House of Commons Hansard #94 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was investment.

Topics

Opposition Motion—Foreign Takeovers
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Geoff Regan Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, in relation to the previous question that was raised, it strikes me that whatever the Criminal Code says about ministers, it certainly does not say that members of Parliament must be silent, that they cannot speak about an issue. Unfortunately, however, we have heard nothing from the 13 Conservative MPs from Saskatchewan over the past few weeks. Thank goodness that the people of Saskatchewan and its premier spoke out so strongly.

Does my hon. colleague, the member for Wascana, think that if it had not been for the overwhelming response from western Canada, especially from the people of Saskatchewan. and their insistence that the Prime Minister change his tune on this issue, the government would have rubber-stamped this deal in no time at all?

Opposition Motion—Foreign Takeovers
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Wascana, SK

Mr. Speaker, there is a lot of public opinion in Saskatchewan that holds exactly that point of view, that it was absolutely essential for the province of Saskatchewan to take the position that it did, for the opposition in Saskatchewan to take the position that it did, for other premiers to become engaged, for other former premiers to become engaged and for the business community to come out and express their point of view clearly and strongly.

If there had not been that groundswell, the government was on a different course. The government was headed in the wrong direction, It was public opinion that brought it, kicking and screaming, to the conclusion that it arrived at last night. Now Canadians want to be sure that that conclusion will stick and that it will not just dribble away in the next 30 days.

Opposition Motion—Foreign Takeovers
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Paul Calandra Oak Ridges—Markham, ON

Mr. Speaker, what is quite clear is that the member read the wrong speech today. He read a speech based on a different sale.

It is driving him crazy that the 13 Saskatchewan members in the Conservative caucus have been able to do more since 2006 than the member and his party have ever done for this country and that the net benefit to Canada actually started in February of 2006 when that lot was thrown out and the Conservative government and Prime Minister were put in office.

For 13 long years, the Liberals did absolutely, positively nothing. They did not listen to the provinces, they cut health care and they raised taxes for Canadians. They did absolutely nothing. To stand in his place and suggest otherwise is absolutely ridiculous.

Would he not agree with me that the reason we might have to consider changing the Investment Canada Act is that the party of the member opposite did absolutely nothing? All it ever did was rubber-stamp every single one of these things, and it is this government that has finally put the interests of Canadians and Saskatchewanians first.

If the member wants to really do something for the people of Canada, he should consider crossing the floor to this party because we are the only party that actually stands up for the people of Saskatchewan.

Opposition Motion—Foreign Takeovers
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Wascana, SK

Mr. Speaker, what an invitation. The answer to that one is, indeed, no.

On the role of Saskatchewan's MPs, I note the commentaries in the media in Saskatchewan that refer to them in very unflattering terms. I will not put those epithets into the record because they are pretty tough, but they are described as MPs who are missing in action, who scurry away from the microphones, who refuse to take a position, refuse to stand up for Saskatchewan and only take a position after the Prime Minister has told them what they think.

That is the kind of taking for granted of Saskatchewan that the province roundly resents. That is why the notion of having a one-party political monopoly on Saskatchewan is something that province is very anxious not to have.

Foreign Affairs
Routine Proceedings

November 4th, 2010 / 11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Vancouver Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, there have been discussions among the parties and I think you will find unanimous consent for the following urgent motion. I would like to add that this motion was adopted unanimously by the Standing Committee on the Status of Women and is supported by the members for Beauport—Limoilou, Laval and London—Fanshawe. I move:

That pursuant to the motion adopted earlier today by the Standing Committee on the Status of Women, this House ask the Minister of Foreign Affairs to take the strongest action possible to demand that the government of Iran permanently stay the execution of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, and to release her, and her son, and that furthermore this House communicate its deep concern directly to the President of Iran.

Foreign Affairs
Routine Proceedings

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Does the hon. member have the consent of the House to move the motion?

Foreign Affairs
Routine Proceedings

11:50 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Foreign Affairs
Routine Proceedings

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Foreign Affairs
Routine Proceedings

11:50 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Foreign Affairs
Routine Proceedings

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Opposition Motion—Foreign Takeovers
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:50 a.m.

