CALGARY - The federal NDP waded into the heart of the oilpatch Thursday,
accusing the Conservative government of delaying its decision on the proposed
$15.1-billion takeover of Nexen Inc. by a state-owned Chinese company to push
it past the upcoming byelection in Calgary Centre.
NDP candidate Dan Meades - accompanied by Opposition natural resources
critic Peter Julian - said CNOOC's bid for Calgary-based Nexen is ringing alarm
bells in the city.
"This issue comes up a lot and what the people of Calgary are
asking is, 'What is the government hiding?'" said Meades, standing outside
of Nexen's head office in downtown Calgary. "Thousands of jobs are at
stake as well as the resource-based economy we all benefit from."
Last week, the federal government prolonged the review process of the
deal under the Investment Canada Act to Dec. 10.
Julian, MP for Burnaby-New Westminster, said the Harper government is
trying to "rubber stamp" the takeover. "There are concerns about
CNOOC's human rights record, there are concerns about the possible loss of head
office jobs here in Calgary. There is concern about CNOOC's own description of
itself as a foreign policy arm of the (Chinese) government," he said.
The bid was overwhelmingly approved recently by Nexen shareholders and
welcomed, for the most part, by an energy industry clamouring for capital
investment. But the takeover attempt has raised concerns among some economic
nationalists worried by foreign control of the oilpatch, and some Conservatives
bothered by a takeover directed by a company controlled by China's Communist
Conservative candidate Joan Crockatt, running to replace former Tory MP
Lee Richardson in Calgary Centre, said most voters she's talked to are waiting
to see whether the deal meets Ottawa's "net benefit" test to approve
a large foreign takeover.
"In general terms, Canadians, and specifically Calgarians, are free
traders and they know the Conservative government is out signing 66 free trade
deals," she said. "They know we want to trade but they're very
comfortable with this net benefit (test). They really want to see there is a
net benefit to Canada."
A survey released last month by the China Institute at the University of
Alberta, conducted in July just before the CNOOC-Nexen takeover bid was
announced, found 64 per cent of Albertans opposed Chinese investment in the
province in the form of full ownership of a company.
Green party candidate Chris Turner said he's hearing concern not only
about Ottawa's handling of the Nexen sale, but its new trade agreement with
China, the Foreign Investment Protection and Promotion Agreement (FIPA).
"Part of the reason was there's so much questioning going on is
because it's very much in keeping with the Harper government's unwillingness to
sort of talk straight with us," Turner said.
Liberal Harvey Locke said the biggest problem is the public has been
kept in the dark.
"We need to have an open discussion about how much ... foreign
government-controlled companies we are prepared to allow to invest and what
we're trying to achieve," he said.
Bruce Foster, policy studies professor at Mount Royal University, said
the Nexen deal is of huge importance to Calgary as the "epicentre" of
Canada's energy industry. But he suspects it likely won't be a major issue in
the Nov. 26 byelection, "especially with the Harper government being
somewhat equivocal about it."
"As the issue itself is still in play in some ways, this works well
for Crockatt because you don't really have to address it," said Foster.
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