Inside the AMS's push to divest

Society relinquished investments in Canadian oil sands giants, including Suncor, Imperial Oil 

Society executives tell The Journal about the divestment process.
Credit: 
Journal File Photo

The AMS announced on Monday it had completely divested from holdings in companies that produce, transport, and dispense fossil fuels, becoming the first student government in Ontario to do so.

“This is meant to serve as a message and send a message to our industries, to our leaders, to our university, to our community, that students need to see action,” William Greene, AMS vice-president (University Affairs), said in an interview on Wednesday.

According to a statement sent to The Journal on Tuesday, in the year leading up to divestment, seven per cent of the Society’s equity investments were in oil and gas.

After repeated requests for a breakdown of the Society’s oil and gas holdings, the AMS provided a snapshot of investments it held at the time the final decision to divest was made. The snapshot shows investments in 20 oil and gas companies, and a bond in one.

The companies include Canadian Natural Resource, Ensign Energy Services, Husky Energy, Imperial Oil, Precision Drilling, Suncor Energy, ARC Resources, Enbridge, Inter Pipeline, Keyera, Peyto Exploration, Prairiesky Royalty, TC Energy, Tourmaline Oil, CNOOC, EOG RES, Hong Kong and China Gas, Schlumberger, Chevron, Concophillips, Halliburton Company and Alberta Mtn.

Prior to divestment, the AMS held interest in both the largest independent natural gas and heavy crude oil producer in Canada, Canadian Natural Resource, and the second-largest Canadian producer of oil, Suncor Energy.

The Society also held an investment in Imperial Oil, which The Journal reported finances more research at Queen’s than Canada’s ten largest fossil fuel companies combined. The company also holds the top spot among Canadian fossil fuel companies for donations provided to Queen’s.

On Sept. 24, the day after the AMS announced divestment, Ensign Energy Services, Precision Drilling, and Peyto Exploration & Development, were removed from Canada’s main stock index, the S&P/TSX Composite Index, due to their market capitalization dropping below minimum requirements.

On Wednesday, The Journal spoke with Auston Pierce, AMS president, Jessica Dahanayake, vice-president (Operations), and William Greene, vice-president (University Affairs), about the move to divest.

“It took a lot of research, we had to justify this to the board, and the board ended up being unanimous,” Pierce said. “There were questions about financial returns, we ended up getting projections that the returns wouldn’t have changed.”

While the AMS has divested from companies in the oil and gas sector, the rest of the Society’s portfolio has remained largely the same. Greene said the AMS’ two priorities were to remain invested in Canadian companies and to maintain a relatively lower risk for the portfolio.
 
“We only have that one-year term, and we believe that leaders at every level need to step up and do all that we can to keep pushing this needle forward towards a more sustainable future,” Pierce said.
 
Divestment has been on Team AJW’s agenda since the beginning of their campaign. In January, discussions about divestment were originally brought up at a meeting with Queen’s Backing Action on Climate Change (QBACC).
 
“Since January, we’ve been on a fact-finding mission,” Pierce said. “We’ve been finding out every single thing [about divestment] that we possibly can so we make the best decision for students.”
 
While Greene said the announcement has been met mainly with “overwhelming support,” there are also naysayers. 
 
“Professors are talking about this in the classroom, students are speaking about this on social media, in their residences, in their houses,” said Pierce. “This is exactly what we hoped, that people would start thinking about the environmental implications of our daily lives, because divestment isn’t always the best answer. Divestment is just a piece of the puzzle.”
 
While the announcement received significant attention on campus, Pierce called it a “no-brainer.” 
 
“It would have been financially irresponsible for us not to divest.”
 

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.