OTTAWA – Canada is a democracy and public opinion plays a role in the Conservative government’s decisions on foreign takeovers, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver said Wednesday.
Public sentiment is not a criteria listed in the Canada Investment Act but the Harper government appears to be wrestling with voter opinion as it applies the “net benefit” test to foreign takeover bids — especially by state-owned enterprises.
Following a Conservative caucus meeting in Ottawa, Oliver was asked directly if public opinion is part of the criteria for determining net benefit.
“This is a democracy, and the government takes into account the opinions of Canadians,” Oliver responded. “Beyond that I have no comment.”
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said clearer new rules will be drafted in the wake of his government’s weekend decision to reject a proposed takeover of Alberta’s Progress Energy by a Malaysian state-owned oil and gas company.
A $15-billion bid by China’s National Offshore Oil Corp. for Nexen Inc. is the next decision looming for the Conservative government.
A new survey Wednesday suggests the CNOOC takeover may be running into head winds in Alberta.
A poll by the University of Alberta’s China Institute found public opinion deeply divided on Chinese investment in the province, with 37 per cent of respondents saying partial Chinese ownership in Alberta resources is acceptable, 36 per cent against and 27 per cent undecided.
The same survey asked about full Chinese ownership and just 15 per cent of respondents found it acceptable, with 64 per cent against.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair jumped on Oliver’s comment about public opinion to say the government must hold public consultations as it drafts new, clearer rules for foreign takeovers of Canadian companies, especially by state-owned enterprises.