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- Norway is riding high – after dominating the Winter Games podium, today it announced record returns for its sovereign wealth fund
- UN pulls 46 Ghanaian police from peacekeeping duties in South Sudan following allegations they were “engaging in sexual activity” with women who had sought shelter at their base
- Rosemary Barton on the secrecy around today’s federal budget release
Norway keeps on winning
These are heady times for Norway.
The emergent Scandinavian superpower topped the table at the Pyeongchang Games, winning 39 medals, including 14 golds. An impressive feat for a country of 5.3 million people — all the more so when you consider that the government spends just $24 million a year on summer and winter sports.
And now Norway is also succeeding where it really counts — fiscally.
The country’s $1.1 trillion US sovereign wealth fund, which invests government royalties from offshore oil and gas, grew by 13.7 per cent in 2017, adding $131 billion US to its coffers.
The gain, announced this morning, was mostly due to last year’s global surge in stock prices.
The sovereign fund, the largest in the world, has almost two-thirds of its value invested in the markets, holding 1.4 per cent of all listed stocks globally. The fund saw large returns from its stake in tech companies like Microsoft, Apple and Tencent.
The fund is now worth around $200,000 US for every man, woman and child in Norway. Although the government has been skimming some of the gains to help finance its budget deficits, taking 61 billion crowns ($7.75 billion US) in 2017, and is proposing to take a further 101 billion crowns ($12.8 billion) in 2018.
Norway is now announcing its intention to invest even more in the equity markets and to attempt to influence how companies operate when it comes to the environment.
This year, the sovereign fund will buy another $40 billion in stocks, pushing toward a target of 70 per cent of its value. It says it will use those positions to demand more accountability with regards to controlling greenhouse gases produced by companies it invests in.
In an interview with Reuters today, fund CEO Yngve Slyngstad said he will start by focusing on electricity producers. The fund’s plan is to demand cuts in coal use, and more in-depth research on how climate change-related droughts, heat waves and floods might affect its future earnings.
Then the fund will review its investments in all types of natural resources.
The muscle-flexing comes on the heels of the fund’s move last fall to remove all oil and gas companies — including Norwegian firms — from its benchmark index, and divest itself of its stakes over time. At present, those investments are worth around $37 billion US and include a 2.3 per cent holding in Royal Dutch Shell, along with 1.7 per cent of BP.
The proposal, which is due to be approved by Norway’s parliament this spring, will also affect 253 Canadian oil and gas firms, including Enbridge Inc. (a 0.88 per cent stake) and Suncor (a 0.99 holding.)
And there could be more environmental tough love forthcoming. The country’s central bank is set to decide soon on whether to order the fund to start blacklisting companies in the oil, steel and concrete sectors for producing too much greenhouse gas.
It’s no small threat. Oil prices plunged after last November’s divestment proposal.
Money is, after all, power. The government fund’s investments have added 4,000 billion crowns — $509 billion US — to the small country’s bottom line since its inception in 1990.
Policing the peacekeepers
The United Nations has pulled 46 Ghanaian police from their peacekeeping duties in South Sudan following allegations that the men were “engaging in sexual activity” with women who had sought shelter at their base.
The reports of “transactional” sex with women who had taken refuge at a UN-protected safe zone for civilians in Wau, in the country’s northwest, surfaced on Feb. 8.
The peacekeepers were ordered back to Juba, South Sudan’s capital, on the weekend and confined to their barracks following the completion of an initial investigation.
It will be up to Ghana’s government to take further action against the men. But Stéphane Dujarric, the spokesperson for the UN secretary general, says the peacekeeping mission in South Sudan is taking a “zero tolerance, no excuses, and no second chances approach to sexual exploitation and abuse.”
There are 7,000 soldiers and 900 police attached to the UN mission in South Sudan, with the majority hailing from Rwanda, India, Nepal and Bangladesh. Ghana is the seventh-largest contributor, with around 1,000 personnel.
