BUSINESS

Nexen CNOOC Deal: Poll Finds 8 In 10 Don't Want Foreign Governments Owning Canadian Resources

10/16/2012 03:19 EDT | Updated 10/16/2012 03:22 EDT
AP

Maybe we’re are getting all proud and nationalistic about our oil wealth, or maybe the fear of the big, red Chinese communist bear still resonates in the living rooms of the nation, but whatever the reason, Canadians are solidly opposed to a Chinese takeover of Nexen.

Nearly six in 10 polled by Angus-Reid are against the takeover by the Chinese state-owned oil company, CNOOC, with opposition highest in western Canada.

The poll published Tuesday found 58 per cent of Canadians want the government to reject the proposed $15.1-billion takeover of Calgary-based Nexen. Fewer than one in eight — 12 per cent — are urging the government to green-light the deal.

But opposition grew to nearly eight in 10 when asked if foreign governments should be able to control resources on Canadian soil; 78 per cent said no. CNOOC is majority-owned by the Chinese government.

Opposition was most fierce in the areas where the takeover would have the most economic impact — in western Canada, where 69 per cent of British Columbians and 63 per cent of Albertans objected to the deal.

And it cuts across party lines as well: Fifty-seven per cent of Conservative Party supporters oppose the deal, while 59 per cent of Liberal party backers do so, along with 65 per cent of NDP voters.

Backers of the deal stress that Canadian governments will continue to have the last word on resources, regardless of who owns the companies extracting them, and have suggested it may be plain old fear of foreigners driving opposition.

But while pro-business advocates have largely come out in favour of the deal, arguing it’s a necessary next step in Canada’s shift in focus from the U.S. to Asian exports markets, Prime Minister Stephen Harper — perhaps with an eye on public opinion polling — has hedged his bets on the issue.

The proposed deal “raises a range of difficult policy questions,” Harper said earlier this month, but he noted he would not allow U.S. concerns about the deal cloud the government’s decision.

Industry Canada is currently reviewing the CNOOC-Nexen deal to determine if it amounts to a “net benefit” to Canada — the standard by which the government determines whether to allow a foreign takeover.

U.S. politicians have raised concerns about CNOOC’s plans to buy a Canadian oil giant, noting the company is developing an offshore gas field in Iran and has referred to its offshore oil holdings as a “strategic weapon.”

CSIS, Canada’s intelligence agency, has also raised concerns that acquisitions by Chinese state-owned companies could pose a national security risk to Canada.

As part of efforts to oppose the deal, the NDP and others have pointed to a scathing U.S. congressional report recommending that the U.S. stop doing business with Chinese tech giant Huawei, because the company has allegedly built in “back doors” into its telecommunications systems that could be exploited by the Chinese government.

That news further inflamed the debate about Chinese involvement in Canada’s economy, as it emerged that both Ontario and Saskatchewan are engaged with the company. Saskatchewan has hired Huawei to provide rural broadband in the province, while Ontario’s government has backed a $67-million Huawei research and development centre in Ottawa.

Ottawa is continuing its review into the Nexen deal, having recently extended the deadline for a decision. Barring any further delays, Industry Canada is set to announce a decision by next month.

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