taken an important stand and should be applauded. Her integrity and courage is admirable and represents a ray of hope in a country full of uninformed people who voted Liberal, Green, NDP and Bloc, in the hopes of burning the country’s two key industries, and with it its standard of living, at the stake.