Hollowing out Canada's corporate identity.
It is an opportunity for government, corporate boards, and banks to step up to the plate and support Canadian ownership of its resources.
Besides the most recent acquisition of Alberta's Prime West Energy Trust, other business icons like Dofasco Inc., Alcan Inc., and John Labatt Ltd. have been gobbled up in the name of foreign investment. Within the past two years, Northern Ontario alone has seen mining giants Inco Ltd. and Falconbridge, along with steel manufacturer Algoma Steel surrender their Canadian ownership.
Alberta-raised free enterpriser and philanthropist Richard Haskayne suggests that government should endorse tighter guidelines that limit the amount of shares anyone can own in resource-based companies, similar to Canada's banks, where shareholder value cannot exceed 20 per cent, foreign or otherwise.
As former president of the Hudson's Bay Oil & Gas Ltd., Haskayne has served as chairman for a myriad of resource-based firms, several of which were "made in Canada" mergers like Calgary's EnCana Corp. (Pan Canadian/Alberta Energy Corp.) and Fording Inc., now Fording Canadian Coal Trust, purchased by a combination of Canadian companies including Teck Cominco Ltd. and the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan.
Haskayne's experience in mergers, acquisitions and sales to foreigners is extensive, yet he remains a proponent for Canadian companies to step up to the plate and invest in the country. His new book Northern Tigers: Building Ethical Canadian Corporate Champions supports this position.
"Maybe directors have a broader responsibility than just getting the top dollar for their shareholders," Haskayne says. "Having sat on 20 public companies' boards, that is not an easy statement to make, but I can make it with some degree of assurance."
He uses Fording Coal as an example of companies investing in Canada that are now reaping the benefits of being the second biggest exporter of metallurgical coal in the world.
"We could have easily sold it to BHP or Rio Tinto, two of the big mining companies ... but where would that leave Canada?"
Frank Dottori, founder and now retired CEO of flailing forest products company Tembec, says there needs to be rules in place applicable to the country's resources so Canadians can receive a fair share of that value. It can be accomplished either through joint investments, royalties, or a depletion allowance, reflecting the value of that resource.
Rick Grylls, president of Mine Mill & Smelter Workers--Local 598 / C.A.W, which represents unionized workers at Xstrata Nickel in Sudbury, echoes a similar perspective.
"We don't have any strong regulations or values placed on long-term development of our natural resources," he says. "We've literally given it away and there is no long-term value or kick back to us."
He would like to see Canada perform like other countries' governments that hold back 10 to 20 per cent of their natural resources, which is then reinvested back into the people.
Haskayne says critical decision-making entities, such as engineering, accounting and law firms that develop around head offices are often transferred overseas when a company is acquired.
"Once you lose your head office, it affects everybody, not just the people in that company."
A May 2007 Statistics Canada report recorded foreign direct investment in Canada at $448.9 billion at the end of 2006, up $41.3 billion from the end of 2005. Conversely, Canadian direct investment abroad hit $523.3 billion, a gain of $63.7 billion from the end of 2005.
However, Ottawa has not turned a blind eye to protecting Canadian assets. During an Oct. 9 speech to the Vancouver Board of Trade, Industry Minister Jim Prentice discussed his government's handling of the wave of foreign acquisitions in recent years, admitting there were issues that needed attention.
"Canada is open for business, but it is not for sale," he says. Over the summer, Ottawa created the Competition Policy Review Panel, chaired by Lynton (Red) Wilson. The panel will review Canada's competition policies and its framework for foreign investment policy within the Competition and Investment Canada Acts. One area to be examined is the possible enacting of a national security review clause.
Haskayne likes the idea of the review panel and is optimistic that the government is on top of it and "trying to do the right thing."
Equally, not all foreign investment is a bad thing. The new owners of Falconbridge Ltd. and Inco Ltd. (Xstrata Nickel and CVRD Inco respectively) are investing in their Canadian nickel operations.
Both Grylls and the United Steelworkers Dan O'Reilly, area co-ordinator for northeastern Ontario District 6, are pleased with the investments made in the Sudbury operations to date.
CVRD Inco is hiring 500 people within the next year and spending $445 million combined at Totten Mine and Copper Cliff Deep projects. While Xstrata Nickel has hired 300 people this past year and will hire 400 more next year. They are budgeting $400 million for capital projects and ongoing operations for 2008.
Xstrata Nickel vice president of Sudbury Operations, Mike Romaniuk says the message of "grow your business for value" has led to many improvements in employee relations, the number of people hired, and amount of money being invested in the area.
CVRD spokesperson Angie Robson says very little has changed in terms of the day-to-day operations and structure. The company is hiring individuals as Copper Cliff Deep and Totten Mine projects come on board.
By ADELLE LARMOUR
For Northern Ontario Business
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|Publication:||Northern Ontario Business|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2007|
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