Thursday, May 21, 2009

Former Quebec pension fund boss roasted at hearing probing losses

Quebec's pension fund has fared well in recent years despite the latest massive losses caused by the collapse of the asset-backed commercial paper market, said the former head of the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec.

"Quebecers can still have every reason to be proud of the Caisse," said Henri-Paul Rousseau in his opening statement Tuesday at a parliamentary commission probing the pension fund's staggering $40 billion losses last year.

Rousseau spent Tuesday morning deflecting a steady stream of accusations from commission members who reproached him for quitting his job at the Caisse, just as the pension fund was bleeding profits. Rousseau announced he was leaving the fund in May 2008 and remained on as an adviser to the board until the end of August 2008.

The former Caisse boss showed a "deep contempt for the interests of our nation" when he chose to accept a $400,000 departure bonus, said Amir Khadir, the legislature's sole Quebec Solidaire MNA.

"As arrogance and contempt often hide a certain disregard, you preferred to resign in the middle of the storm," Khadir added before being brought to order by the commission president.

Rousseau responded by saying he left a lucrative job in the private sector to serve Quebecers at the pension fund from 2002 to 2008, a choice that involved "heavy sacrifices," he told the commission.

He is not to blame for the pension fund's dismal returns in 2008, Rosseau said.

The fund was broadsided by the global economic crisis, and if it wasn't for its investment in asset-backed commercial paper, it would have weathered the downturn much better, Rousseau said.

The Caisse has other issues, Rousseau added, including trouble "training, recruiting and keeping competent staff," he said.

The new head of the fund is Michael Sabia, former head of Bell Canada Enterprises, who took over in March of this year.

With files from The Canadian Press