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Evan Siddall in Toronto on June 1, 2017.Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

Alberta’s government-owned investment fund named veteran Crown corporation leader Evan Siddall as its new chief executive officer on Thursday, while announcing the $118-billion asset manager significantly underperformed its benchmark last year.

Mr. Siddall, former CEO of Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp., will take over Alberta Investment Management Corp., or AIMCo, on July 1. He replaces Kevin Uebelein, who has run AIMCo for the past six years. The Edmonton asset manager invests on behalf of 31 provincial pension, endowment and government funds, including the Heritage Savings Trust Fund.

Last spring, AIMCo lost $2.1-billion on investment strategies linked to market volatility. An inquiry commissioned by AIMCo’s board of directors subsequently found failings in the fund manager’s risk management systems, and a number of executives departed. On Thursday, the fund manager announced it earned a 2.5-per-cent overall return in 2020. AIMCo said that return was 5.4 percentage points below its performance benchmark of 7.9 per cent.

“It was a tough year, however, the portfolio is well-positioned for the long term,” AIMCo chair Mark Wiseman said in an interview on Thursday.

Mr. Wiseman said Mr. Siddall was the board’s top choice as the next leader of AIMCo and brings a wealth of experience in financial markets and Crown corporations. Mr. Siddall, 55, holds a law degree and was at the Bank of Canada prior to joining CMHC in 2013. He previously worked as an investment banker with Bank of Montreal and Goldman Sachs, and as a senior executive at Irving Oil Ltd.

“Evan’s role is ultimately about serving AIMCo’s clients, who have very different needs,” said Mr. Wiseman, former CEO of Canada Pension Plan Investment Board. “Part of that role is to ensure the organization has flawless risk management, and is rewarded appropriately for the risks it does take.”

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Mr. Siddall said in a press release he is delighted to join AIMCo and is “looking forward to working with AIMCo’s talented team of professionals in delivering consistently superior investment performance on behalf of our clients.” He is expected to move to Edmonton this summer. At CMHC, Mr. Siddall was active on social media and outspoken on hot-button issues such as mortgage lending standards and housing prices.

AIMCo’s current CEO, Mr. Uebelein, will depart on June 30. In a press release on Thursday, he said last year’s performance was “extremely humbling.” He said AIMCo’s public- and private-market portfolios are now performing well, and the fund is focusing new real estate investments on industrial and logistics properties, in the face of “challenged” outlooks for the office and retail sectors.

AIMCo’s new CEO arrives as Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s government bulks up the fund manager by charging it with investing the $20-billion provincial teachers’ pension plan, a shift the teachers’ union is fighting in court. Mr. Kenney is also considering pulling the province’s contributions out of Canada Pension Plan and managing the money in Alberta.

The Alberta government also embraced confrontation with unionized employees last year by imposing a new investment agreement on AIMCo’s largest client, the $53-billion Local Authorities Pension Plan, a retirement fund for health care workers and government employees. In an interview on Thursday, LAPP chief executive Chris Brown said: “We have areas where we disagree, and we’re optimistic on new leadership, and looking forward to a conversation with Mr. Siddall on how we can find alignment on our common interests.”

In 2019, AIMCo’s CEO earned $2.8-million, compensation that is on par with similar-sized domestic pension plans and competitive with private-sector money managers. The fund manager ran a global campaign for a new leader, led by executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles International.

Mr. Wiseman said AIMCo moved from an initial pool of 150 candidates to a short list of nine potential leaders before selecting Mr. Siddall. LAPP’s Mr. Brown said his organization was pleased to see AIMCo “ran a transparent, robust process, that resulted in a new CEO with an impressive CV.”

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