TORONTO — Bank of Montreal leaders were asked during the bank's annual shareholder meeting Wednesday if they would "consider a court challenge" after the federal government directed financial institutions in February to freeze accounts of individuals connected to the trucker convoy that took over downtown Ottawa for weeks.
More than 200 bank accounts with a total of nearly $8 million in holdings were impacted after the Emergencies Act was invoked for the first time in Canadian history on Feb. 14. and lifted on Feb. 23.
The shareholder posing the question expressed concern about the safety of customer money, adding that "depositors’ confidence is key to the operation of the bank."
BMO board chair George Cope didn’t directly answer the question, saying only that the bank has "positive dialogue" with the federal government and follows the lead of the Canadian bank regulator.
BMO was also pressed, like other Big Five banks have been, on its climate strategy, as it works to manage its operations and clients on the path to net-zero emissions by 2050.
A withdrawn proposal related to housing was brought up in the meeting. It had requested that BMO, along with the other big banks, create a tool to "assess and mitigate" the potential negative effects of the "financialization of housing" in Canada.
The proposal was withdrawn because of BMO's actions around housing, Cope noted, particularly the bank’s $12 billion pledge to finance affordable and accessible housing in Canada over a 10-year period. Chief executive Darryl White addressed the pledge, first announced in August, during his prepared remarks to shareholders.
White also discussed the company’s U.S. growth strategy, including its agreement to acquire California’s Bank of the West, which is still awaiting regulatory approvals.
He also expects the federal government will "put in place a thoughtful and progressive" framework on open banking.
However, the 1.5 per cent tax on bank profits over $100 million as well as the one-time 15 per cent charge on income above $1 billion announced in last week's federal budget were not mentioned during the meeting.
BMO's event was held in person and could also be viewed via live webcast. RBC changed its meeting to virtual-only last week due to COVID-19 impacting several critical staff members. CIBC held its meeting virtually as well. Scotiabank CEO Brian Porter was absent from his meeting last Tuesday after coming down with COVID.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 13, 2022.
Companies in this story: (TSX:BMO)
Adena Ali, The Canadian Press