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Mark Machin, CEO of CPPIB, at a fireside chat to discuss how CPP Investments is investing the Fund to help support the well-being of Albertans in Calgary, on Mar. 8, 2020.

Randy Risling/The Globe and Mail

The head of Canada Pension Plan’s investment branch received a COVID-19 vaccine while in the United Arab Emirates, jumping the domestic queue and travelling abroad despite a federal advisory to avoid leaving the country.

Mark Machin runs Canada Pension Plan Investment Board. CPPIB is the country’s largest pension fund and manages $476-billion on behalf of Canadians.

The CEO received his vaccine in Dubai, and is still there with his partner. It is not illegal for Canadian residents to travel abroad, but the federal government has issued a global advisory to avoid all non-essential travel outside Canada.

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Late Thursday, Mr. Machin sent an internal memo to CPPIB staff acknowledging that he took a personal trip and was in Dubai for a number of reasons, some of which were “deeply personal.”

The latest: Mark Machin steps down in the wake of COVID-19 vaccination controversy

Mr. Machin said the trip was supposed to be “very private” and that he was disappointed it has become the focus of “expected criticism.” He added that he regrets any criticism of CPPIB that could come from it.

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland’s press secretary, Katherine Cuplinskas, said it is concerning that Mr. Machin received the COVID-19 vaccine while in the Middle East. Mr. Machin’s trip was first reported by The Wall Street Journal late Thursday.

“While the CPPIB is an independent organization, this is very troubling,” Ms. Cuplinskas said. “The federal government has been clear with Canadians that now is not the time to travel abroad. We were not made aware of this travel and further questions should be directed to the CPPIB on this matter.”

CPPIB did not return multiple requests for comment from The Globe and Mail.

Mr. Machin made his trip while the majority of Canadians wait for their own vaccinations, with some provinces just beginning to roll out plans to inoculate people in the general population who are 80 years or older. Mr. Machin was born in 1966.

CPPIB is a federal Crown corporation that operates independently of the federal government. The federal and provincial finance ministers are joint stewards of the institution, and the federal finance minister is responsible for appointing directors to the CPPIB, after consulting with the provinces.

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Canada was just the third country in the world – after Britain and Bahrain – to approve the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in early December. It then approved the Moderna vaccine on Dec. 23.

The United Arab Emirates is second only to Israel in terms of vaccination doses administered per 100 people, according to the Our World in Data website. Israel is first at 90.2, followed by the UAE at 58.25.

Canada is at 4.5, according to government reports.

The UAE was among the first countries to approve the Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine, which is produced by a Chinese state-owned company. The UAE has also approved three other vaccines – from Pfizer-BioNTech, Sputnik V and Oxford-AstraZeneca.

Mr. Machin joined CPPIB in 2012 and became head of its international operation a year later, making him responsible for advisory relationships and investment activities outside of Canada. He became CEO in mid-2016.

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