At the barricades with Barrick Gold – by Terence Corcoran (National Post – April 23, 2013)

The National Post is Canada’s second largest national paper.

With all the problems Barrick Gold is facing, the giant government-created Canadian pension institutions have zeroed in on a mostly trivial obsession: executive compensation

On Wednesday, Peter Munk’s Barrick Gold will stage its annual meeting while under fire on all fronts. The price of gold has crashed, major projects are coming in way over budget, third-world governments are giving the company a hard time, Barrick’s stock price is at its lowest in decades, investors have lost billions in market value.

Third quarter results will also be released Wednesday. In the face of all this turmoil, what do the Giants of Self-Important Canadian Pension Institutions do? Move in with an attack on the most trivial issue of all: executive compensation.

In a news release last Friday, seven of Canada’s government-based institutional pension investors and a pension-management firm from the U.K. announced that they would be voting against Barrick’s say-on-pay resolution and against the three directors who are members of the company’s compensation committee.

For the record, the seven Canadian funds are: Alberta Investment Management Corp., B.C. Investment Management Corp., Caisse de depot et placement du Quebec, Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System, Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan and the Public Sector Pension Investment Board.

As the funds chest-thumpingly put it in their release, they are “institutional investors who collectively steward assets of $916-billion,” a near-trillion-dollar pool that lands like a free lunch in their portfolios via various government monopolies and mandates. From their mighty investment perch overlooking the plight of the gold sector, and Barrick in particular, the funds decided to target the compensation of one man, John L. Thornton.

Appointed in June, 2012, as co-chair of Barrick — sharing the role at least temporarily with Peter Munk, Barrick’s 85-year-old founder — Mr. Thornton is a former Goldman Sachs executive who appears to have a wealth of business and corporate experience, not to mention the confidence of Mr. Munk, who is staging his withdrawal from the company.

“It is indeed our great fortune,” said Mr. Munk in a recent letter to shareholders, “that John has reached the point in his spectacular career at the same time when our need for someone of his exceptional qualifications, credentials and experience also reached a decision point.”

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