Accelerating positive momentum towards a better future
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, BCE has maintained a clear focus on building positive momentum for all Canadians. In 2021, our actions continued to drive positive social and economic changes, helping connect more customers, communities, employees, partners and shareholders to a better future.
As Canada’s leading builder of communications networks since 1880, Bell has a long history of connecting Canadians to the people and things that matter. Recognizing the important role our networks and services have in the social and economic well-being of Canadians, Bell accelerated capital expenditures in fibre, rural broadband and 5G wireless networks in 2021, delivering the world’s best communications technologies to more homes and businesses than originally projected. Our accelerated capital expenditures are set to continue throughout 2022.
Bell’s overriding purpose is to advance how Canadians connect with each other and the world. Increased capital spending on accelerated network deployments, the acquisition of additional wireless spectrum auctioned by the Government of Canada and ongoing support for rural broadband initiatives are all in line with our purpose, as are investments we are making to achieve our ESG targets.
Bell for better: ESG leadership
For the BCE group of companies, our environmental, social and governance (ESG) leadership defines who we are, what we stand for and what we do.
Launched in 2021, our Bell for Better commitments to help build a better world, better communities and a better workplace encapsulate our approach to ESG. As one of Canada’s largest employers and with a presence in communities across the country, we have always excelled at driving economic growth and important societal changes that improve quality of life, deliver new opportunities and support responsible and sustainable growth. We are proud to continue this tradition.
Along with delivering networks and services that reduce harmful emissions and support a greener economy, Bell is the first communications company in North America to receive ISO 50001 certification for energy management. Consistently ranked as one of Canada’s greenest employers, we continued building on our successful environmental initiatives with new commitments announced in 2021: to achieve carbon neutral operations across Bell by 2025, and to move forward with the adoption of science-based targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 in line with the Paris Agreement.
Bell also continues to gain widespread recognition as a top employer across a range of categories, including as one of Canada’s most family-friendly employers and one of the best workplaces for young people and young professionals. Named one of Canada’s Top Diversity Employers for the fifth consecutive year in 2021, we are always building support for DEI within Bell and elsewhere, for gender diversity and Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOPOC) and LGBTQ+ communities.
Our flagship commitment to addressing mental health now stands at $155 million by 2025, in support for Bell Let’s Talk initiatives – including anti-stigma, community access and care, research and workplace programs. This includes increased support in 2021 for the ground-breaking Bell Let’s Talk Diversity Fund and the Bell Let’s Talk Post-Secondary Fund.
Sustainable growth enabled by a strong financial performance
Bell’s clear strategic roadmap and focus on investing in growth opportunities has enabled us to help millions of Canadians manage through the pandemic, as well as to build momentum for a strong recovery and a more positive future for all our stakeholders. This of course included delivering value to our shareholders. In this regard, backed by the efforts of our strong management team, BCE’s quarterly results improved sequentially throughout 2021 as we adapted to the ongoing impacts of COVID-19. Notably, BCE revenue was back to approximately 99% of pre-pandemic levels in 2021.
Our healthy free cash flow generation together with a strong balance sheet supported accelerated capital expenditures totalling $4.8 billion in 2021 as well as our $2.07 billion acquisition of high-value 3500 MHz wireless spectrum which is critical to enabling the full potential of 5G. And our sound financial position allowed us to increase our common share dividend 5.1% to $3.68 effective with the Q1 2022 payment on April 15, 2022, the 14th consecutive year BCE has increased the dividend by at least 5%.
All of us on the BCE Board of Directors were saddened by the passing of Thomas Richards in October 2021 and, more recently, Ian Greenberg in January. Tom was a seasoned technology and telecom executive who brought a wealth of experience and leadership insights to the Board after joining in 2020 and serving into 2021. Ian was a role model in media innovation, corporate leadership and community service and a valued member of the Board since Astral Media’s acquisition by BCE in 2013, inspiring all of us with his integrity, insight and optimism for the future.
Integrity and optimism are also guiding our DEI initiatives across the BCE group of companies, and in 2021 we adopted a new target of minimum 35% gender-diverse directors on the BCE Board.
As your Chair and on behalf of every member of the BCE Board, I thank shareholders for your support and confidence in our great company as we strive to achieve a better and more sustainable future.