Mr. Speaker, I rise to address the House on second reading of Bill C-39, an act to amend the Eldorado Nuclear Limited Reorganization and Divestiture Act and the Petro-Canada Public Participation Act.
I am pleased to be bringing this piece of legislation before the House at this time. Canada's economy is booming, due in no small part to the strong performance of Canada's resource industries. Today the energy, mining, forestry, geomatics and related industries account for 11% of Canada's gross domestic product. They directly employ 780,000 Canadians and account for 22% of new capital investment in the country. The sector had $97 billion in exports in 1998 and is the economic lifeblood of more than 600 communities across the country.
Canadian resource companies are showing that not only can they succeed in the knowledge based economy, but they are a dynamic and vital element of the new economy. Canadian resource companies are investing $35 billion per year in new capital, and average productivity growth is three times higher in the resources sector than in the rest of the economy. The policies implemented by the government are helping to ensure that Canada's resource industries remain competitive and continue to underpin our economic prosperity.
I am proud of the government's record on natural resources, but I am also convinced that we can never take a prosperous resource sector for granted. We must strive for continuous improvement. As we enter the new millennium, I believe Canada must become and remain the world's smartest natural resources steward, developer, user and exporter—the most high tech, the most environmentally friendly, the most socially responsible, the most productive and competitive—leading the world as a living model of sustainable development.
Consistent with this vision, it is important that Canadian resource companies have the ability to make strategic decisions and better position themselves in the domestic and global marketplace. With that in mind, I am proposing legislative amendments that will 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.
Hon. members are familiar with these companies. Canada is the world's largest producer and exporter of uranium, and Cameco is the dominant Canadian company, accounting for about 25% of both global uranium production and the western world's uranium conversion services capacity.
At one time both companies were crown corporations, fully owned by taxpayers. As hon. members are aware, this is no longer the case. The Government of Canada sold all its shares in Cameco by 1995. Although the government currently holds 18% of Petro-Canada's shares, it does not influence the management of the company.
At the time of privatization certain ownership restrictions were placed on both companies, but the energy sector is a dynamic sector and the market has evolved significantly over the past decade. While these restrictions were implemented for good reason, some have outlived their usefulness and are now preventing these companies from taking advantage of new business opportunities.
Officials of Cameco and Petro-Canada have repeatedly asked for changes in these ownership restrictions, which they view as unfair, since they do not apply to other companies in their respective industries. After careful review our government has determined that these arguments have merit.
Through Bill C-39 we are taking action to give Petro-Canada and Cameco greater freedom to grow and compete in the global market on a more level playing field with their competitors, while ensuring decisions will still be made in Canada.
The goal of Bill C-39 is to remove unnecessary restrictions that are limiting the ability of these companies to attract new investment capital and forge new strategic alliances, good alliances. Specifically the legislation proposes to modify existing restrictions on the ownership of shares and the disposal of assets in the Petro-Canada Public Participation Act. We are also proposing to amend the share ownership provisions of the Eldorado Nuclear Limited Reorganization and Divestiture Act, which governs Cameco.
In the case of Petro-Canada, Bill C-39 will increase the limit on the individual ownership of shares from 10% to 20%. We are proposing to eliminate the 25% limit on the quantity of shares that can be collectively owned by non-residents of Canada. In other words, there will be no foreign ownership restrictions for Petro-Canada.
In the case of Cameco, Bill C-39 will ease but not completely eliminate the current foreign ownership restrictions. The limit on individual non-resident share ownership will be increased by 10%, to a maximum of 15%. The ownership limit for an individual Canadian shareholder will remain at 25%. Under Bill C-39, the cap on total non-resident ownership of Cameco will move to 25% of the company's shares from the current 20%.
I assure hon. members that these proposed changes are intended strictly to give Cameco and Petro-Canada increased agility and better global positioning. Bill C-39 will not affect Canadian control of these companies.
As I have said, the restrictions on foreign ownership of Cameco will be loosened, although not totally done away with. The legislation will continue to require Cameco's head office to be located in Saskatchewan and for the majority of its directors to be Canadian residents. This will ensure that Cameco remains under Canadian control.
It is true that Bill C-39 will result in the elimination of restrictions on foreign participation in the case of Petro-Canada. A number of factors, however, will ensure that this major national will remain Canadian.
First of all, the 20% limit on individual ownership of voting shares in Petro-Canada will prevent a takeover by a major multinational. Then, as in the case of Cameco, the legislation will require the headquarters of Petro-Canada to be located in Canada—in Calgary, in this case—and the majority of its directors to be Canadian residents.
Finally Petro-Canada has more or less reoriented its activities to concentrate on off-shore resources in the Atlantic region and on the oil sands, both of which are essentially Canadian resources.
Bill C-39 will amend the provisions of the Petro-Canada Public Participation Act that govern the disposal of Petro-Canada assets. Specifically, the provision preventing Petro-Canada from disposing, particularly by sale or transfer, of all or substantially all of its commercial or production assets will be replaced by a similar one which makes no distinction between the two types of assets. Petro-Canada will thus benefit from more latitude in administering its portfolio of assets, while not being allowed to wind up its activities through a pure and simple liquidation of its assets.
The proposed amendments are not an indication of a major change in the government energy policy. In fact, they confirm that we want to let the market forces play within reasonable and responsible limits. This is merely housekeeping legislation bringing minor changes to property rules for Cameco Corporation and Petro-Canada.
I can assure my colleagues that the proposed amendments will have no impact on the prices of refined petroleum products. The recent hikes in gasoline and diesel prices in Canada are a direct result of the price of crude oil worldwide, which has increased three times since 1998. The price of crude oil is established according to supply and demand on the global market and has nothing to do with property rules established in the Canadian energy industry.
I also want to inform the hon. members that Bill C-39 will not change anything to the commitment Canada made toward non-proliferation of nuclear weapons or nuclear security. Also, it will permit Cameco to consolidate its position as a world leader in the mining and conversion of uranium.
Both companies support Bill C-39. Canadian as well as foreign investors will applaud this initiative, which should improve the long term outlook for shareholders as well as protect the Canadian status of Petro-Canada and Cameco.
This is clearly legislation which encourages good management of public affairs, and that is why I would ask all members to join me in voting to have it referred to a committee.