A plan to relax foreign ownership rules in the uranium industry is back on Ottawa's agenda but isn't expected to lead to a takeover of Saskatchewan-based Cameco Corp., the world's top uranium producer, which is protected by separate legislation.
Meantime, Cameco reiterated its hope that opening Canada's doors to foreign investors will in turn give it access to mine ownership in other countries.
The push to increase foreign ownership in Canada's uranium sector was part of yesterday's Speech from the Throne, in which the government said it will "ensure that unnecessary regulation does not inhibit the growth of Canada's uranium mining industry by unduly restricting foreign investment."
It also vowed to "expand investment promotion in key markets."
A bill before the House of Commons specific to opening up investment in the uranium sector was put off before Parliament was prorogued in December.
Industry Minister Tony Clement said the government is acting on the advice of several independent reports recommending increased foreign investment as a way to boost innovation and jobs in Canada.
"Any investments that would occur have to be in the net benefit of Canada and have to satisfy the test of making sure that it is consistent with national security, so those caveats are still in place in our Investment Canada rules," he said. "Uranium has been identified specifically as another industry that has hitherto not been part of the Investment Canada Act, along with satellites, along with telecoms."
There is now a 49-per-cent foreign ownership limit in the uranium sector, which is tightly regulated.
Uranium production in Canada is dominated by the world's two largest uranium mining companies, Cameco and Areva of France.
Cameco has been open to lifting foreign ownership restrictions in Canada, as long as they can see the same result in other countries.
"If we open up our country to do business on the uranium side, then Cameco should be able to do business in their country as well," spokesman Lyle Krahn said.
According to legislation in Saskatchewan, Cameco must maintain its head office in the province. Federal laws also prevent a non-resident investor holding more than 15 per cent of Cameco shares. Total foreign ownership cannot exceed 25 per cent of the votes.
Loosening foreign ownership rules will also allow Areva to invest more in Canada, including in a proposed new mine in Nunavut, said Areva Canada Inc. chief executive officer Roger Alexander.
"It means ensuring foreign ownership will be given a fair break in developing mining and milling activity in Canada," he said.
- With a file from reporter Bill Curry in Ottawa