April 6, 2012

Caisse: the people's conglomerate

It's been many years since I've been to Miami, so I don't recall the Mary Brickell Village area, which apparently is now one of the most popular destinations for shopping, dining and drinking in the bustling city's downtown.

Maybe someday when I retire I'll be able to check it out — with some very small and discreet financial help from the patrons of the above type of establishments in a mall complex called The Shops at Mary Bickell Village.

For, lo and behold, as a taxpayer and citizen of Quebec, I am a part owner of those establishments. The proof is on the The Shops' website: "The Shops at Mary Brickell Village is owned and operated by Ivanhoe Cambridge, one of Canada's leading property owners, managers, developers and investors."

They could go on to say Ivanhoe Cambridge is also the real-estate arm of the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Quebec, the body that manages the payroll contributions of citizens of Quebec (that's me!) plus those of a host of other unions and other government-related investment funds.

All in all, the Caisse boasts assets of nearly $160 billion, making it the second largest pension fund in Canada, just behind the Canada Pension Plan, the fund that collects and invests contributions from employed citizens outside Quebec.

The creation of Quebec's own pension fund in 1965 was one of the many tangible acts of modernization and nationalization that came with what is called the "Quiet Revolution" in the province. Then-premier Jean Lesage said at the time the Caisse would be "an instrument of growth, the most powerful economic lever ever seen in the province."

The symbolic headquarters of the Caisse is in the historic Price Building in Quebec City, an Art Deco replica of the Empire State Building in New York City, built by one of the province's once powerful English-speaking industrial families. To underscore the Quebec government's corporate power, the premier of Quebec's residence, when he's in the provincial capital, is in the penthouse of the 18-story tower.

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