The federal government's strategy on foreign investment and ownership is eroding provincial control over natural resources such as oil and gas, federal NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair says.
In a visit to the hub of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's political base, Mr. Mulcair spoke to the Calgary Chamber on Tuesday – playing to Albertans' long-held concerns regarding federal meddling in provincial matters. He argued the Conservative government has tread on provincial turf by not paying enough attention to Alberta Premier Alison Redford's government's request for tougher management and employment conditions before China's state-owned CNOOC Ltd. was given permission by Ottawa to take over Calgary-based Nexen Inc. in December. He also said Ottawa's investment treaty with China – the Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA) – ties the hands of provinces when it comes natural resources.
Mr. Mulcair said once Chinese state-owned companies such as CNOOC have their foot in the door in the oil sands, they will be able to use the investment agreement to be treated like any other Canadian company and expand their ownership in Canada's oil and gas sector – using the threat of legal action if its interests are impeded. This could tie the hands of the provinces as well, he said.
"Taken together, what FIPA and the CNOOC bid do is to remove Alberta's ability to independently control its own natural resource policy, while ceding enormous control of our natural resources to a foreign power," Mr. Mulcair told the business audience Tuesday.
Mr. Mulcair also said the Harper government "even ignored" the Alberta government last year during talks for the $15.1-billion Nexen bid. For instance, he said the Alberta government's requests – including, according to some news reports last fall, that CNOOC should only be allowed to take over Nexen if it guaranteed 50 per cent of management positions would be held by Canadians – were given short shrift.
However, a spokesman for Ms. Redford said the federal government did address Alberta's original concerns.
"We requested that the federal government include a number of additional requirements as a condition of approval – in areas including maintaining job levels, investment guarantees and ensuring Nexen/CNOOC's North American headquarters remain in Calgary. I'm afraid I can't be any more specific than that," Stefan Baranski said in an e-mail on Tuesday.
"I can say that Alberta was satisfied that our concerns were addressed and much of our advice was reflected in the ultimate approval."
The Redford government has also said it will seek clarity from Ottawa on the "exceptional circumstances" required for Ottawa to give any future approvals to foreign state-owned enterprises seeking a controlling share of oil sands companies.
In his Tuesday speech, Mr. Mulcair also suggested the Conservatives might be backing off from the China investment agreement, noting that the government has yet to ratify the deal even though it was signed last September.
"I can't help but wonder if a light's suddenly gone on and they've just realized now what they've gotten us into," he said.
Mr. Mulcair said his party is in favour of trade and foreign investment, but only if it's done right – with, for instance, certainty about what constitutes a "net benefit" to Canada when foreign takeovers are scrutinized. He said the party opposed the CNOOC/Nexen deal because the full details weren't given to Canadians.