Our Statement of Principles: An Open Letter to Metro Inc. and the McGill Board of Governors
McGill must end its multi-million investment in the fossil fuel industry. We want Metro Board member Maryse Bertrand to stop blocking divestment in her role as a vice-chair at McGill. Please join us in signing this petition to support a boycott of Metro grocery stores, and to help bring an end to institutional investments in Canada’s unsustainable fossil fuel industry.
Metro Inc. is one of the giants of the Canadian grocery and pharmacy business. Under Metro’s ownership, there are 326 name-sake locations across Ontario and Quebec, and hundreds of other stores under recognizable brands such as Super C, Adonis, Marché Richelieu, Première Moisson, Food Basics, and Marché Ami. With some reservations from the federal Competition Bureau, in 2018, Metro acquired some 400 Jean Coutu stores.
Maryse Bertrand sits on Metro Inc.’s Board of Directors. Ms. Bertrand is a board member of the National Bank of Canada, and a vice-chair on the highest administrative board of McGill University, the Board of Governors. In her capacity as a vice-chair at McGill, she has refused to support the school’s total divestment of its $1.6 billion endowment from the fossil fuel industry.
Since 2012, the McGill community has pushed the McGill administration to end its investments in the fossil fuel industry. In 2019, these investments totalled, roughly, $50 million. Motions for divestment have been supported by the student and teachers’ union, prominent faculties, and most importantly, by the democratic body of the university, the McGill Senate. However, only McGill’s Board of
Governors has executive control over the school’s investments. In the winter of 2019, the school’s by-in-large unelected Board, including Ms. Bertrand, officially rejected a democratic motion by the Senate that would have seen McGill divest. This provoked a student occupation of McGill’s administration building in February 2020.
The global movement for fossil fuel divestment has led to institutions divesting more than $14.5 trillion since 2011. This movement started in universities and faith groups, and 15 percent of those institutions that have divested since are universities. In 2018, Goldman Sachs credited the “divestment movement” as “a key driver of the coal sector’s 60% de-rating over the past five years” and Shell announced it would begin considering divestment a “material risk.” In July, Alberta’s Premier, Jason Kenney, troubled by Deutsche Bank’s divestment decision, admitted that fleeting investment was among the “biggest challenges of Canada’s energy industry.”
And all for the better. Canada’s oil and gas industry is accountable for the largest share among economic sectors of Canada’s emissions. The environmental degradation produced by the industry’s operations has left behind over 1.6 trillion litres of toxic fluids in industry tailings ponds, containing substances like lead, arsenic, and mercury. High cancer rates have been observed in downstream, often Indigenous, towns like those of the Mikisew Cree and the Athabasca Chipewyan. Moreover, work camps erected besides resource extraction projects have a history of introducing a largely male workforce to Indigenous communities; driving up substance abuse, sexual exploitation and assault (see, for instance, the seventh chapter of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s report). Within the first year of one industrial project, in 2011, RCMP data showed an increase of 38 percent in reports of sexual assault in BC’s Fort St James area. All of these crimes are generally overlooked largely due to the economic, cultural and political hegemony of the oil and gas industry in western Canada. In Alberta, the entrenched economic and cultural reach of the oil and gas industry has pushed public and political opinion against ecological action. Only 27% of Alberta considers climate change worthy of the title “emergency.” Calgary’s September 2019 climate rally numbered only several hundred to Montreal’s 500,000. At the political level, the industry-financed lobbying organization, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), makes hundreds of lobbying contacts with federal government officials each year, openly hostile to environmental and humanitarian efforts to limit the operations of the oil and gas industry.
In 2020, Maryse Betrand earned an annual retainer on the Board of Metro of
$130,000 and has over $672,000 in equity holdings in the company. Relative to 2019, her annual retainer has increased by 8% and the value of her equity holdings has increased by 16.5%. McGill’s Board of Governors deliberately appoints its members for their corporate connections to big businesses like Metro Inc.. For instance, Ms. Bertrand sits on McGill’s Board alongside Cynthia Price Verreault who worked for Petro-Canada for roughly 18 years. Metro Inc. has tremendous financial and professional leverage over Bertrand, who in turn has the power to change McGill’s investments in the fossil fuel industry.
Metro Inc. must release a public statement condemning McGill University’s investments in the fossil fuel industry;
Metro Inc. must facilitate a discussion between Maryse Bertrand, Divest McGill, and Climate Justice Montreal, with Metro acting as a third party;
Maryse Bertrand must put forward a motion for divestment from the fossil fuel industry at a meeting of McGill’s Board of Governors and rally support from her colleagues; and
Metro Inc. must adopt a mandate to lobby provincial and federal politicians against future investments in the fossil fuel industry.
We hope this boycott extends past demands on Metro or McGill. Our elected provincial and federal representatives must understand this divestment movement is not limited to the local level. These officials must stop allowing their governments to fund Canada’s major players in the fossil fuel industry, and must prevent future funding from banks, universities, and other financial institutions.
For those interested in becoming more involved in the campaign, do not hesitate to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This open letter has been signed by Extinction Rebellion Québec, Quit RBC - XR Québec, Extinction Rebellion Youth Québec, Pour le futur Montréal, Climate Justice Montreal, Sortons la Caisse du Carbone, Coalition etudiante pour un virage environnemental et social (CEVES), LeapUofT, DivestED, Fossil Free LakeHead, RadLaw, McGill Law Climate Justice, Climate Justice Climatique uOttawa, McGill Corporate Accountability Project, the Milton Parc Citizen’s Committee, and Divest McGill