Quebec's Caisse has a voice in SNC-Lavalin's boardroom, and a role in its future

Quebec's pension fund manager could play an outsize role in whether SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. eventually pulls up stakes for the United States.

The engineering and construction giant told federal prosecutors that its ``Plan B'' in the event of criminal prosecution on corruption charges is to move its headquarters south of the border and shed more than 60 per cent of its 8,700 Canadian jobs, internal documents reveal.

Quebec's Caisse de depot et placement holds a roughly 20 per cent stake in SNC-Lavalin, making it far and away the biggest shareholder. The pension fund also has a $1.5-billion loan agreement with SNC-Lavalin stipulating that the firm must remain rooted in Montreal until at least 2024, though refinancing may be an option.

Altacorp Capital analyst Chris Murray says the roughly $1.18 billion in company shares held by the Caisse, which has a mandate to grow Quebec business, gives the pension fund a voice at the boardroom table. The loan, while partially paid off, adds leverage to a pension fund whose financial experience carries respect.

Karl Moore, an associate professor at McGill University's business school, notes that the Caisse aims to grow its investments, making a move to the U.S. potentially more attractive as conflicting mandates collide.

Earlier in the week, the company walked back a statement by its CEO, who said he never cited the protection of 9,000 Canadian jobs as a reason the construction giant should be granted a remediation agreement.