Harper government approves Nexen deal; opposition parties react

Andy Radia
Canada Politics
December 8, 2012

Whenever a government schedules a press conference for a late Friday afternoon, you know it's going to be unpopular news.

So, it came as no surprise, on Friday, when Stephen Harper took the a podium in Ottawa and announced that the government would approve the controversial $15.1 billion CNOOC takeover bid for Canadian oil producer Nexen Inc. along with the $5.1 billion takeover for Progress Energy.

In addition to the approvals Harper laid out three new guidelines for future takeover bids: in the future, the government will i.) consider the degree or influence a state-owned enterprise will exert on a business; ii.) consider the degree or influence a state-owned enterprise will exert on the industry; and iii.) consider the extent to which the foreign government in question is likely to exercise control or influence over the Canadian business.

"When we say Canada is open for business, we do not mean that Canada is for sale to foreign governments," he told reporters according to CBC News.

"To be blunt, Canadians have not spent years reducing the ownership of sectors of the economy by our own governments, only to see them bought and controlled by foreign governments instead."

Despite Harper's promises about future deals, the announcements were met with wide-spread condemnation from both the public and opposition parties.

88 per cent of the respondents to a CBC viewer poll, immediately after the announcement, said that a Chinese state-owned company should not own part of the oilsands.

The NDP were also quick to criticize the announcement in a statement emailed to media:

"New Democrats are profoundly disappointed that the Conservative government has decided to rubber stamp the Nexen takeover deal by CNOOC without consulting Canadians and without saying which criteria was used to make the decision.

'This is a farce. While Conservatives admit that under the new rules this transaction is not a net benefit to Canadians, they have approved it anyway,' said Peter Julian, NDP Natural Resources Critic

'Canadians should be very apprehensive about the long-term economic and environmental consequences. In the past, these kinds of takeovers have resulted in job losses,' added Julian."

The Liberals offered a more balanced analysis saying that they don't necessarily disagree with the announcement.

"We're not opposing the announcement based on the conditions that the Prime Minister has laid out," foreign affairs critic Wayne Easter told Yahoo! Canada News in a telephone interview.

"We want to make it clear that we're not opposed to investment. We need investment in this country."

Easter, however, added that Canadians need more detail as to what types of future foreign investments will and won't be allowed.

"We see [the outlined considerations] as a step in the right direction but we don't know the detail of those items," he said.

"Does it just apply to the oil sands or the mining industry. What about the shale gas developments? Do the same rules apply?"

While Harper will certainly have a difficult time selling the deal to both the general public and opposition parties, he may also find it a tough to his caucus — some of whom have publicly raised concerns about the deal.

Right-leaning political analyst says that the whole Nexen ordeal was a lose-lose deal for Harper.

"No matter what they did somebody would be angry," he told Yahoo!

"So they muddied the waters a little with a little bit of economics and populist politics. To appease Bay Street, they okay-ed the Nexen deal, but to appease their own base they did a little economic nationalistic saber rattling.

"They will take the Chinese money this time, but from now on they will make it much tougher for commies to buy our companies."

Hopefully, for Harper's sake, making it 'tougher for commies to buy our companies' will appease his Conservative base.