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Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver at his office on Parliament Hill in Ottawa in February, 2012. (Dave Chan/The Globe and Mail)

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver at his office on Parliament Hill in Ottawa in February, 2012.

(Dave Chan/The Globe and Mail)

Natural resource sector needs foreign capital: Ottawa Add to ...

Canada needs an “immense amount of capital” to develop and move its resources to market, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver said Tuesday, signifying the federal government’s desire to encourage foreign investment in the natural resources sector.

At a Toronto news conference aimed at playing up the importance of the oil, forestry and mining industries in the economy, Mr. Oliver told reporters that “we don’t have enough capital in this country, and so we are welcoming capital from the outside.”

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This summer has seen its share of foreign interest in Canadian resources. Last week, China’s CNOOC Ltd. formally applied for government approval of its $15.1-billion bid to take over Calgary’s Nexen Inc., which would give it access to a swath of Alberta’s oil sands. Also last week, it was revealed that Kuwait Petroleum Corp. is pushing to develop oil sands properties in a joint venture with Athabasca Oil Corp.

The federal government has held back from supporting these deals until they are proven to be in the country’s “net interest.” But Mr. Oliver’s comments suggest the government wants to see more such offers.

His message also diverts from the one sent last week by Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, who each called on corporate Canada to bolster the economy by investing their stockpiled money in the country.

Mr. Oliver spoke to reporters to announce that, through new calculations, the government has found that natural resources are now responsible for 20 per cent the country’s economic activity (15 per cent directly from the sector, and another 5 per cent from indirect services).

The new calculation provides a number much higher than previous estimates. In 2010, the government said natural resources accounted for 11.5 per cent of GDP. The revised calculation is for the nominal GDP, as opposed to real GDP, and takes into account both quantity and prices using just-released numbers. Mr. Oliver called the nominal GDP a “more accurate indicator” of the sector’s economic contributions than real GDP. Mr. Oliver said the numbers also reveal that natural resources industries – energy, forestry, metals and minerals – account for one in 10 Canadian jobs.

Mr. Oliver spent much of Parliament’s summer break giving speeches about the importance of developing Canada’s resources. The publicity blitz came after the government announced controversial changes to environmental assessment rules – replacing many with looser regulations – and the vocal opposition to the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline in Western Canada.

Follow on Twitter: @joshokane

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