It may be tempting to look for simple answers to the $15.1 billion Chinese takeover of Canadian oil sands company, Nexen. It would be simple to just say we’re open for business and that it’s a good deal. But this issue is too complicated for simple answers, and leadership in crucial areas of public policy is never quite so black and white.
While this deal may seem of little significance on the surface — it will result in only a three per cent overall stake in the oil sands and provide a relatively small cash injection into an industry that will require literally hundreds of billions of dollars to develop over the next few decades – it will set the template for foreign acquisitions in the Canadian resource sector for decades to come. We’ve got to do the heavy lifting and get this right.
There has been a glaring lack of leadership this issue. We must establish, both for Canadians and our trade and investment partners, a clear long-term strategy for protecting and promoting the Canadian national interest in the development of our valuable and abundant natural resources.
First, we must clearly define the national interest. Our natural resources are a source of valuable leverage with our trade and investment partners. We should not settle for the quick dollar, but should take our time to ensure that development moves forward at a sustainable pace, respecting the intergenerational and environmental values that benefit ordinary Canadians with jobs, not just people with wealth.
We should require natural resource development to proceed at a pace consistent with respect for the highest scientific and environmental standards. While many energy companies active in Canada are still adjusting to operating within this longer-term perspective, there should be little doubt that Chinese state-owned enterprises will not.
It is naïve to see China as on a benign shopping spree for natural resources around the world, and to define the Canadian national interest as rebuilding our historical relationship with China, no matter how desirable that may be. Having a good relationship with Canada is certainly not China’s goal. For China, having a good relationship with Canada is at best secondary, at worst, irrelevant.
The Chinese government and its state-owned enterprises are focused exclusively on the pursuit of the national interest of China: expanded access to everything from natural resources to advanced technological know-how, by any means possible and at the best possible price. The Chinese record as foreign investors, notably, operations in Africa, certainly does not support any complacency whatsoever with respect to Chinese promises to respect Canadian laws on anything from labour and corporate governance to the environment.
Canada must stand up firmly for the Canadian national interest in any negotiations with China. Only standing firm will elicit the mutual respect between nations so essential for a productive and mutually beneficial relationship.
Canada has the resource assets that emerging economies need. It is time for bold national leadership to leverage international access to our resources at a sustainable pace and establish clear and enforceable conditions of reciprocity for those who want access to our resources and technology. This means ensuring that Canadian investors and exporters have reciprocal rights and access across key sectors outside Canada, and that foreign investment in Canada provides ordinary Canadians with skilled employment and strengthens our technological base.
Greater access to Asia, and particularly China, is undoubtedly an important long-term goal that particularly resonates with our vibrant and expanding globally-connected population. But it must be at our own pace and on our own terms.