These days supplies of Russian vodka cannot be found in Alberta (Photo: Veikia, Creative Commons).

On Sunday, Premier Jason Kenney announced that the provincial government directed the Alberta Gaming, Liquor, and Cannabis Commission to stop accepting Russian-made liquor products and to quit selling current stock to retailers.

The announcement also indicated without details that retailers had been instructed to stop selling Russian vodka and the like.  

“Alberta stands in solidarity with the citizens of Ukraine and we will support those fighting against tyranny any way we can,” Kenney said in the short statement published on the Alberta Government’s website and sent to media.

He also tweeted that “Alberta stands with #Ukraine. We have directed the @AGLC to suspend the purchasing and sale of all Russian-made products.”

Understandably, the announcement of the vodka ban generated positive media coverage without many questions about whether stores with stock on their shelves would be permitted to sell off their inventory. 

Meanwhile, the Progress Report said yesterday that the Alberta Investment Management Corp., better known as AIMCo, owns some 500,000 shares of a Russian investment fund worth millions of dollars.

This is highly significant because AIMCo is the underperforming provincial investment Crown corporation that Kenney’s United Conservative Party government has forced all Alberta public sector pension plans to use to manage their funds. 

And it’s to AIMCo that Kenney dreams of transferring all Albertans’ Canada Pension Plan savings so he can set up an Alberta pension plan that is easier to access for politically motivated investments.

Yet, surprisingly given the Alberta premier’s enthusiasm for the boycott and sanction of Russian companies in the wake of President Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine last week, no one at AIMCo or the Alberta Finance Ministry returned Progress Alberta’s phone calls about the investment. 

So does the Alberta government have a plan for divestment of these funds? Inquiring Albertans deserve to know. 

Not atypically for AIMCo, the VanEck Vectors Russia Exchange Trading Fund in which the Crown corporation invested $13.2 million last year is now worth only $5.4 million and will probably go lower. 

This is not as heavy a loss as the $2.1 billion AIMCo lost on a high-risk volatility gamble in 2020, but you have to wonder what the company’s investment experts were thinking when they sank millions into a fund that has at least half the shares it holds in companies with their revenues and related assets in Russia. 

After all, the tensions that led to the current crisis in Ukraine date back at least to 2014 when Russia occupied and annexed Crimea, resulting in some sanctions. There has been no secret since then that tensions between the two former Soviet republics have been growing ever since. 

The fund’s largest holdings are in Gazprom, Sberbank and Lukoil. The majority of Gazprom and Sberbank shares are owned by the Russian state. Lukoil is Russia’s largest non-state-owned corporation. 

The fund also holds shares of EVRAZ, the parent company of EVRAZ North America, owner of the only steel mill in Western Canada capable of making pipe suitable for pipelines.

The EVRAZ steel mill in Regina is maker of 75 per cent of the pipe for the ongoing Trans-Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project.

While technically EVRAZ has been structured to be legally a U.K. corporation so it can sell shares on British stock markets, 60 per cent of the corporation is owned by three Russian men who meet the commonplace Western media definition of oligarchs, at least one of whom has ties to President Putin. 

Kenney has been tweeting that “if Canada really wants to help defang Putin, then let’s get some pipelines built.”

So far, however, he seems to have had nothing to say about the use of steel from a Russian owned mill for the TMX project, or the dependence of the province of Saskatchewan on such a company for well-paying jobs in Regina. 

Some thoughtful comments on the way forward from Kenney, and from Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe as well, would seem to be in order. 

David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...