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Prime Minister Stephen Harper is greeted by Canadian Rangers as he arrives in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, on Thursday.

Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Public opinion and reciprocity will be important issues for Canada as it weighs whether to allow the $15-billion (U.S.) bid by Chinese oil company CNOOC Ltd. for Nexen Inc., Prime Minister Stephen Harper said on Thursday.

Speaking to reporters during a tour of the Canadian Arctic, Mr. Harper said the deal had big implications for the Canadian economy.

Asked whether public opinion would play a role in the government's decision, and why a Chinese company could buy a Canadian one if Canadians cannot buy Chinese firms, Mr. Harper noted that Canada has "significant and growing" investment in China, but added: "You do raise some important questions."

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Canada's Sun newspapers ran an online Abacus Data poll on Thursday which said that 57 per cent of 2,099 respondents opposed approving the deal and only 9 per cent favoured it. However fewer than half of respondents were aware of the proposed transaction, which would be China's biggest foreign takeover.

"This is a significant transaction with significant implications for the Canadian economy, both today and in the long term, and I think those considerations need scrutiny and they need some clear long-term policy direction," Mr. Harper said, according to a transcript of his remarks.

"Our government will take the time we have to properly scrutinize this transaction, and to assess that if it is to go ahead, that it will only go ahead if it is in the best long-term interests of the Canadian economy, not just net benefit of Canada, but in the best long-term interests of the Canadian economy, and that will be measured across a range of considerations, including some of the ones you've mentioned."

Canadian law requires a proposed foreign takeover to be deemed to be of "net benefit" to Canada for the industry minister to approve it. Mr. Harper did not explain how that "net benefit" concept differed from "the best long-term interests of the Canadian economy."

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver told Reuters in China in February that any long-term strategic relationship with China would have to be based on "mutual respect, reciprocity and equality."

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