OTTAWA - Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver is off to China to tell investors there that their prospects in Canada remain strong after a bleak message from a former cabinet colleague said they've dried up.
Oliver said one of the objectives of the trip is to make the point that it is no more difficult for companies, including state-owned enterprises, to come into Canada and invest than it was a year ago.
Last week, former Conservative cabinet minister Jim Prentice said Chinese investment had all but dried up in Canada's lucrative oil and gas sector.
Prentice, a former industry minister, cited figures that showed a dramatic drop in the oil and gas sectors as well as mergers and acquisitions from China.
"It's not true to say the Chinese investment prospects have dried up. It's important to have those discussions to make sure that there is a clear understanding of where we're coming from," Oliver told The Canadian Press in an interview Thursday.
"The numbers are what they are, but the issue is what has caused those numbers."
Prentice, now a CIBC executive, said investment in the oil and gas sector had dropped to $2 billion from $27 billion during the same period last year while mergers and acquisitions dropped to $8 billion from $66 billion.
Oliver said he doesn't dispute Prentice's numbers but said they could be skewed a bit by last year's landmark $15.1-billion acquisition of Calgary oil giant Nexen Inc. by China's CNOOC.
He also said that in recent meetings with New York investment bankers, he was told that it is harder to attract capital, including from state-owned enterprises such as those from China, which have invested heavily in Alberta's oilsands.
Oliver is one of three cabinet ministers, in addition to Governor General David Johnston, who will be in China this week or next.
He will also travel to South Korea to attend an energy conference. Oliver said he will be "promoting Canada as a destination of choice for Asian investment in the natural resource sectors."
Oliver is expecting questions, especially in China, about the opposition the government faces from First Nations groups, in particular, in getting a pipeline built that would connect Pacific Ocean ports with Alberta energy fields.
"Naturally, they want to know when they can get access to those resources. In the past they've raised some of the regulatory issues… but they continue to ask about issues like aboriginal involvement and labour," he said
Oliver said the clock is ticking on Canada to build the delivery infrastructure it needs to compete in the Asian energy market.
"While Canada is attractive, we've got to be able to deliver," he said.
"As long term contracts are entered into, the size of the long-term demand declines. We do have to move on these issues.
"The resources are in the ground but they don't necessarily have the same demand if you wait."