Photo: RESP: Porcelain pig in a puddle of oil

(Crédit : Alexander Dummer via Unsplash)

By Diego Creimer

After dinner, my family sits at the table, talking about their day at school or work. As I watch my children, Gaspard and Félix, I like to ponder. I think about what will become of my sons when they grow up, what careers they will choose, what values will move them and what battles they will fight. Perhaps this is a universal pastime of all proud parents.

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A little after our children were born, we were visited by an educational savings adviser. He came to sell us one of those famous plans that allow parents to set money aside tax-free. Once children are admitted to an institution recognized by the Ministry of Education, parents can spend the money on fees and educational expenses. Many parents in Quebec and Canada likely received similar visits, and like us, a few signed up for a Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP).

We began to fill the big piggy bank that would finance our children's education, and to which the government would contribute just as generously.

Last week, when we received our mail, we were taken aback by the Canadian Scholarship Trust financial statement. It showed the money that would pay for our kids' education, boosted by tax breaks, was partially invested in fossil fuels that directly threatened the future of our planet, and therefore that of our children.

In the investment portfolio, besides numerous federal, provincial and municipal bonds, we found bonds issued by companies that produce and transport oil sands bitumen. The portfolio also included investments in Milit-Air Inc., which operates training facilities for fighter pilots, as well as shares in Enerflex, Imperial Oil Limited and Suncor Energy. The latest online financial statement from Universitas Financial, another big player in the RESP, included a similar array of oil and pipeline companies: Enbridge, Suncor, Canadian Natural Resources Inc., Cenovus Energy, Inter Pipeline and others.

As we read these financial statements, we realized we were saving for the future and education of our children while investing in a way that compromised that very future. To ensure better prospects for their children, every month millions of Canadian families put a little of their money in the collective piggy bank that stretches across the country. The piggy bank that is in fact a pink porcelain pig with a slot on its back and its four legs stuck in a puddle of crude oil.

We need to help get it unstuck, just like the Laval University did recently, having decided to pull all its money from fossil fuels over the course of five years. By choosing the way of sustainable development and climate justice, Laval climbed to the top of the list of schools where I would be proud to see my children study. We can only hope other universities concerned about a greener and fairer future will follow the lead.

Some political and economic interests associated with the fossil fuel sector are undermining climate science and denying the work of many researchers and universities in the spirit of post-truth. Ironically, many universities conduct a lot of climate change and green energy research, which creates a fundamental contradiction with their choice of investments.

When I watch my children, and when I invest in their future, I dream that as a society, we will firmly engage in the inevitable transition toward clean, renewable energy. I hope this process will take place from top to bottom, from childhood to adulthood, from education savings to retirement savings.

May 8, 2017

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