CALGARY – Alberta has tapped Mark Wiseman, the former head of the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, to chair its pension fund at a time when the province is considering breaking away from the Canada Pension Plan and take control of its own pension assets.
On Friday, the Alberta government appointed Wiseman, who was most recently with New York-based investment management firm BlackRock Inc., to head the board of the Alberta Investment Management Corp., which manages $119 billion of the province’s public pension assets.
Alberta’s finance minister Travis Toews said Wiseman “brings deep experience in large fund management and, given his experience and background, we believe he’ll be a great fit as chair of AIMCo.”
The appointment comes as Alberta’s Fair Deal Panel released a report this week on how the province should take control of its affairs and reduce its contributions to Ottawa, as many Albertans believe they’ve paid far more into the country than they receive in return. Premier Jason Kenney created the panel last year to gauge the mood of Albertans and determine better ways the province could assert itself in the country.
That report recommended Alberta’s government manage its own residents’ pension investments, similar to the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, rather than through the CPP.
Doing so would mean that Albertans would pay less in pension contributions as they reside in a province with one of the youngest populations in the country and have fewer current pensioners than other provinces.
In an interview with the Financial Post on Friday, Toews said the province did not appoint the former CEO of the CPPIB as a precursor to channeling its pension contributions to AIMCo.
“We haven’t appointed Mark specifically because we’re considering the merits of an Alberta pension plan. We brought Mark in because we have a very substantial fund in the province and we want it managed well,” Toews said.
“There’s no doubt as we look at the merit, opportunities and perhaps risks of an Alberta pension plan. Should the province go in that direction, we will certainly need strong leadership,” Toews said.
In recent months, AIMCo has come under increasing scrutiny for losing billions of dollars through its volatility-based investment program and for directly investing in a number of small and risky Alberta-based oil and gas companies, which have continued to struggle with persistently low oil prices and lack of access to markets.
Toews said the pension manager is operationally independent from the government of Alberta and Wiseman was not appointed to steer AIMCo towards or away from specific types of trading activity.
“AIMCo has had a challenging quarter as I would expect most asset management firms have had — it’s a rollercoaster of extreme volatility,” Toews said of the fund’s recent performance. AIMCo said it had recorded $2.1 billion in losses on volatility trades, in a letter dated April 21 and posted on its website.
Wiseman’s other previous roles include being responsible for the private equity fund at the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan. He was also an officer at Toronto-based merchant bank Harrowston Inc. before its purchase by TD Bank Group in 2001.
“I look forward to working with my fellow directors as AIMCo continues to serve its clients for the long-term,” Wiseman said in a statement.
Most recently, Wiseman was the global head of active equities at BlackRock, Inc., the world’s largest asset manager with US$7 trillion in assets under management.
Analysts believed he was on the short list of executives capable of succeeding Blackrock chairman and CEO Laurence Fink. But Wiseman left the firm abruptly last year for violating the company’s “relationship at work” policy.
Wiseman apologized to his colleagues in a memo in December and said that he did not disclose a consensual relationship with a colleague at the company. While Wiseman ran the equities business based in New York, his wife Marcia Moffatt ran the firm’s Canadian business from Toronto as country head.
Wiseman is taking over the chair role at AIMCo on July 1 from Richard Bird, a former chief financial officer at Enbridge Inc., who is finishing his second three-year term at the pension manager.