Alberta fund dumps millions in tobacco stocks ahead of proposed lawsuit

Decision on legal action expected shortly as fund sells off holdings.

The CA$70.7bn Alberta Investment Management Corporation (AIMCO) has dumped $17.5m in shares in tobacco companies as it prepares to file a lawsuit against some of the same firms to recover healthcare costs for smoking-related illnesses. The fund, which runs the assets of 26 Alberta pension, endowment and government funds, said it had made the unusual move because holding tobacco shares while fighting the case would look bad. AIMCO, which was formerly a division of the Alberta government become a Crown corporation in 2008, meaning it is a separate enterprise owned by the province. In 2009, Alberta passed legislation in favour of a tobacco lawsuit saying that tobacco companies should share the burden of paying to treat costly smoking-related illnesses such as cancer and heart disease. The legislation has not yet been ratified and the lawsuit is as yet unfiled. However, in October 2010, former Justice Minister and current Premier, Alison Redford, said Alberta’s lawsuit against big tobacco would be filed within one year.Other Canadian provinces including Ontario, New Brunswick, British Columbia and Newfoundland have already filed lawsuits against the tobacco industry. Leo de Bever, CEO of AIMCO, said: “We have divested all of the actively managed tobacco stocks. This was across the spectrum and it is because the government is suing the tobacco companies over health care.” He said the corporation still had some small tobacco holdings within indexed investment funds. Other large Canadian investment funds reportedly maintain significant exposure to the tobacco industry, according to anti-smoking groups. The British Columbia Investment Corp. had $346m in tobacco industry stocks as of March 31, 2010. The Canada Pension Plan Investment Board had $218m worth of tobacco stocks during the same period. Quebec’s Caisse de Dépôt et Placement also has multi-million dollar tobacco holdings.