POLITICS

Premiers seek clearer foreign investment rules

11/15/2013 05:00 EST | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST
The lack of clarity surrounding Canada's foreign investment rules will be a topic of conversation when the premiers gather for their semi-annual meeting in Toronto on Friday.

At least two premiers are expected to say the uncertainty around Canada's rules are keeping potential foreign investment dollars away from oil and gas pipeline projects and other energy projects in their provinces.

Alberta Premier Alison Redford, who travelled to China in September, has been getting an earful from potential Chinese investors who say they don't want to invest in the province if the rules are unclear, one source privy to the premier's agenda told CBC News.

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall has publicly said that relaxing foreign investment rules would help a company such as French-based Areva, which is the world’s second-largest uranium producer, proceed with majority ownership on projects in northern Saskatchewan.

Wall is expected to raise those concerns again on Friday, a second source told CBC News.

However, last week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper told an audience at the Toronto campus of Western University's Ivey School of Business that Canada needs a certain level of discretion to block foreign takeover bids if they do not result in a "net benefit" for Canada.

Absolute clarity 'foolish'

"In my opinion, when you are dealing with large state investors, foreign governments as the investor, I think it would be foolish for the Canadian government to provide absolute clarity," Harper said.

Former Conservative cabinet minister Jim Prentice supports Harper's policy but warned in a speech he gave in London, England, two weeks ago the rules are indeed discouraging investment in Canada's oil patch and hurting the economy.

"These companies have their eye on Canada, but they don't want to be rejected," said the former industry minister, who is now a CIBC senior executive.

"And if these companies don't wind up (basing) their operations in Canada, they will do so in London, Houston or another energy or financial capital," Prentice said.

Last December, the federal government approved a bid by China’s CNOOC to buy Calgary-based Nexen, but signalled any future majority bids by state-owned foreign companies in the oilsands would only be approved on an ‘’exceptional" basis.

Statistics released in October under the Canada Investment Act show that new investment in the past 12 months came from the U.S. and Japan, and that the majority of that new investment benefited the province of Ontario.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne will be hosting the fall meeting as chair of the Council of the Federation, which brings together Canada's provincial and territorial leaders.

In addition to discussing ways to better attract investment to Canada, the premiers will also talk about the economy, the controversial , health care, retirement income and infrastructure.

The premiers of British Columbia, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Yukon will participate in the premiers conference by phone, Council officials told CBC News.

Nunavut does not currently have a premier as Eva Aariak lost her seat in the territorial election at the end of October. A new premier is expected to be elected Friday.