Mr. Speaker, I am thankful for the opportunity to address the House today regarding Canada's foreign investment review regime. I also note that I will be splitting my time with my colleague for Lambton—Kent—Middlesex this afternoon.
On Friday, December 7, the Prime Minister made an important announcement about how the process will change with respect to proposed transactions by state-owned enterprises. The changes reflect concerns raised by an evolving investment environment where state-owned enterprises have increased in size, activity and their interest in Canada's natural resources.
I wholeheartedly support the Prime Minister and the Minister of Industry because this change shows that the government continues to stand up for Canadians.
The announcement of last Friday certainly was not a bolt out of the blue. This government first signalled its concern about the role of state-owned enterprises in 2006 as part of its Advantage Canada plan. Furthermore, it reflects the practice of the government to ensure that the foreign investment review regime evolves along with the changing nature of foreign investment.
It is worth recalling that the economic history of Canada shows that the investment regime has evolved as different governments have responded to shifts in global economic power that have altered the pattern of foreign direct investment.
In the 1970s, it was the economic power of the United States and Europe that led to calls for a regime to review acquisitions of Canadian business. This eventually led to Parliament's approval of the Foreign Investment Review Act, or FIRA, and the creation of the Foreign Investment Review Agency in 1975.
FIRA's stated purpose was to ensure that control of Canadian businesses or the establishment of new businesses under non-Canadians would only be permitted were they likely to be of significant benefit to Canada. The agency was tasked with reviewing proposed transactions to ensure that they met that objective.
FIRA specified factors that were to be taken into account when reviewing a proposed transaction. Briefly, these included the level and nature of economic activity in Canada; the degree and significance of participation by Canadians; productivity, efficiency, technological development, product innovation and variety; competition in Canada; and compatibility with national industrial, economic and cultural policies, including the policies of the provinces likely to be affected.
FIRA provided the government significant powers, including permitting the responsible minister to investigate companies, to enter premises and search for evidence, and to require the investor to be examined under oath. Critics said that the FIRA process was overly rigid and too secretive. For example, the agency did not have to report its grounds for decision-making in particular cases.
The threshold for review under FIRA was also very low. Any business with assets of more than $300,000 and revenue of more than $3 million was subject to the act. The review process was long and cumbersome. On average, it took six months, and often in excess of a year. It often increased transaction costs.
In 1985, Parliament approved the replacement of FIRA with the Investment Canada Act. Furthermore, the Foreign Investment Review Agency was replaced with a new agency, Investment Canada.
The new mandate under the ICA was to encourage investment in Canada by Canadians and non-Canadians that contributed to economic growth and employment opportunities, and to provide for the review of significant investments in Canada by non-Canadians to ensure such benefits to Canada.
As I alluded to earlier, the criteria for foreign investment under the ICA were substantially similar to those under FIRA, with the addition of a factor focused on Canada's ability to compete in world markets. This addition was key, because it recognized the changing economic environment where global competitiveness was going to matter to countries and to Canada's economic well-being.
The ICA era differed immediately from the FIRA era because of its different purposes. The ICA ensured that Canada was open for business with more realistic thresholds for review and shorter times for the completion of reviews.
The impact of the changes under the ICA cannot be overstated. Foreign investment rebounded significantly. Canada's share of inward foreign direct investment stock, that is the Canadian assets owned by non-Canadians, has risen steadily since the ICA. Our proportion of inward foreign direct investment stock to our gross domestic product has also increased significantly.
Canada continues to attract more than its share of global foreign investment, and that is a good thing for Canadians. Foreign investment promotes growth, employment and innovation here at home, as well as access to new markets and global supply chains abroad. Foreign investment brings some of the most productive and successful firms in the world to Canada and results in some of the highest paying jobs for Canadians.
Foreign direct investment, both into Canada and by Canadian firms abroad, is a win-win for our economy. With this in mind, Canada needs to make it clear that we are open for business and welcome foreign investment. Let me repeat: Canada is open for business and welcomes foreign investment. Our government is committed to sending the message to investors around the world that Canada is a safe and stable place to invest and do business. However, we also need to recognize that as the world changes and investment trends evolve, we need to evolve too.
The Prime Minister's announcement last Friday evening regarding the review of proposed investment by foreign state-owned enterprises is only the latest example of this government standing up for Canadians. This government acted previously to protect Canadian interests when it came to foreign investment. In fact, we have been the most active government since the introduction in 1985 of the Investment Canada to ensure that the foreign investment that comes to Canada actually benefits hard-working Canadians.
My hon. colleague from Lambton—Kent—Middlesex will now highlight some of the recent actions our government has taken to keep the Investment Canada Act framework relevant to emerging economic reality.