Almost a third of South Sudanese have been forced from their homes by a civil war that has been grinding on since 2013. Some 200,000 civilians are living in camps and enclaves under UN protection.
The UN has 95,000 civilians and 90,000 peacekeepers working under its banner around the world. But their good work has increasingly been overshadowed by reports of abuse and insufficient oversight:
The number of paternity claims levied against “Blue Helmets” increased from 12 in 2013, to 56 in 2017. (The UN has now turned to DNA tests to settle such allegations.)
Last fall, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres vowed to stamp out the problem of sexual abuse “once and for all.”
More than 75 member nations have signed on to a pact to prevent acts of sexual misconduct by their troops and police.
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Rosemary Barton on Parliament Hill
By the time you see this, hundreds of reporters in a locked room in Ottawa will have already read through hundreds of pages of the Liberal government’s third budget to get a sense of what’s in it and what’s left out.
But they won’t be able to reveal any of it until the Finance Minister rises to his feet and starts speaking on Parliament Hill some time after 4 p.m. ET.
The secrecy around the budget is part parliamentary convention, part concern about how policy decisions could affect the markets writ large.
In 1989, Doug Small from Global News famously got his hands on a copy of the budget in brief and reported on it. That forced Finance Minister Michael Wilson to call a news conference that night to reveal more the details. Then Prime Minister Brian Mulroney called it a criminal act.
While the secrecy around the budget until it’s tabled in Parliament remains, these days it’s also part myth.
Broad themes of the budget are carefully leaked ahead of time to start shaping the narrative and preparing Canadians for what they are about to see.
Although the Liberals have avoided leaking actual numbers associated with proposals this time around, that is not always the case.
In 2009, the Conservatives revealed the exact number of the deficit as well as the spending for public works, housing, jobs and income tax reductions. CBC News at the time declared it the end of the secret budget.
So keep in mind that when the curtains lift this afternoon on how the government will spend your money, you may know bits and pieces, but you could have been told a whole lot more ahead of time.
The budget will be delivered at 4 p.m. EST today in Ottawa. You can follow all of CBC’s coverage here.
Quote of the moment
“Although it may be available and part of a cultural norm, it’s not for a pilot who is about to fly. Generally speaking we don’t want people at work intoxicated from anything, whether it’s alcohol or cannabis … [the military is called upon to do] a dangerous duty, a serious duty, and we don’t want people doing it stoned.”
– Chief of Canada’s Defence Staff, General Jonathan Vance, telling a Senate committee he’ll soon make recommendations to the defence minister about what kind of policy should be put in place for military personnel when recreational cannabis is legalized, including “a standard of abstinence.”
What The National is reading
- Fighting continues in Eastern Ghouta, despite ‘humanitarian pause’ (Guardian)
- Broward County, Fla., wants to see how it can regulate firearms and ammunition after Parkland shooting (Miami Herald)
- 5 things to watch for in today’s gender-based federal budget (CBC)
- ‘A stunning rebuke’: Trump signs report contradicting his own views on trade, Canada (Financial Post)
- Nigerian army, police clash over security in town where Boko Haram abducted 110 girls (AfricaNews)
- Cambodia, Laos losing protected forest to timber smugglers (Asia Times)
- Man who ate adopted pig apologizes, asks for an end to death threats (CTV)
- Venomous snakes turns up in Australian lunchbox (BBC)
- Internet expresses shock and horror at amount of sugar in Cadbury Creme Egg (National Post)
Today in history
Feb. 27, 1986: Jean Chrétien calls it quits
After 23 years in Ottawa, Jean Chrétein pulls the plug on his career, handing a polite resignation to the man who beat him in the 1984 Liberal leadership convention, John Turner. But the Little Guy from Shawinigan never really went away, referring to his time with a Montreal law firm as a “sabbatical.” And when Turner tapped out, just over four years later, Chrétien was ready and waiting in the wings.
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