OTTAWA - The Harper government bought itself some more time to deal with a political hot potato, extending a review of the controversial $15.1-billion bid by a Chinese state-owned company to acquire Calgary-based oil and gas producer Nexen Inc (TSX:NXY).

Industry Minister Christian Paradis said in a news release issued Friday evening that the Investment Canada Act review of the proposed purchase has been extended by 30 days until Dec. 10.

Extensions under the Act are not unusual, Paradis noted and can again be prolonged with the consent of the acquiring company, in this case China National Offshore Oil Co.

Because it's the second time the Nexen-CNOOC review has been extended, the latest delay couldn't have taken place without CNOOC's permission.

Another extension was widely expected by market players and political observers, but nonetheless it suggests the political ramifications of the proposed takeover have the Conservatives bewildered on how to proceed, said Peter Julian, the NDP's natural resources critic.

"Anytime in politics when people are making decisions on a late Friday night it’s because they’re scared of public reaction," he said in a phone interview.

”They desperately want to rubber stamp it, and because they know that public opposition is growing they’re just trying to buy more and more time.”

The Nexen deal has generated direct and indirect concerns from a number of quarters and even Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said the takeover bid "raises a range of difficult policy questions,'' indicating there's a national security angle that factors into Canada's relationship with China.

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Canada's spy agency, raised a red flag on foreign investment by state-owned firms in general in its annual report this year, although it didn't name specific countries.

The NDP has raised a wide range of concerns specifically regarding Nexen, including concerns over national security, environmental and human rights. The New Democrats have also called the federal review process too secretive.

Harper is even dealing with members of his own caucus, such as Alberta MP Rob Anders, who have voiced displeasure.

Ottawa sources say the Harper government is torn between its eagerness to court foreign investment and new markets in Asia, and its distaste for government-run companies.

"One of the most pointed concerns is, this country spent the better part of a generation moving away from the Crown or the state-owned enterprises because we recognized it's simply not an efficient way to run an economy," one Conservative MP told The Canadian Press on condition of anonymity. "So there is some hesitation to allow a state-owned enterprise from a foreign acquisition come in and buy a sizeable Canadian asset."

A source close to the matter said CNOOC was prepared for a lengthy review when it made its move in July, given the size and significance of the transaction. The person added the Chinese company still expects the deal to close by year-end.

Industry Canada took 103 days to approve Swiss-based Glencore's $6.1-billion deal to buy Viterra earlier this year. That transaction still hasn't closed because it's waiting on Chinese government approval.

Under the Investment Canada Act, deals involving WTO member countries valued at more than $330 million must be a "net benefit" to Canada.

Just what constitutes a "net benefit" exactly is unclear, but Harper has said clarifications are coming soon.

U.S. politicians on both sides of the aisle have cautioned Ottawa against turning over natural resources to a Chinese state-owned company. Critics fear that CNOOC may answer more to Beijing than it does the market.

And the deal involves a Canadian national treasure, oil.

In an apparent bid to ease Ottawa's concerns, CNOOC has pledged to keep the head office in Calgary, seek a listing on the Toronto Stock Exchange and place some $8 billion of its assets under the control of Nexen's management in Canada. It has also promised to carry on Nexen's social responsibility programs in Canada and around the world.

"The proposed transaction is undergoing a rigorous review under the Investment Canada Act," Paradis said in a statement. "A determination will be made based on the six clear factors that are laid out in detail in section 20 of the Act and the Guidelines on Investment by State-Owned Enterprises.

"The required time will be taken to conduct a thorough and careful review of this proposed investment."

Now that the government has until early December to complete its review, the plan may be to quietly announce approval of the deal sometime during the Christmas holidays, suggested Julian.

”I think the way this government works and its lack of respect for the public means that they’re going to be looking to rubber stamp it sometime during the Christmas season, hoping that public reaction will blow over.”

