Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to this important motion.
For the record, the importance of this motion lies in its five key elements: one, making public hearings a mandatory part of foreign investment review; two, ensuring those hearings are open to all directly affected; three, ensuring all conditions attached to the approval of a takeover be made public; four, clarifying that a goal of the act is to encourage foreign investment that brings new capital, creates new jobs, transfers new technology to this country, increases Canadian-based research and development, contributes to sustainable economic development and improves the lives of Canadian workers and their communities; and five, asking that the House express its opposition to the takeover of Potash Corporation by BHP.
As a northern Ontarian, I experienced first-hand the impact of a bad foreign takeover where jobs have been eliminated while profits soared, pensions and nickel bonuses were under attack, and replacement workers were hired, contributing to the longest strike in our region's history.
My community is living proof of the current and previous governments' failures to protect the interests of Canadian workers and their communities. I worked at Inco for 34 years. Those workers became my extended family. To watch them suffer because a foreign company was intent on driving down their wages, taking away defined benefit pensions and reducing their bonuses while raking in billions in profit cannot in any way be defined as a net benefit to our community or to our country.
The nickel they are taking out of our mines is Canada's natural resources and my community's resources. Northern Ontarians will never forgive the Conservative government for approving the sale of such strategically important mines, Inco and Falconbridge, to foreign companies without extracting guarantees that there will be measurable net benefits to our region and country or holding them accountable when they broke their contractual obligations.
It is the reason New Democrats have been sounding the alarm about the need to strengthen the Investment Canada Act. We heard my colleague from Windsor West earlier today point out that he warned the government years ago. We heard about the efforts of former NDP MP Peggy Nash, who worked diligently to help stop the sale of MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates.
Since being elected in 2008 and appointed mining critic by my leader, I have worked with my community, concerned workers and other stakeholders to push for changes to the Investment Canada Act. I would remind the House that on April 28 of this year, Parliament passed my motion that called for lowering the threshold for public review of foreign takeovers, ensuring public hearings are held in affected communities, and requiring publication of the reasons for decisions and conditions to be met by approved foreign owners.
Today we build on that motion by articulating what constitutes a net benefit to Canada. Canadians are not naive. They understand the difference between foreign investment and foreign takeovers. There is not a single Canadian who does not get the importance of global trade.
However, Canadians also understand that certain sectors of our economy, particularly parts of our natural resources and telecommunication sectors, have strategic importance, and in some circumstances “open for business” cannot mean allowing a fire sale of our successful companies and strategic resources.
New Democrats understand that difference. Canadians understand that difference. One can only hope that the Conservative government has begun to understand that difference as well, but I will not hold my breath.
To be clear, there are positive examples of good foreign investment. Essar Steel Algoma Inc. in my colleague's riding of Sault Ste. Marie is one such example. There are others as well, all across the country.
During recent weeks we have heard concerns from some unusual corners about the sale of Potash Corporation. In the November 2, 2010 edition of The Globe and Mail's Report on Business, Roger Martin, dean of the Rotman School of Management and a leading advocate of free trade, said with regard to the possible sale of Potash Corporation:
Canada has been an unsophisticated player [...] There are tough, tough people in the world who couldn’t care less what happens to Canada.
Others have pointed to a lack of takeover reciprocity in a variety of countries such as Australia, which is home to BHP Billiton, and Brazil, which is home to Vale, and of course, we all know how China operates.
No one is suggesting increased protectionism, but the business community is cautioning the government about its often simplistic approach to foreign acquisition. In 2008, here is what was said about how Canada handles foreign takeovers:
Canada's policies are a worst-case scenario; ... Canada has lost more head offices than any other country; ... Canada has already been reduced to an industry “branch office” and is largely irrelevant on the global mining stage.
Who said this? It was Don Argus, former chairman of BHP Billiton, when warning his own country, Australia, not to become like Canada. Australia and other countries are heeding this warning.
We are living in a critical time of increasing global energy and food demands due to growing population and economics. Country after country has begun to view its supply of natural resources as an issue of national security. In addition to Australia, others such as China, Vietnam, Russia, India and Indonesia have all begun to strategically invest in natural resources at home and around the world. Why is Canada not assessing its key sectors such as natural resources, manufacturing, high tech, including green technologies, and telecommunications through the filter of long-term strategic need?
That is the very point that many in the business community are making. It is time the Conservative government began listening. Do not just take our word for it, take the government's. In this morning's paper, quoted with respect to one aspect of the Investment Canada Act, being confidentiality and lack of public debate, the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management, Professor Joseph D'Cruz said that while he was normally not sympathetic to the NDP:
[On this issue] I think they're on the right track. I think having public hearings is pretty healthy.... I've always been a bit concerned that the commitments that the foreign companies make to Investment Canada are confidential and the public doesn't know what they are. On an important public...issue, I think confidentiality is not healthy.
On the issue of national security and strategic national interests, Canada, it seems, is also heading in the opposite direction of many countries by increasing significantly the minimum threshold upon which a federal review of a foreign takeover takes place.
In other words, the government is telling the world to help itself to our natural resources, our technologies and our intellectual property, and while it is at it, it is also signalling to them not to worry about those conditions of sale that the federal government imposes, because the federal government will not pursue them even when they break their contract. One only has to look at the government's disgraceful behaviour during the Vale Inco strike in my community. It chose to ignore the plight of the workers in Northern Ontario, but at least with respect to Potash it seems to have listened for the time being to the people of Saskatchewan.
I have a plea to the government not to treat this important NDP motion in a blindly partisan way but to see it for what it is, a critical, important motion that helps to restore the balance between sustaining and growing global trade relations and securing strategic Canadian-owned resources for future Canadian generations.
The facts speak for themselves. In 2007, for the first time since 1999, foreign-controlled companies operating in Canada held 52.8% of manufacturing assets, up from 46.8% in 2006. Statistics Canada says:
The increase was due largely to foreign acquisitions of Canadian-controlled firms, especially in the primary metals and the wood and paper industries.
In one year alone, 2006, foreign control over Canada's mining sector rose from 12% to 40%.
In conclusion, I want to be clear that this motion is about protecting Canada's long-term strategic interests. It is not about stopping foreign investment in Canada, but it is about stopping foreign takeovers that are not of net benefit to Canada. The status quo is failing Canadians. The government has yet to articulate what exactly its net benefit test is when it approves takeover after takeover.
This motion addresses some of key weaknesses of the current system. I hope that, together, we as parliamentarians can begin to address this imbalance of protecting the interests of Canadian workers, their communities--