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35 J.L. & Soc. Pol'y 1 (2021)

handle is hein.journals/jlsp35 and id is 1 raw text is: Who Owns the City? Pension Fund Capitalism and the Parkdale Rent
Strike
JAMIE SHILTON*
Canadian public pension funds play an increasingly significant role as institutional
investors, including in the domestic residential property market. Some scholars have
suggested that pension fund investments of this kind result in a form of public ownership,
sometimes characterized as pension fund socialism. However, the actual character of
pension fund investment in Canada is much more akin to a financialized pension fund
capitalism, with public pension funds adopting investment strategies consistent with
private financial market actors. In the summer of 2017, tenants and housing activists in
Toronto's Parkdale neighbourhood organized a successful rent strike against their
corporate landlord as well as the Alberta pension fund that co-owned the buildings. The
strategies developed during the rent strike, including calling on and working with the
unions and union members whose pensions are invested with that fund, serve as examples
for other activists grappling with pension fund capitalism.
IN THE SPRING AND SUMMER OF 2017, hundreds of tenants in the working-class Toronto
neighbourhood of Parkdale organized what was likely the most successful rent strike in recent
Canadian history. Their primary goal was to challenge major rent increases proposed by their
landlord, which for years was reported to have neglected longer-term tenants' needs for basic
repairs. The buildings where tenants withheld rent were jointly owned by a rental property
management company and the Alberta Investment Management Corporation (AIMCo), which
invests pension funds linked to the government of Alberta. Seeking to force the landlord to
negotiate a settlement, Rent Strike organizers developed a strategy that specifically targeted
AIMCo. Organizers demonstrated outside of AIMCo's Bay Street office, worked with allies to
draw attention to the issue at a Canadian Labour Congress Convention, and reached out to workers
and activists in Alberta. With pressure mounting, the landlord agreed to negotiate a conclusion to
the Rent Strike, ultimately making considerable concessions to tenants.
The role of AIMCo in the 2017 Parkdale Rent Strike raises some interesting questions as
to the role of public pension funds in the private rental market, in relation to tenants' rights
activism, and in the economy more generally. In the past few decades, pension funds in Canada
have grown significantly and now control trillions of dollars' worth of assets around the world. As
part of this expansion, pension funds have made significant investments in the rental property
market, effectively becoming landlords for many thousands of tenants. The political character of
public pension funds has been a topic of considerable debate, with some scholars emphasizing the
potential,l for a kind of pension fund socialism where pension capital is mobilized by workers
according to democratic principles and in response to social need. Others have highlighted the
* I wrote the first version of this article while completing Osgoode Hall Law School's Intensive Program in Poverty
Law at Parkdale Community Legal Services, where I worked in the Housing Rights division. I am sincerely grateful
to Vic Natola and Cole Webber for agreeing to be interviewed for this article, and to Sean Rehaag and Bahar Banaei
for their encouragement, support, and insightful comments on earlier drafts. I also extend my thanks to Erin Sobat and
the editors of the Journal of Law and Social Policy for their assistance through the editing process.

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