IN THE NEWS ~ NDP won't back Chinese bid for Nexen, citing lack of openness about the bid

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Jason Fekete

   Prime Minister Stephen Harper says CNOOC's takeover bid for Canadian energy company Nexen "raises a range of difficult policy questions" for his

government as it decides whether to approve the transaction.

   The prime minister's comments Thursday - some of his strongest yet on the issue - added more intrigue to a day that saw the NDP announce it opposes the

deal as currently structured, due to what it says is a secretive review process, the government's history of "rubber stamping" deals and CNOOC's poor track

record.

   The Conservative cabinet is currently reviewing, under the Investment Canada Act, whether China National Offshore Oil Corporation's (CNOOC)

$15.1-billion takeover of Calgary-based petroleum producer Nexen is of "net benefit" to Canada.

   The government's review - and the ramifications of its decision on future foreign investment and takeovers, especially in the oilsands sector - is proving

to be a somewhat divisive issue within the Tory cabinet and caucus.

   Harper said his government is generally welcoming of foreign investment, but he noted it has significantly modified some previous takeover bids and

rejected a couple of others.

   The prime minister has previously indicated public opinion, which repeated polls have shown is quickly souring on the deal, will be a factor in the

government's decision, and he reinforced that again Thursday.

   "This particular transaction raises a range of difficult policy questions, difficult and forward-looking issues, and those things will all be taken into

account under the act in assessing the net benefit of this investment to this country before we take a decision. And obviously we continue to gather

information and opinion on that," Harper told reporters on Parliament Hill.

   Harper said concerns raised by U.S. officials about CNOOC's acquisition of Nexen - and the company's assets in the Gulf of Mexico - won't influence his

government's decision, nor will the NDP's opposition to the deal.

   "The NDP is an ideologically socialist party that's opposed to all investment, so their position on this is not a surprise," the prime minister

added.

   "We do have to remember as Canadians that a lot of jobs in this country, a lot of jobs and growth depend on the investments that come to this country."

   The NDP announced its position a day after Conservatives defeated the official Opposition's motion in the House of Commons that called for public

consultation on the deal and public hearings into foreign ownership in the Canadian energy sector by state-owned enterprises such as Beijing-based CNOOC.

   The party is also looking for the federal government to fulfil its two-year-old promise to clarify the concept of "net benefit" in the Investment

Canada Act.

   Reviews under the Investment Canada Act are all handled in backrooms with nebulous criteria on how a decision is made, the NDP says.

   "We think the concerns outweigh the benefits," NDP energy critic Peter Julian told reporters Thursday in Ottawa as he announced the party's position.

   "We do not have confidence in the government's ability to handle this transaction," he added.

   "They've completely botched this file. This is a mess of the government's own making."

 

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