One of the favourite expressions of Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec chief Michael Sabia is “Let me be very clear.” What follows often isn’t.
Take his response to a series of questions today from reporters about the Caisse’s intervention in the proposed takeover of Quebec home improvement retailer Rona Inc. by U.S.-based Lowes Cos and the fund manager’s effect on the current provincial election campaign, including a call by the Parti Quebecois to expand the Caisse’s role in the province’s economy.
Speaking on a conference call following the release of the Caisse’s first half results, Mr. Sabia wanted to be “very clear” on one matter: “We operate in complete independence of the government of Quebec. We take our own investment decisions. They are not investment decisions that are influenced by, at the direction of, or anything else vis-a-vis the government of Quebec.”
In fact, the independence of the Caisse far from clear, given its mandate to deliver returns while investing in the province’s economy and the seemingly endless desire of politicians to meddle in its affairs. Accordingly, Mr. Sabia refused to answer questions about the election on grounds it would be “inappropriate”.
However, he also refused to reveal whether the Caisse is under- or over-weight in its investments in Quebec. It’s a relevant question, considering it invested $7-billion in Quebec companies over the past three years as part of a strategy to invest in home-grown companies.
“If I answer that question, I’m going to go offside,” he replied.”If I comment on your question I’m going to be implicitly involving La Caisse in that political discussion. I don’t think that is an appropriate thing to do.”
That’s debatable. But it would certainly be an independent thing to do.