Ahead of Alberta stop, Trudeau backs Chinese takeover of Calgary-based Nexen

EDMONTON – Justin Trudeau has come out strongly in favour of a Chinese state-owned energy company’s effort to purchase Calgary-based petroleum producer Nexen.

Trudeau, who is coming to downtown Edmonton on Nov. 20, made the comments in an opinion column published in some Postmedia newspapers and websites, arguing that China’s objectives are not “sinister” and that Canada is in an enviable position for engaging the Asian power.

“China has a game plan,” the Liberal leadership contender wrote. “There is nothing inherently sinister about that. They have needs and the world has resources to meet those needs.

“We Canadians have more of those resources – and therefore more leverage – than any nation on Earth.”

The Chinese National Offshore Oil Company’s $15.1-billion takeover bid for Nexen has become a sensitive issue for Stephen Harper’s government, which is expected to rule in the coming weeks on whether it will accept the deal.

There has been concern – including from some Conservative backbenchers – that permitting CNOOC to take over Nexen represents a threat to Canada’s national security.

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Others, however, have warned that rejecting the takeover will anger Chinese officials and scare off other potential foreign investors.

In his opinion article, Trudeau said Canada should use its natural resources to build a foundation for broad, long-term economic engagement with the Asian power – and approving the Nexen deal would go a long way to accomplishing that goal.

“Why is the CNOOC-Nexen deal good for Canada?” Trudeau wrote. “Because Chinese and other foreign investors will create middle-class Canadian jobs …. More fundamentally, it is in Canada’s interest to broaden and deepen our relationship with the world’s second-largest economy.”

The 40-year-old Quebec MP will be at the Citadel Theatre at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, as part of his campaign for the Liberal leadership.

Earlier that day, Trudeau will make a couple of stops in Calgary, including a visit to the campaign office of Harvey Locke, Liberal candidate for Calgary Centre in the Nov. 26 federal byelection.

Trudeau said conditions should be attached to foreign investors that require them to abide by Canadian laws and operate in good faith. And he acknowledged that there will be national security concerns in certain sectors.

“However, in the CNOOC case, Chinese ownership of three per cent of oilsands leases hardly constitutes a national security issue,” he wrote.

“Most important, the big picture isn’t about CNOOC or Petronas, but the many opportunities like them that will follow in their footsteps.”

Malaysian state-owned energy company Petronas is awaiting word from the Harper government on its plan to take over Calgary-based natural gas producer Progress Energy after its initial proposal was rejected last month.

Trudeau took a shot at the Harper government for what he called its “erratic approach and secretive behaviour” when it comes to reviewing foreign takeovers, and its failure to lay out a clear, public strategy for engaging Asia.

“The government has failed to provide the context, to make the positive case for Asia,” he wrote. “It is therefore as difficult to reject bad ideas like the Northern Gateway as it is to approve good opportunities like the CNOOC and Petronas deals.”

Trudeau has opposed the proposed Northern Gateway,the contentious pipeline planned to carry bitumen from Alberta’s oilsands to the port of Kitimat, B.C., citing environmental concerns.

Speaking in Richmond, B.C., on Oct. 3 – the day after he announced his bid for the Liberal leadership – Trudeau said Calgary-based Enbridge Inc. must develop a better plan if it wants the project to proceed.

“I don’t think the Enbridge pipeline is a good idea,” he said after his Richmond speech. “I believe in the precautionary principle. I believe that if you are going to build a project that goes through one of the most vulnerable and beautiful ecosystems in the world and the Great Bear Rainforest … you have to have a better plan than what it looks like Enbridge is putting forward.”

While heavy on emphasizing the need for economic engagement with China, Trudeau’s article makes only a passing mention of the country’s democratic and human rights record, referring to the need to engage with the Chinese instead of isolating them.

It also does not mention what the government should do when national security is a factor in a proposed foreign takeover, although an official within Trudeau’s camp indicated the Liberal leadership candidate is not in favour of different rules for privately owned and state-owned foreign companies.