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    Brand value: $933 million Source: <a href="http://www.brandfinance.com/offices/canada" target="_hplink">Brand Finance Canada</a>

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    Brand value: $936 million Source: <a href="http://www.brandfinance.com/offices/canada" target="_hplink">Brand Finance Canada</a>

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    Brand value: $1.109 billion Photo: Brian Ferguson, president and CEO of Cenovus Energy (The Canadian Press) Source: <a href="http://www.brandfinance.com/offices/canada" target="_hplink">Brand Finance Canada</a>

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  • 10. Oil And Gas Accounts For 4.8 Per Cent Of GDP

    The oil and gas industries accounted for around $65 billion of economic activity in Canada annually in recent years, or slightly less than 5 per cent of GDP. Source: <a href="http://www.ceri.ca/docs/2010-10-05CERIOilandGasReport.pdf" target="_hplink">Canada Energy Research Institute</a>

  • 9. Oil Exports Have Grown Tenfold Since 1980

    Canada exported some 12,000 cubic metres of oil per day in 1980. By 2010, that number had grown to 112,000 cubic metres daily. Source: <a href="http://membernet.capp.ca/SHB/Sheet.asp?SectionID=9&SheetID=224" target="_hplink">Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers</a>

  • 8. Refining Didn't Grow At All As Exports Boomed

    Canada refined 300,000 cubic metres daily in 1980; in 2010, that number was slightly down, to 291,000, even though exports of oil had grown tenfold in that time. Source: <a href="http://membernet.capp.ca/SHB/Sheet.asp?SectionID=7&SheetID=104" target="_hplink">Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers</a>

  • 7. 97 Per Cent Of Oil Exports Go To The U.S.

    Despite talk by the federal government that it wants to open Asian markets to Canadian oil, the vast majority of exports still go to the United States -- 97 per cent as of 2009. Source: <a href="http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/statistics-facts/energy/895" target="_hplink">Natural Resources Canada</a>

  • 6. Canada Has World's 2nd-Largest Proven Oil Reserves

    Canada's proven reserves of 175 billion barrels of oil -- the vast majority of it trapped in the oil sands -- is the second-largest oil stash in the world, after Saudi Arabia's 267 billion. Source: <a href="http://www.ogj.com/index.html" target="_hplink">Oil & Gas Journal</a>

  • 5. Two-Thirds Of Oil Sands Bitumen Goes To U.S.

    One-third of Canada's oil sands bitumen stays in the country, and is refined into gasoline, heating oil and diesel. Source: <a href="http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/statistics-facts/energy/895" target="_hplink">Natural Resources Canada</a>

  • 4. Alberta Is Two-Thirds Of The Industry

    Despite its reputation as the undisputed centre of Canada's oil industry, Alberta accounts for only two-thirds of energy production. British Columbia and Saskatchewan are the second and third-largest producers. Source: <a href="http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/statistics-facts/energy/895" target="_hplink">Natural Resources Canada</a>

  • 3. Alberta Will Reap $1.2 Trillion From Oil Sands

    Alberta' government <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/03/27/alberta-oil-sands-royalties-ceri_n_1382640.html" target="_hplink">will reap $1.2 trillion in royalties from the oil sands over the next 35 years</a>, according to the Canadian Energy Research Institute.

  • 2. Canadian Oil Consumption Has Stayed Flat

    Thanks to improvements in energy efficiency, and a weakening of the country's manufacturing base, oil consumption in Canada has had virtually no net change in 30 years. Consumption went from 287,000 cubic metres daily in 1980 to 260,000 cubic metres daily in 2010. Source: Source: <a href="http://membernet.capp.ca/SHB/Sheet.asp?SectionID=6&SheetID=99" target="_hplink">Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers</a>

  • 1. 250,000 Jobs.. Plus Many More?

    The National Energy Board says oil and gas employs 257,000 people in Canada, not including gas station employees. And the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers says the oil sands alone <a href="http://www.capp.ca/aboutUs/mediaCentre/NewsReleases/Pages/OilsandsaCanadianjobcreator.aspx" target="_hplink">will grow from 75,000 jobs to 905,000 jobs by 2035</a> -- assuming, of course, the price of oil holds up.