CALGARY - Liberal leadership contender Justin Trudeau is expressing support for Chinese investment in the Canadian oilpatch, but says he is still opposed to Enbridge Inc.'s proposal to ship oilsands crude to the West Coast for export to Asia.
In an opinion piece published in Postmedia newspapers Tuesday, Trudeau said China National Offshore Oil Co.'s $15.1-billion takeover of Calgary-based oil and gas producer Nexen Inc. (TSX:NXY) is "good for Canada" because the investment will help create middle-class jobs and bolster its trading relationship with China.
The presumptive front-runner in the Liberal race has been criticized by some as a celebrity candidate with no depth, yet it was his stance on the CNOOC-Nexen deal that provoked the first debate of any real substance in the leadership contest.
At the campaign headquarters of Harvey Locke, the Liberal candidate in the Nov. 26 byelection in Calgary Centre, Trudeau said Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government has "completely failed" in courting much-needed foreign investment.
He said the government's decisions have had more to do with polls and electoral interests than what's best for the Canadian economy.
"Bottom line is just because you're making a deal with the government of China doesn't mean you have to act like the government of China," he told reporters.
Meanwhile, both Trudeau and Locke stressed the need for Canada to diversify its energy exports outside of the United States. The International Energy Agency has predicted the U.S. will become virtually energy independent by 2035.
"That's yet another indication that we do need to be serious about opening doors and connecting with other markets," Trudeau said.
One of the planned major routes to Asian markets, however, is Enbridge Inc.'s (TSX:ENB) proposed Northern Gateway pipeline — a project Trudeau opposes.
If built, that line would ship 525,000 barrels of oilsands crude per day to the West Coast port of Kitimat, B.C., from which it would be sent to Asia via tanker.
"The Northern Gateway pipeline, as proposed by Enbridge, is not the right solution," he said.
"It goes through too vulnerable a place environmentally, the necessary buy-in from the aboriginal peoples simply isn't there and the way it's been handled, I don't think it's going to be there."
But Trudeau said there are alternatives to get Canadian oil to coastal waters. For instance, Kinder Morgan is looking to expand its Trans Mountain line, which currently delivers crude to the B.C. Lower Mainland.
"I know that corporations and oil companies are looking at different ways of doing it and I look forward to seeing more projects like that," Trudeau said.
"I'm sure someone's going to figure out how to do it, because it is too important for us. It is just that particular pipeline that I have real concerns about."
Trudeau's opining on the Nexen takeover is part of a systematic strategy aimed at disapproving all those who've dismissed the Montreal MP as an intellectual lightweight, said a senior Trudeau campaign source.
It's also designed to make it harder for his rival candidates — some of whom have been positioning themselves as the voice of business Liberals — to paint Trudeau as someone with no gravitas on crucial economic matters.
"From the very beginning, he's been pronouncing on issues of national importance and he's going to continue to do so," said the source.
"I think it's becoming increasingly apparent that (the criticism of Trudeau as a lightweight) is absurd. He's a very thoughtful guy, he's thought this through pretty carefully and he's going to make his voice heard on issues that matter."
Trudeau's support for the CNOOC takeover bid is just the latest in a string of policy positions he has taken since officially launching his campaign early last month.
The day after the launch, Trudeau flew to Calgary to declare his support for development of Alberta's oilsands and to disavow the hated National Energy Program instituted by his father, former prime minister Pierre Trudeau.
The following day in British Columbia, he came out against Northern Gateway.
Since then, he's weighed in on the hot button issue of Quebec language laws, dismissing the need for tougher legislation. He's also come out strongly in favour of the decriminalization of marijuana and spoken favourably, though not quite unequivocally, about outright legalization.
However, it's Trudeau's position on the Nexen takeover that has sparked the first signs of real disagreement among the multitude of leadership contenders.
His main challenger thus far, former MP Martha Hall Findlay, said she supports CNOOC's bid in principle, although she wants clearer rules for foreign investors.
"Canada needs to be clear that it is open for business but not for sale," she said.
Vancouver MP Joyce Murray, who is poised to join the race next week, said she believes it's "a bit premature" to stake out a position on the deal because the government has not yet spelled out the conditions or rules that will be applied.
Before deciding whether to support the deal, Murray said Canadians need to know if there will be limits on the amount of foreign ownership of the oilpatch and how much control Canada will have over value-added jobs.
Ottawa lawyer David Bertschi took a hard line against the deal on the grounds that there are "far too many unanswered questions" about it.
"Experts have expressed concerns about the potential national security implications associated with the takeover and, without further due diligence, it is my opinion that the proposed CNOOC takeover of Nexen ... should not be allowed to proceed," he said in a statement.
Industry Minister Christian Paradis is in the midst of deciding whether the deal would be of net benefit to Canada. The review period, which has been extended twice so far, is to end on Dec. 10, though it can be extended again with CNOOC's consent.
The Conservative government has said it will clarify its foreign investment guidelines shortly.
