moved that Bill C-3, an act to amend the Eldorado Nuclear Limited Reorganization and Divestiture Act and the Petro-Canada Public Participation Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak on behalf of the Minister of Natural Resources who unfortunately cannot be with us.
Bill C-3 is an act to amend the Eldorado Nuclear Limited Reorganization and Divestiture Act and the Petro-Canada Public Participation Act. This is the same bill as Bill C-39 which received second reading last fall but died on the order paper.
At that time, three out of four of the opposition parties in the House agreed to support that bill. I do hope that we will have their support for the bill today.
Members will recall that when the bill was first introduced, it was done extremely capably by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources, the member for Timiskaming—Cochrane. He spoke eloquently of the merits of the bill and of our natural resource sector. He pointed out that resource industries are not relics of the past. They are important engines of economic growth in Canada.
Energy, mining, forestry, geomatics and related industries currently account for 11% of our gross domestic product and 22% of new capital investment. They employ directly 780,000 Canadians and drive the economies of over 600 of our communities from coast to coast.
In 1998 the resource sector exported $97 billion worth of goods and services. Our resource sectors are in fact dynamic and vital elements of not the old economy but the knowledge based economy of the 21st century.
Resource companies are not in competition with high tech businesses. They are high tech businesses. They are investing $35 billion a year in leading edge technologies and other capital. Their productivity is growing three times faster than the rest of the economy.
Several factors explain the excellent performance of the resource industry in the world economy. The policies based on economic tendencies and markets which successive Liberal governments have implemented are good examples of this.
That being said, this kind of work is never finished, and our constant challenge is to ensure that the Canadian resource industry remains competitive and continues to support our economic prosperity. We must keep fine tuning our legislative and strategic framework so that companies in the resource industry have the leeway and capacity they need to make strategic decisions and secure a better position on the Canadian and world markets.
That is the rationale for the bill. The legislative amendments being proposed today are intended to allow two of our major performers in the natural resources sector, Cameco Corporation and Petro-Canada, to continue their record of economic growth and environmental stewardship.
I would like to quickly review the history behind these proposed amendments.
At one time both Cameco and Petro-Canada were crown corporations wholly owned by taxpayers. By 1995, however, the Government of Canada had sold all of its shares in Cameco, which is the dominant company in Canada's world leading uranium industry. As for Petro-Canada, although the government currently owns 18% of its shares, it does not influence the management of the company.
At the time of privatization, certain ownership restrictions were placed on both these companies. These restrictions were implemented at that time for good reasons, but circumstances have changed within the continuing evolution of global energy markets. The bottom line today is that some of these ownership restrictions have outlived their usefulness and are actually preventing these companies from taking advantage of new business opportunities.
Changes are needed, obviously. Restrictions on ownership provided in the two statutes do not give these companies the freedom enjoyed by their competitors to be able to grow and face competition on the world market. If Cameco and Petro-Canada are to continue performing well as private businesses, we have to ensure that the rules of the game are the same for everybody. The government also intends to ensure that these two corporations continue to make their decisions in Canada, with due consideration for Canadian interests.
To accomplish that, the bill will modify or remove certain restrictions that are limiting the ability of Cameco and Petro-Canada to attract new investment capital to forge new strategic alliances.
Specifically, the bill amends the Petro-Canada Public Participation Act to increase the limit on individual ownership of shares from 10% to 20%. It will also eliminate the 25% limit on the quantity of shares that could be collectively owned by non-residents of Canada. In other words, we are removing the restrictions on foreign ownership of Petro-Canada.
As for Cameco, we continue to believe in the need for some restrictions on foreign ownership. The bill therefore proposes to increase the limit on individual non-resident share ownership from 5% to a maximum of 15%. Similarly, the cap on total non-resident ownership of Cameco will increase from 20% to 25% of the company's shares. The current ownership limit for individual Canadians, which is 25%, will remain in place.
At the same time, the bill insists that these two corporations remain in Canada and be managed in Canada.
To further ensure that Cameco remains under Canadian control, the legislation will continue to require that the company's head office be located in Saskatchewan and that the majority of its directors be Canadian residents.
The legislation also requires that Petro-Canada's head office be located in Calgary and that the majority of its directors also be Canadian residents. The 20% limit on individual ownership of voting shares of Petro-Canada will prevent a takeover by a large multinational.
Finally, Petro-Canada has reoriented its major activities so that they are truly Canadian. They are concentrating on the east coast offshore and on the oil sands.
Bill C-3 will prevent Petro-Canada from disposing of all or substantially all of its commercial or production assets. The goal is to give Petro-Canada far greater freedom in administering its portfolio of assets, at the same time ensuring that it cannot dispose of these assets through a wind up.
The outstanding Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources made it clear in the previous debate that the sole intent of these changes is to give Cameco and Petro-Canada increased agility and better global positioning. It does not reflect a major shift in energy policy. These changes confirm our commitment to allow market forces to work, but within reasonable and responsible limits.
Officials of both companies have strongly supported these changes, showing that they are not trying to entrench their management positions as some might have otherwise suspected.
In closing, I should like to address briefly two of the other issues that were raised in debate when this matter came before parliament last spring.
First, let me reassure members that the proposed amendments will have no impact on the price of refined petroleum products. Gasoline and diesel oil prices in Canada rise and fall with crude oil prices, which in turn are set by supply and demand in a global market. They are not set by ownership rules applying to any one company in the Canadian petroleum industry.
Second, let me assure members that Bill C-3 does not affect Canada's commitment to the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons or to nuclear security.
As I outlined earlier in my remarks, these amendments have been supported and endorsed in principle by a big majority of the House, with most hon. members recognizing that these changes will be good for the two companies, will be good for investors and will be good for all Canadians.
In this spirit, I welcome the opportunity to speak briefly this morning and I commend the bill to all members of the House, asking humbly that it receive quick passage at second reading and go to committee for full discussion.