Sunday, January 28, 2007

An inconvenient portfolio

Much is being made this weekend over a disclosure about Premier Gordon Campbell's personal finances, as it turns out that both he and his wife Nancy, have (or had) investment portfolios that consisted of an undisclosed number of shares in stock of Alcan Incorporated.

For the Premiers part he said on Friday that his shares in Alcan were sold by January 11th and that he no longer has any shares in the company and for that matter is not sure if he made any money on them. His shares were included in a discretionary equity portfolio which is managed by a Vancouver brokerage house.

Of course even the fact that he owned stock as recently as January 10th has raised a few flags of interest in the province, considering the current situation between Alcan and the BC Utilities Board.

The aluminum smelter and now apparent provincial energy provider is in the midst of a serious game of hardball with not only the community of Kitimat, but the British Columbia Utilities Commission.

The Commission late in December turned down the plan put together by Alcan and BC Hydro plans to sell electricity generated by Alcan to the province, a decision which has led to a fair amount of sabre rattling about planned modernization plans to the aging Kitimat Works plant.

The Premier has been a rather vocal booster of Alcan and its contribution to the British Columbia economy, and was quite expansive in his praise of the Aluminum giant when it announced its planned refurbishing of the Kitimat plant last summer.

Of course what's good for Alcan it would seem to some, might also have been good for the Premier's portfolio, a situation that is making a few observers a tad uneasy over perceptions of conflict and such.

It's an interesting situation, on one hand you might think that a public official might not want to be investing in businesses that may benefit directly from any form of governmental decision making, but then again it's possibly a sign that the Premier is so bullish on the BC economy that he's investing in it.

But the way the storyline is being presented, it seems that his involvement is possibly the byproduct of a large investment pool investing in a number of Canadian companies, a situation which it's suggested would be nigh impossible to monitor on a day to day basis and to which he probably would have little control over anyways.

There have been no accusations of wrong doing made thus far, nor suggestions of funny timing on stock purchases, rather it's more the optics that seem to have some people upset. That of a sitting Premier holding shares in a company that is currently looking for governmental support in its plans for not only Kitimat, but to remain a player in the energy sector in the province as well.

The NDP is keeping an eye on the situation and were making some hay of it over the weekend, suggesting that they will be approaching the province's conflict of interest commissioner, to see if ownership of the shares put Campbell in a conflict of interest situation.

Once the smoke clears on the current tempest, it will be interesting to see if this gun is a smoking one, or one that has fired blanks...

Here's some reading material on the issue from some of the weekends news sources:

Campbell's reveal Alcan Holdings ... Georgia Straight
Campbell says he dropped shares...
Conflict allegations silly says financial advisor... CBC News
BC Premier accused of conflict over Alcan... Globe and Mail
Campbell faces conflict probe... Globe and Mail
NDP question premiers Alcan holdings... National Post
Campbell accused of conflict... Victoria Times-Colonist

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