Bloc

Robert Bouchard Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, every time I have the opportunity to speak in the House of Commons, I try to find out whether the bill, the motion or the debate directly affects the people of Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, the riding I represent in the House.

Although this matter is unfolding far from Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean, we recently went through something very similar. When I read the text of the NDP motion, it struck a chord with me. Three years ago, on October 18, 2007, I condemned the then industry minister's lack of forethought in the Rio Tinto takeover of the Alcan Group.

Before going any further, I would like to spend a few minutes on the text of the motion before us. There are some similarities between the Potash Corporation takeover, the subject of today's motion, and the Alcan file. The length of the motion no doubt is representative of the many problems with the Investment Canada Act.

The Investment Canada Act, which covers the review of foreign investment, is complex but has some shortcomings. At present, the act gives too much latitude to the Minister of Industry and is too complacent with respect to foreign corporations. We must establish a more transparent process.

I will present the Bloc Québécois's position right away. On the very eve of the debate on the motion—yesterday, November 3, 2010 at 6 p.m.—the Conservative government finally decided to block the current transaction by declaring that there was no net benefit to Canada. However, rather than slamming the door shut, the Minister of Industry left it open a crack by giving BHP Billiton the opportunity to submit a better offer within 30 days. In short, the matter is not settled and the Conservative government may still allow the foreign takeover of Potash Corporation.

Even though, this time, public outcry and the Saskatchewan premier's opposition forced the Conservative government to use the Investment Canada Act to block the transaction, it is the exception to the rule. In general, the Conservatives pay little heed to foreign takeovers of Quebec and Canadian corporations. Even worse, the Conservative government makes a point of making decisions in a vacuum, without respecting the positions of the major players: the representatives of workers and the industry and, above all, the governments of Quebec and the provinces.

Do we need to remind the government that natural resources, as in the case of Potash Corporation, come under the exclusive jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces? The Conservative government's position is quite worrisome because the flow of foreign investment has been increasing internationally for years, particularly in the natural resources sector. Natural resources have a strategic significance that foreign countries crave, and Quebec and Canada need to make sure that they do not lose control of those resources. The international business environment is in favour of international trade and foreign takeovers of Quebec's industry icons.

The importance of these industries for Quebec goes beyond trade and encompasses the total economic and social development of our society. Foreign takeovers have often resulted in job losses and a loss of control over business decisions.

Many trade agreements include a dispute settlement mechanism allowing foreign investors to contest legislative measures unfavourable to their financial interests.

In the March 2010 Speech from the Throne, the Conservative government expressed its intention to facilitate foreign takeovers in a number of our key sectors including satellites, telecommunications and mines. Foreign investment should be synonymous with new capital, economic growth and job creation, instead of just foreign takeovers of our well-established industries.

The current wording of the Investment Canada Act already allows the Minister of Industry to consult representatives from industry, the labour market, provincial and local governments and any other interested parties. The motion aims to make these consultations mandatory.

The Conservative government has already quietly amended the Investment Canada Act through the Budget Implementation Act, 2009, which made it possible to raise the threshold for review by Industry Canada to $1 billion simply by an order in council.

The Conservative government's approach does not promote transparency or inspire the confidence of the House in its actions with respect to this kind of transaction. The federal government should respect decisions that Quebec and the provinces make about foreign takeovers, particularly since Potash Corporation operates in the natural resources sector, which is under the exclusive jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces.

The Bloc Québécois supports the NDP motion we are debating today.

As I said at the beginning of my remarks about today's NDP motion, we all know how important Alcan is to Quebec. In my region, Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean, the news that Rio Tinto was buying Alcan was like a bomb going off. There were a lot of unknowns surrounding the transaction. Things were going to change. Would plans change? Alcan became foreign-owned. Our dams and our rivers became, in part, foreign property. That is worrisome.

