Head of pension fund topped Canada’s Covid-19 vaccine queue by getting vaccinated in the Middle East

Mark Machin, director of Canada’s largest pension fund, received a Covid-19 vaccine in the Middle East, according to people familiar with the matter, before millions of Canadians expect one of the slowest deployments in the Western world.

The 54-year-old CEO of the $ 379 billion Canada Pension Plan Investment Board arrived in the United Arab Emirates with his partner earlier this month and received the first dose of a vaccine developed by Pfizer. Inc.

and BioNTech SE from Germany,

according to people familiar with the matter. He told contacts that he used local connections to get the vaccines, some of these people said, and that he has stayed in the UAE and is due to receive his second dose in the next few weeks, they said.

Machin made no comment when contacted by phone and email. A CPPIB spokesperson and Mr. Machin said he had “deeply personal” reasons for traveling to the UAE “I can assure you that zero influence was applied or attempted” so that he could get the vaccine, the spokesperson said. .

The CPPIB is a crown corporation, which means that it is governed independently of the federal government, but it is the administrator of the pension obligations required by the government. It reports to a board of directors, who are selected by the Canadian finance minister.

A spokeswoman for the Canadian Ministry of Finance said that “while the CPPIB is an independent organization, this is very concerning. The federal government has been clear to Canadians that now is not the time to go abroad. We were not informed of this trip. “

There is no evidence that Machin, a British citizen, violated any laws to secure his dose. The Canadian government has urged residents to avoid travel abroad, but has not banned it. Meanwhile, the UAE has said it is distributing vaccines to residents, a designation foreigners can earn through activities such as investing, buying property or starting a local business. There is no evidence that Mr. Machin is a resident.

The UAE has made exceptions to its residency requirements. In January, the UAE-sponsored cycling team that won the 2020 Tour de France, a group of around 60 riders and staff, mostly non-residents, received doses of a Chinese-made vaccine in Abu Dhabi.

The UAE, a federation of seven emirates that includes the Dubai Mall, has overtaken nearly every country in the world with an ambitious vaccination campaign led by its rapid adoption of the Chinese-made vaccine. Since December, the vaccine has been available and is free to any citizen or adult resident. The country also offers the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which has been shown in clinical trials to be more effective, but has been more rare. It has been mainly reserved for people over 60 or chronically ill in the UAE.

As a director of CPPIB, Mr. Machin is responsible for overseeing the money set aside for the retirement of approximately 20 million Canadians who contribute to the country’s public pension plan. CPPIB is one of the largest pension funds in the world, with influence in foreign markets and companies worldwide.

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The Canadian fund as of March 2020 had interests in several UAE companies, including Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank PJSC and Emirates Telecommunications Group Co. PJSC, according to the fund’s annual disclosures of foreign equity. Last year, the fund invested in the $ 5.4 billion equity debut of Kuaishou Technology, a Chinese video streaming startup, together with the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, a large UAE sovereign wealth fund.

Machin’s vaccination, which has not been previously reported, comes amid all the rage in other parts of the world for cases in which wealthy or well-connected people have been able to jump the line for a vaccine. Most of the world is carefully dosing to prioritize the most vulnerable, or those on the front lines fighting the pandemic.

In Peru, dozens of government consultants, lobbyists, cabinet ministers and people related to them, and the former president and his family, secretly received vaccines last year, sparking a scandal that is now known as the Puerta de las Vacunas. Last month, Florida restricted vaccinations to those who could show proof of residency. Officials offered the vaccine to anyone over 65 but worried the state was becoming a draw for vaccine tourism. Many Canadians, in particular, have been looking to charter planes for quick trips to and from Florida to get vaccinations.

Vaccines are particularly rare in Canada. The country’s federal government has faced criticism for its slow rate of vaccinations, which lags behind rates in the US, UK and most major European nations. About 4% of the Canadian population have received at least one dose, compared to 20% in the US, according to a tracker from the University of Oxford.

Amid the pandemic, the travels of high-profile officials and business leaders have been closely scrutinized. Ontario’s finance minister resigned in December after a vacation abroad amid federal and provincial warnings against travel.

The warnings do not prohibit travel by officials, but Ontario Prime Minister Doug Ford has said the resignation demonstrates that “our government takes seriously our obligation to meet a higher standard.” Linda Hasenfratz, CEO of auto parts maker Linamar Corp., resigned last month from an Ontario government task force on the distribution of the Covid-19 vaccine after traveling outside the country. Ms. Hasenfratz said in a statement that she regretted her decision to travel.

The CPPIB spokesperson said employee travel has almost completely stopped as a result of the pandemic, but that some business and personal travel still occurs, noting that the fund has assets abroad.

A former investment banker for Goldman Sachs Group Inc. for two decades, Mr. Machin has been the chief executive of the Toronto-based pension fund since June 2016. He previously oversaw its international operations. Before his finance career, he graduated as a doctor in the UK after studying medicine at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge.

Write to Jenny Strasburg at [email protected], Summer Said at [email protected] and Jacquie McNish at [email protected]

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