On Wednesday, applications opened for the federal government’s Large Employer Emergency Financing Facility (LEEFF), a Covid-19 relief package that provides loans and bridge financing to companies with at least $300 million in revenue.
The program comes with a number of strings — the government, for example, wants either an ownership stake or cash equivalent from qualifying companies — but one notable requirement may provide insight into the Liberals’ post-pandemic policy priorities.
Companies that receive LEEFF must publish annual climate-related financial disclosure reports consistent with the Financial Stability Board’s Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD), a reporting framework the Liberals endorsed in their 2019 budget.
This poses the question of whether the Liberals will make climate-related financial disclosure a priority in future policy initiatives.
“You could take it as a signal that disclosure is going to be an important part of any sustainable finance policy,” Sean Cleary, executive director of the Kingston, Ont.-based Institute for Sustainable Finance, said in an interview.
The TCFD framework, Cleary said, has “gained a lot of momentum,” having earned the support of more than 1,000 companies around the world as a way of standardizing climate disclosure.
While the federal government also supports the TCFD, there is a hitch: securities regulation falls under provincial jurisdiction, so the Liberals are limited when it comes to mandating the type of disclosure publicly traded companies must provide.
“The government is trying to use any tools it has to encourage this type of disclosure,” said Laura Zizzo, founder and CEO of Toronto-based Mantle314, a consultancy that specializes in helping businesses address climate risks and opportunities.
Last June, the government-appointed Expert Panel on Sustainable Finance recommended the Liberals work with the provinces to gradually phase in TCFD reporting requirements for small and large companies. The chair of that panel, Tiff Macklem, has now been appointed governor of the Bank of Canada.
Another notable appointment is Michael Sabia, who became chair of the Canada Infrastructure Bank in April. Sabia previously served as president and CEO of the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, which became invested heavily in green technology under his watch.
Elliot Hughes, senior advisor with Ottawa-based Summa Strategies Canada Inc., suggested these appointments and the Liberals’ climate-reporting requirement for LEEFF weren’t a coincidence.
“There’s certainly a connection between those two appointments and things like the stipulations they’ve put into LEEFF,” Hughes said. “These are the types of announcements and appointments that start to form and shift the government’s direction.”
It remains to be seen whether the Liberals will pursue climate disclosure as a policy initiative when the pandemic is over. Getting the provinces to agree on a framework for climate reporting could be problematic.
“The challenge is you have some very different views across the provinces,” Hughes said. “Bridging those divides is a challenge, whether you’re talking about climate, securities or interprovincial trade.”
It’s also possible government intervention may not be needed to spur all companies to provide climate reports. Most large public companies already are doing so in response to demands from institutional investors.
“In a policy vacuum, the private sector will step up,” Zizzo said. “The large investors are seeing [climate-related financial disclosure] as an imperative, but I think there is a role for government to play to make sure that there is some consistency and standardization.”
Dustyn Lanz, CEO of the Responsible Investment Association, noted that “numerous leading companies are already doing TCFD reporting.” But he added that the government’s LEEFF announcement, along with a recent Bank of Canada report on climate risk in the Canadian economy, are signs of a positive trend for climate-conscious investors.
“Our federal institutions seem to be nudging us toward better and more standardized disclosures of climate-related information, and that’s a good thing for investors seeking to manage their exposure to climate risk,” Lanz said.