Before the Alcan-Rio Tinto transaction, the company had its headquarters in Quebec. The resources were Quebec's property and the capital was mostly in Quebec and Canadian hands. Today, the company is headquartered abroad. Our resources are foreign property and most of the capital is elsewhere. Alcan's Montreal headquarters are now a Rio Tinto administrative office.

Because the company's decision-making hub is no longer in Quebec, the shareholders' meeting on Rio Tinto's business activities in North America is now held in London.

For the past three years, I have crossed the Atlantic with other elected representatives or people representing employees at Rio Tinto plants in Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean to ask the London-based Rio Tinto executives some questions. These issues are so important to the region that it wants to make sure its message gets heard where decisions get made.

Before Rio Tinto acquired the company, shareholders' meetings were held in Montreal. Company leaders were nearby. When people talked about Saguenay—Lac-St-Jean in Montreal, the issues were well known. Now, in London, in a huge room full of groups from dozens of countries, each with their own issues, it is harder to get the message through. Also, in Montreal, people could express themselves in French because some of the top brass were our own. In London, it is a whole different story.

I am not trying to prevent the sale of Canadian businesses to foreign companies. I simply believe that the Canadian government has the tools needed to ensure that the transaction will have a positive, significant impact on our economy, our workers and our communities.

In fact, the Investment Canada Act allows the federal government to impose conditions when a Canadian company or business is being bought by a foreign investor. For instance, that legislation allows the government to authorize or refuse a transaction after examining whether it will benefit Canada. For me, the case that comes to mind is Rio Tinto and Alcan. The Minister of Industry did not express any objections or impose any conditions on Rio Tinto in 2007. To this day, I have a hard time really understanding how a company as large as Alcan, which was the pride and joy of the Quebec economy, could have been sold without anyone really taking a close look at the impact of such a decision.

The Bloc Québécois and a number of stakeholders in Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean called for conditions, but the minister at the time ignored those demands. He pulled the rug right out from under our feet. He rushed to make a decision and hastily accepted the transaction. Unfortunately, Rio Tinto has since acquired Alcan. The minister did not demand any commitments from Rio Tinto concerning the number of jobs to be preserved, although that should have been a priority in the process. Nor did he demand any commitments regarding secondary and tertiary aluminum processing activities in Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean or even in Quebec. As a result, an entire legacy built by people in my region ended up being sold off in just a few days. It seems logical to me that in such a situation, someone should ask some questions and impose certain conditions on the new owners.

Since the NDP motion mentions Potash Corporation, I would like to talk about this saga. Potash Corporation extracts potash, which is a rare mineral that is used in fertilizers. Potash Corporation used to be state-owned but it was privatized in 1989 and now owns nearly 20% of the world's potash reserves. In mid-August 2010, BHP Billiton, an Anglo-Australian mining company, made a hostile takeover bid to the shareholders of Potash Corporation for a total sum of $28.5 billion, or $130 a share. This hostile bid sparked an immediate reaction from Potash Corporation's management, who essentially called it robbery. BHP Billiton also repeated its promise to keep the company's headquarters in Saskatchewan and to transfer the management team from its potash division to the province and maintain the same number of jobs there. Potash Corporation responded by taking legal action in American courts.

Potash Corporation is special to the people of Saskatchewan and is a source of pride for the province. This explains the hostile reaction that this takeover bid sparked from the people of Saskatchewan. The premier even spoke out publicly against this transaction, which he deemed to be strategically unacceptable for the economic future of his province. He also felt that this transaction did not offer any net benefit for the country, as is required by the Investment Canada Act. From a financial point of view, Saskatchewan could stand to lose up to $3 billion a year in royalties if Potash Corporation were sold to foreign investors.

I would like to take this opportunity to present the Bloc's requests regarding this motion.

Considering the fact that there is a dispute settlement regime favourable to foreign investments on the international scene, and that a limit of $1 billion could make it possible for many outstanding assets of Quebec's economy to be sold to foreign investors without the government even having an opportunity to determine whether the takeover would be of net benefit to the local economy, the Bloc Québécois is suggesting that these provisions be abandoned and that the threshold be set at $300 million.

