James Moore said he received the formal application late last week for a foreign-investment review of Burger King's US$11-billion takeover of Tim Hortons.
He made that announcement during a luncheon speech in the U.S. capital, where the fast-food giant's impending move to Canada has prompted expressions of angst over the competitiveness of the American tax code.
Moore said the blockbuster deal didn't strike him as particularly complicated, as there's no national-security element and no state-owned enterprise involved, as in the lengthy oilsands saga involving China's state-owned CNOOC Ltd.
He said he didn't want to prejudge the outcome of his review. At the same time, he used the takeover to promote Canada as a business-friendly environment. On the off chance that the point had been lost on anyone in the audience there was a, "Canada Open For Business," sign under the podium.
"Burger King coming to Canada? We want them to come to Canada. Please come to Canada," Moore said during a question-and-answer session after his speech. "Other firms as well, set up shop, hire Canadians, continue to do business, expand your footprint around the world. Canada is open for business."
He cited lower taxes as just one reason why companies such as Burger King, Microsoft, Target and Google are investing in Canada.
The Investment Canada Act gives the minister 45 days to review a major takeover of a Canadian firm, although it allows for possible extensions. The U.S. fast-food giant announced last month it had reached a deal to take over the ubiquitous Canadian coffee-shop chain.
The news has prompted some hand-wringing in Washington, where there's vast agreement that the American tax code requires its first big overhaul in almost 30 years. However, in a gridlocked Congress, there's no agreement on what reform should look like.
To U.S. conservatives, the deal underlines the need to lower corporate taxes. To liberals, it's corporate greed that needs to be reined in, amid a rush of so-called inversions where U.S. companies buy foreign entities to achieve tax savings.
Moore tried to avoid pouring salt in the wound.
"It's not a question of gloating," he told reporters later. "I understand why some here, including President Obama, would rhetorically react the way that he has. But I'm certainly not going to apologize, as a Canadian, for having low taxes while also having a balanced budget which is creating jobs in Canada."
President Barack Obama has criticized the inversion trend, although Burger King insists the move isn't about avoiding American taxes.
Moore was at an event organized by the Canadian American Business Council.
The theme of his speech was the five pillars of Canada's digital strategy: improving Internet connectivity, protecting Canadians from threats like cyberbullying, ensuring Canadian content, economic opportunity and digital government.
He stressed the need to produce government material in formats that could be read on smartphones and said all data should be publicly available — barring narrow exceptions that relate to national security and state sovereignty.
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