Pension funds are on the hunt for privatization deals in the pandemic, and are urging governments to sell off public infrastructure like roads, utilities and airports. This push to privatize is a risky move that will cost us all more. CUPE is encouraging members to use a new toolkit to keep our pensions out of privatization.

Recent comments by the executive in charge of investing Canada’s public pension plan funds are the latest sign a new wave of pension fund-driven privatization is coming, targeting governments under financial stress.

The head of the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB), Mark Machin, told the Globe and Mail “if governments want to raise money, they’ll get incredible prices for infrastructure assets…wherever you are in the world.” The focus is on profiting from infrastructure that generates user fees, like water and wastewater services, electrical utilities, and toll roads.

This adds to pressure already being applied by the Liberal government’s Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB), a federal crown corporation that brokers privatization deals with big investors like pension funds. Ignoring evidence that privatization takes us in the wrong direction, the federal government has said the CIB should help drive our economic recovery.

“We won’t let the economic recovery from COVID-19 be turned into a fire sale to benefit private investors like pension funds. As we rebuild, we need to invest in infrastructure that is fully public and supports workers, communities and the economy,” says CUPE National President Mark Hancock.

Profit-driven public-private partnerships (P3s) and other privatization schemes work for corporations and private investors, not Canadians. They cost more than public projects, drive up user fees, fall short on quality and service, and hurt workers and people who depend on public services. CUPE members don’t want their deferred wages invested in ways that hurt workers and community members, or that put the reputation or health of our pension plans at risk.

The CPPIB already has investments in P3s and other privatization schemes, including a controlling share of Ontario’s controversial Highway 407, where users pay ever-rising tolls to use the privatized road. Some of Canada’s largest workplace pension plans, including CUPE plans, also profit from privatized infrastructure projects in Canada and around the world.

The climate crisis is also being used as cover to privatize green infrastructure. Pension funds are looking to profit from climate-related infrastructure with ‘green’ investment policies, and the CIB is greenwashing its latest plans to broker privatization deals with big investors.

“We urgently need to step up investments in climate-related infrastructure like public transit and clean energy, but we need to keep control of these systems,” says CUPE National Secretary-Treasurer Charles Fleury. “Privatization will put profit ahead of the planet, and won’t ensure a just transition for workers and communities to a sustainable economy.”

The Keep our pensions out of privatization toolkit highlights the dangers of pension funds investing in P3s and other types of privatization. The kit has ideas for action for both trustees and CUPE members.