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Report On Business Caisse’s Sabia sees room for improvement in Barrick’s governance

Caisse CEO Michael Sabia speaks following a news conference for the release of their 2013 financial results in Montreal, February 26, 2014.

CHRISTINNE MUSCHI/REUTERS

There is still room for progress on the corporate governance front at Barrick Gold Corp., says Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec chief executive officer Michael Sabia.

"I think [the board] have taken a couple of steps forward. I think they have taken a step or a step-and-a-half backwards. So is it progress? Yeah. Is it dramatic? Probably not. Do we continue to hope for more? Yes," Mr. Sabia said at a news conference Wednesday to discuss the fund's 2013 results.

The Caisse and Barrick's seven other institutional investors spoke with one voice last year to protest a $11.9-million (U.S.) signing bonus for incoming chairman John Thornton as well as other governance problems.

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The gold company has since nominated four new independent directors. It also announced that chairman and founder Peter Munk and two other long-time directors will not be standing for re-election at the annual meeting.

However, some investors questioned whether the nominees are truly independent of Mr. Munk and said one of the nominees – Bay Street's Ned Goodman – approved of Mr. Thornton's bonus.

Questions have also been raised over the issue of how much mining experience the board members have.

Mr. Sabia did not specify what issues at Barrick continue to be of concern for the Caisse.

But he indicated that one option for the Caisse is to sell its shares if there is no progress.

"If the board turns out to be completely tone deaf I guess the board is completely tone deaf and they'll have to live with the consequences of that," he said.

"As a shareholder, at the end of the day what are your options? Exit? Voice? Those are the two options for a shareholder. We've certainly used voice. We've also used a bunch of exits because we haven't been crazy about gold stocks.

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"I guess we do see some modest progress and perhaps things are moving in the right direction and I prefer to be an optimist rather than not."

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