There were reports Tuesday that Ottawa was looking to impose investment and employment conditions on CNOOC. Unidentified sources told The Globe and Mail CNOOC was worried the caveats would affect Nexen's bottom line, while Bloomberg, also citing unidentified sources, said CNOOC had agreed to Ottawa's conditions.
— with files from Joan Bryden in Ottawa
Related on HuffPost:
They Like Him, They Really, Really Like Him
Justin Trudeau has captured the imagination of Canada's political media. Here are the 11 most ridiculously flattering things they've said about him so far this year.
11. "He's got great hair"
<a href="http://www.torontosun.com/2012/06/16/justins-the-one-10-winning-reasons-why" target="_hplink">- Warren Kinsella</a>
10. "The man is genuinely, immensely likable"
"Justin Trudeau does not shake your hand; he inhabits it. The wrist cocks out and up, the fingertips down; the elbow shoots off to his right; the shoulder rises slightly. Then a friendly grin dawns as he delivers a firm but not crushing grip, looking you in the eye, with a twinkle in his own. The effect is of someone who is warm, slightly embarrassed by the fuss, almost goofy, and genuinely happy to meet you. It is likely that some of this is practised; he would have spent his early social years deflecting other peoples' preconceived ideas about class and snobbery. Either way, it is effective. The man is genuinely, immensely likable." <a href="http://o.canada.com/2012/08/17/electrifying-and-elusive-justin-trudeau-quietly-mulls-his-political-destiny/" target="_hplink">- Michael Den Tandt</a>
9. Sisyphus & Icarus?
"Trudeau is part Sisyphus, driven by his nature and upbringing to push his political rock up the hill. And he is part Icarus, driven to prove himself in spectacular ways, whether by crossing rapids, speaking off the cuff about separatism or exposing himself to defeat and humiliation in the ring." <a href="http://o.canada.com/2012/08/17/electrifying-and-elusive-justin-trudeau-quietly-mulls-his-political-destiny/" target="_hplink">- Michael Den Tandt</a>
8. Or Hamlet?
"A leadership race without Justin Trudeau would be both Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark, and one more yawn before sleep." <a href="http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2012/06/16/rex-murphy-why-justin-trudeau-has-to-run-for-liberal-leader/" target="_hplink">- Rex Murphy</a>
"Mr. Trudeau is tantalizing, but whether he is galvanizing is another question." <a href="http://www.theglobeandmail.com/commentary/justin-trudeau-is-the-best-hope-for-liberals-and-conservatives/article4249423/" target="_hplink">- Lawrence Martin</a>
6. "He isn't an old fart"
"He isn't an old fart. The Liberal party -- like the Conservatives -- has been run by, and for, old farts for too long. The party is in desperate need of a new generation of leadership. Trudeau, like Barack Obama in 2008, has the greatest ability to mobilize young people to work for him, and vote for him."<a href="http://www.torontosun.com/2012/06/16/justins-the-one-10-winning-reasons-why" target="_hplink"> - Warren Kinsella</a>
5. "Expressive mane of hair"
"You, with the expressive mane of hair and the explosive pronouncements that sometimes rival the idiocy of our other Justin, the Beeb." <a href="http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/is-it-time-for-the-second-coming-of-trudeaumania/article4484207/?cmpid=rss1" target="_hplink">- Judith Timson</a>
4. "His mane of black hair was tousled"
"Under his suit jacket, the sleeve buttons on his dress shirt were undone. His necktie was knotted, but left loose over an open top button. His mane of black hair was tousled. Even in genteel disarray, even dressed more or less like a couple hundred of his parliamentary colleagues, the 40-year-old Liberal MP for the Montreal riding of Papineau looked like a million bucks." <a href="http://www2.macleans.ca/2012/05/04/justin-trudeau-should-be-the-next-leader-of-the-liberal-party-no-seriously/" target="_hplink">- Paul Wells</a>
3. "He's got more charisma than the royal family and Lady Gaga combined"
"He's got more charisma than the royal family and Lady Gaga combined. In Ottawa, which is Hollywood for ugly people, that matters. To win, political parties need some sizzle with their steak; Trudeau has sizzle in abundance. On the election hustings, when measured against Trudeau, Stephen Harper and Thomas Mulcair will look like Angry Old Guys, because, er, they are." <a href="http://www.torontosun.com/2012/06/16/justins-the-one-10-winning-reasons-why" target="_hplink">- Warren Kinsella</a>
2. "Impossibly handsome"
"The 41-year-old Liberal MP from the Montreal riding of Papineau, impossibly handsome, charming and much more comfortable in his skin than the bearer of such an iconic yet troublesome political name has any right to be..." <a href="http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/is-it-time-for-the-second-coming-of-trudeaumania/article4484207/?cmpid=rss1" target="_hplink">- Judith Timson</a>
1. "Lion-maned clothes horse with dimples like moon craters"
"So the rail-thin, lion-maned clothes horse with dimples like moon craters, a giant-killing right hook and a weapons-grade surname will position himself as the loyal helpmate of a post-leadership-fixation Liberal Party? It's so crazy it just might work." <a href="http://www2.macleans.ca/2012/05/04/justin-trudeau-should-be-the-next-leader-of-the-liberal-party-no-seriously/" target="_hplink">- Paul Wells</a>
Syncrude Upgrader and Oil Sands
The refining or upgrading of the tarry bitumen which lies under the oil sands consumes far more oil and energy than conventional oil and produces almost twice as much carbon. Each barrel of oil requires 3-5 barrels of fresh water from the neighboring Athabasca River. About 90% of this is returned as toxic tailings into the vast unlined tailings ponds that dot the landscape. Syncrude alone dumps 500,000 tons of toxic tailings into just one of their tailings ponds everyday.
