Justin Trudeau takes controversial stand in support of CNOOC-Nexen deal

Liberal leadership candidate Justin Trudeau has taken a controversial stand in support of CNOOC's takeover of Calgary-based …I honestly thought that I had woken up in an alternative universe this morning.

As I took my first sip of coffee, an article popped-up on my iPad claiming the Tories were now going to take the 'climate change' issue seriously. The next article I read was a Justin Trudeau op-ed piece — for Postmedia News — where he peculiarly throws his support behind the CNOOC takeover of Nexen.

"Why is the CNOOC-Nexen deal good for Canada? Because Chinese and other foreign investors will create middle-class Canadian jobs. Foreign investment raises productivity, and hence the living standards of Canadian families. More fundamentally, it is in Canada's interest to broaden and deepen our relationship with the world's second-largest economy.

Of course, there should be conditions attached. All foreign investors must obey the letter and the spirit of Canadian labour, environment, corporate governance and immigration laws. In certain sectors, national security concerns will be real. However, in the CNOOC case, Chinese ownership of 3% of oil sands leases hardly constitutes a national security issue.

Most important, the big picture isn't about CNOOC or Petronas, but the many opportunities like them that will follow in their footsteps. China is scanning the world for acquisitions like a shopper in a grocery store. Just a decade ago, China's outward foreign direct investment was negligible; today, it approaches $100-billion. Canada has perhaps more potential to capitalize on this context than any other country. From minerals to energy, from education expertise to construction, we have a lot of what China needs."

To his credit, Trudeau makes some good arguments, particularly with regard to Canada needing foreign investment to buoy our economy and to create jobs for the middle class. The column is also certainly part of the Trudeau team's strategy to show Canadians that he's more than just another pretty face: he's trying to show us that he can be a policy wonk too.

[ Related: CNOOC accepts new Canadian terms to win Nexen deal nod ]

But you have to wonder if the Nexen deal was the right policy to weigh-in on — especially this early in the leadership race.

For whatever reason, Canadians have very strong feelings about the Chinese state-owned energy company's effort to purchase the Calgary-based oil giant. The latest Angus Reid poll on the issue suggests that 58 per cent of Canadians want the federal government to block the deal, while only 12 per cent would allow it. 78 per cent of Canadians believe believe that foreign governments should not be able to control resources on Canadian soil.

In light of all the opposition, political analyst Gerry Nicholls says Trudeau's stance is "curious."

"As a clear front-runner, who is adored by the media, all Trudeau really needs to do in the Liberal leadership race is smile a lot, talk about the need for idealism in politics and pose for photo ops," Nicholls told Yahoo! Canada News.

"By taking out a specific policy position, that dynamic changes. He suddenly gives people a reason who might otherwise like him to have second thoughts.  His stance on Nexen, for instance, could alienate economic nationalists in his party, who might find him less adorable and charismatic today than they did yesterday.

"Watch for the NDP to use this against him as well."

Time will tell, but to strongly come out in favour of the controversial takeover seems like a politically risky move to me.