The federal government will be watching for any national security implications in the event that BlackBerry Ltd. is sold, says Treasury Board President Tony Clement.
Speaking on the sidelines of the Government Technology Exhibition and Conference – where technology companies present their products to government officials – Mr. Clement said Ottawa’s position for now is to let events play out.
“What we want is obviously a stable environment,” he said, when asked if the government wants BlackBerry to remain Canadian-owned. “I think that we’ll let the marketplace respond. We have a role to play obviously, which involves national security and making sure that what occurs is in the public interest and we take that responsibility seriously. It’s not my place here to speculate on what would or would not be inside or offside that. So we’ll let it play out in the marketplace and if and when the government has to respond, we certainly will.”
Earlier this week, Ottawa rejected a proposed foreign takeover of a division of Manitoba Telecom Services Inc. by Egypt’s Accelero Capital Holdings on national security grounds. Federal Industry Minister James Moore issued a statement that said his decision was based on a review of the national security provisions of the Investment Canada Act, which governs foreign takeovers.
The federal Industry Minister is the senior minister responsible for such decisions. Mr. Clement is a former industry minister. As President of the Treasury Board, he is responsible for government-wide information technology projects.
Mr. Clement said the government remains hopeful that BlackBerry will “get through” its restructuring process. “They’ve got a lot of customers, tens of millions of customers around the world,” he said. “They’ve had success in the past and we’re all very hopeful that they will get through to the other side of what is going to be obviously a restructuring of their mission and of their product, whatever happens.”
Meanwhile, one institutional investor says the process to sell BlackBerry has yet to produce a clear plan.
Leo de Bever, CEO of Alberta Investment Management Corp., says he would like to participate in a deal to salvage BlackBerry Ltd. as a Canadian company. But he hasn’t seen a proposal yet that he’s convinced will make money.
“It’s extremely frustrating,” he said. “As a Canadian, I would like to have a solution that gives me profitability and a viable company – hey, why wouldn’t I? But so far, that hasn’t been happening.” Indeed, Mr. de Bever called this “the most bizarre deal I’ve ever been involved in.”
“Everybody’s talking, nobody’s doing,” he said, while acknowledging “maybe there is something brewing that I’m not aware of because it hasn’t surfaced yet.”
So far the only bidder to publicly throw its hat in the ring is Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd., which is currently in the midst of conducting due diligence and has until Nov. 4 to firm up its $9-a-share (U.S.) offer to take BlackBerry private. Fairfax has not named its potential partners in the deal, but CEO Prem Watsa has said that the Toronto-based company has more than enough equity support.
Fairfax had approached Canadian pension plans, in addition to various other financial and industry players, about participating in its offer. New York-based private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management LP is also known to be looking at a potential rival bid.
Mr. de Bever says time is wasting.
“The shame in all this is that this is a huge distraction for BlackBerry itself,” he said. “This company, when you really look at the state it’s in, it will be losing ground if this doesn’t get settled quickly. So anything that’s going to happen better happen quickly, because value is being destroyed.”
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