This amount would allow foreign investments in Canada without unnecessarily putting a stop to them, but major investments above this threshold would be reviewed before being approved. Thus, the government would have a right to review the nature of major foreign takeovers and the risks associated with them and would be able to determine the foreign investors' intentions regarding the management of their Canadian assets.

It is up to the Minister of Industry to decide whether the proposed investment is of net benefit to Canada. Unfortunately, when a foreign company and the government negotiate an agreement, it is classified as confidential. I can understand that a private company does not want to show its hand. However, I sincerely believe that certain terms and conditions must be established and made public.

As my speech has indicated, there is no doubt that the Bloc Québécois is in favour of the NDP motion. I repeat, we are not against the foreign acquisition of Canadian companies, but I believe it is important to set more transparent standards and require commitments that will help ensure the future of the company. That is what I would have liked to see in the 2007 transaction when Rio Tinto acquired Alcan. The minister at the time had not set any conditions. The regional community called for two conditions: that a certain number of jobs be created and that the aluminum be processed in the Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean region.

In closing, in comparing yesterday's decision to the one made in 2007, we see that there is a double standard when it comes to Quebec. For strategic reasons, the Conservative government intervened yesterday to say that the sale of this company would not go through, but in the case of Alcan, the government did not intervene and was negligent in not setting any conditions. Does the Conservative government think that natural resources are less important in Quebec?

The Conservative government did not intervene for political reasons. This issue mobilized people, governments and the industry in Saskatchewan. In my region, in Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean, the hon. member for Jonquière—Alma did nothing to pressure the Minister of Industry. The then minister, the current minister and hon. member for Jonquière—Alma, and the Conservative government have all demonstrated gross negligence.

Opposition Motion—Foreign Takeovers
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Maurice Vellacott Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK

Madam Speaker, I have a question for my colleague across the way, the Bloc member. I would have liked to have asked it of the member for Wascana before he scurried away from his seat shortly after his speech. I will just give a bit of history to my Bloc friends regarding the member for Wascana.

The member for Wascana was the provincial Liberal leader for some time in that province before he escaped to Ottawa. He was kind of lonely there, being the only, lonely Liberal for a period of time. Now he has come here and history repeats itself, I guess, insofar as he is the only, lonely Liberal in the whole province, surrounded by a sea of 13 Conservatives, and he does not much like that. He does not particularly like the fact that he is no longer in the government, in the government caucus, in the cabinet. He can yap and yip all he wants on that side because he does not have disclosure restraints. There are no criminal sanctions that would apply to him as a member of the opposition, yipping and yapping on the other side.

The members from the Conservative Party, the 13 of us here in this place, take our responsibility seriously in providing the kind of input that the minister requests as he gathers all the input he requires for a very serious and very sobering kind of decision. At the end of the day, the minister, as he has rightly said, made a good decision, that it does not present a likely net benefit to Canada, in respect of the Billiton bid.

I would remind the Bloc member and the Liberal member for Wascana who was here in his seat talking some moments ago that the current Liberal leader in the province of Saskatchewan actually said in public comments that this should be wide open, that we should just let it happen, that the government should not be involved at all.

So it is fine for the member for Wascana to flail his arms and all of that in this place, to flap his arms and his gums, I guess I would say, but what does the Bloc member think of the fact that the federal Liberals rubber-stamp everything and the provincial Liberal leader said it should just be left open, when in fact--

Opposition Motion—Foreign Takeovers
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

Order, please. I would like to give the hon. member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord an opportunity to respond.

Opposition Motion—Foreign Takeovers
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Bouchard Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for his question. I find that the Liberals and the Conservatives are all the same. It is six of one and half a dozen of the other.

In the past 25 years, the government has intervened very few times. Yesterday's decision to reject the transaction is an exception. In my region, people believe that the Conservative government adopted a laissez-faire attitude and did not set conditions for the 2007 Rio Tinto acquisition of Alcan.

I have been in this House since 2004, and that takeover happened on my watch. This Conservative government was negligent, the Conservative members from my region were also negligent, and the member for Jonquière—Alma was negligent. He went along with his party and toed the line.