10/30/2012 12:16 EDT | Updated 12/30/2012 05:12 EST

Political Traction: Foreign takeover sparks Ottawa's interest

Jaime Watt joins CBC News Network Power & Politics host Evan Solomon each week to look at how issues making waves in Ottawa resonate with Canadians.

Monitoring the House of Commons' question period, mainstream media and the conversation on social media, Watt and his team at Navigator Ltd. determine which issues gained the most attention in official Ottawa, and then measure how much traction those issues managed to find with Canadians outside the nation's capital.

This week, the Petronas bid for Progress Engergy took centre stage in Ottawa. But the proposed takeover by the Malaysian state-owned company didn't gain much steam across Canada, according to Watt.

This is the first time Petronas has made it on to the traction radar, but it is the third time a foreign takeover has been one of the Traction top three issues.

Watt says the Petronas deal is invariably connected to CNOOC's bid for Calgary-based Nexen.

In both cases, Canadians have expressed anxieties about national security issues. Watt gives the federal opposition credit for tapping into those fears and driving the issue.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper says the government will soon clarify net benefit rules for direct foreign investment in Canada, which the government uses to determine if a foreign takeover bid should be approved. The Ottawa conversation mainly focused on these potential changes. Canadians were less concerned with the logistics of how the government approves foreign takeovers.

The government should keep a couple things in mind when clarifying the net benefit rules, according to Watt.

"Conservative governments are...supposed to keep us safe on a national security basis and they're supposed to create a climate where they can create jobs," says Watt. "And they're in a very tricky space as they figure out where to draw the line...how much clarity do they want to put versus how much opacity actually suit them."

More Canadians tuning into the U.S. election

The U.S. election gained even more traction across the country this week. In the final days of the election campaign, Canadians are following the minutiae of the race.

Overall, Ottawa pundits think Mitt Romney has a shot at winning. Canadians are less convinced the Republican candidate can take the White House.

Canada has been focused on two stories within the U.S. election conversation: the endorsement of Barack Obama by former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, and comments from the Republican camp about a woman's reproductive rights.

A major difference between election campaigns in the U.S. and Canada comes down to party discipline, says Watt. Harper has been unequivocal in saying the abortion discussion is not up for debate, whereas in the Republican party, comments about abortion have destabilized the GOP campaign narrative, according to Watt.

Next week Watt predicts that the U.S. election will stay on the traction radar for Canadians. When it comes to foreign takeovers, he's keeping a close eye on whether any developments form on net benefit rules. He also thinks questions around the election spending of Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs Peter Penashue could crop up on the radar for next week.