Boreal Forest and Coast Mountains / Atlin Lake, British Columbia | 2001
This area, located in the extreme northwest of British Columbia, marks the western boundary of the Boreal region. On the border of the Yukon and Southeast Alaska, the western flank of these mountains descends into Alaska's Tongass Rainforest and British Columbia's Great Bear Rainforest. Far from the oil sands, the greatest remaining coastal temperate and marine ecosystem is imminently threatened by the proposal to build a 750-mile pipeline to pump 550,000 barrels per day of oil sands crude to the coast. Once there, it would be shipped through some of the most treacherous waters, virtually assuring an ecological disaster at some point in the future.
Tailings Pond in Winter, Abstract #2 / Alberta Tar Sands | 2010
Even in the extreme cold of the winter, the toxic tailings ponds do not freeze. On one particularly cold morning, the partially frozen tailings, sand, liquid tailings and oil residue, combined to produce abstractions that reminded me of a Jackson Pollock canvas.
Aspen and Spruce | Northern Alberta | 2001
Photographed in late autumn in softly falling snow, a solitary spruce is set against a sea of aspen. The Boreal Forest of northern Canada is perhaps the best and largest example of a largely intact forest ecosystem. Canada's Boreal Forest alone stores an amount of carbon equal to ten times the total annual global emissions from all fossil fuel consumption.
Tar Sands at Night #1 | Alberta Oil Sands | 2010
Twenty four hours a day the oil sands eats into the most carbon rich forest ecosystem on the planet. Storing almost twice as much carbon per hectare as tropical rainforests, the boreal forest is the planet's greatest terrestrial carbon storehouse. To the industry, these diverse and ecologically significant forests and wetlands are referred to as overburden, the forest to be stripped and the wetlands dredged and replaced by mines and tailings ponds so vast they can be seen from outer space.
Dry Tailings #2 | Alberta Tar Sands | 2010
In an effort to deal with the problem of tailings ponds, Suncor is experimenting with dry tailings technology. This has the potential to limit, or eliminate, the need for vast tailings ponds in the future and lessen this aspect of the oil sands' impact.
Tailings Pond Abstract #2 | Alberta Tar Sands / 2010
So large are the Alberta Tar Sands tailings ponds that they can be seen from space. It has been estimated by Natural Resources Canada that the industry to date has produced enough toxic waste to fill a canal 32 feet deep by 65 feet wide from Fort McMurray to Edmonton, and on to Ottawa, a distance of over 2,000 miles. In this image, the sky is reflected in the toxic and oily waste of a tailings pond.
Confluence of Carcajou River and Mackenzie River | Mackenzie Valley, NWT | 2005
The Caracajou River winds back and forth creating this oxbow of wetlands as it joins the Mackenzie flowing north to the Beaufort Sea. This region, almost entirely pristine, and the third largest watershed basin in the world, will be directly impacted by the proposed Mackenzie Valley National Gas Pipeline to fuel the energy needs of the Alberta Oil Sands mega-project.
Black Cliff | Alberta Oil Sands | 2005
Oil sands pit mining is done in benches or steps. These benches are each approximately 12-15 meters high. Giant shovels dig the oil sand and place it into heavy hauler trucks that range in size from 240 tons to the largest trucks, which have a 400-ton capacity.
Oil Sands Upgrader in Winter| Alberta Oil Sands | 2010
The Alberta oil sands are Canada's single largest source of carbon. They produce about as much annually as the nation of Denmark. The refining of the tar-like bitumen requires more water and uses almost twice as much energy as the production of conventional oil. Particularly visible in winter, vast plumes of toxic pollution fill the skies. The oil sands are so large they create their own weather systems.
Boreal Forest and Wetland | Athabasca Delta Northern Alberta | 2010
Located just 70 miles downstream from the Alberta oil sands, the Athabasca Delta is the world's largest freshwater delta. It lies at the convergence of North America's four major flyways and is a critical stopover for migrating waterfowl and considered one of the most globally significant wetlands. It is threatened both by the massive water consumption of the tar sands and its toxic tailings ponds.
Tar Pit #3
This network of roads reminded me of a claw or tentacles. It represents for me the way in which the tentacles of the tar sands reach out and wreak havoc and destruction. Proposed pipelines to American Midwest, Mackenzie Valley, and through the Great Bear Rainforest will bring new threats to these regions while the pipelines fuel new markets and ensure the proposed five fold expansion of the oil sands.