Public deserves answers on Chinese takeover of Canadian construction giant

John Ivison
John Ivison

This self-proclaimed government of openness and transparency should re-assure Canadians that it has not already loosened the investment review rules

When Canada’s largest construction group signed a $1.5 billion deal to be acquired by state-owned CCC International of China in late October, the company’s chairman, Brian Tobin, called it “a very positive outcome”.

The former Liberal Cabinet minister is also vice-chair of BMO Capital Markets, which is advising Aecon on the acquisition, so it’s no wonder he is happy. (Apparently such an arrangement, though not illegal, is unusual. Aecon says that a special committee oversaw the sale process and that Tobin was not a member of that committee.)

It remains to be seen whether the merger will be equally positive for other Canadians.

The Prime Minister has just returned from China where he courted foreign investment and advocated a free trade deal that would offer protection and certainty.

Canada already trades with China and stands to gain from a robust agreement. But that does not mean that we should wave through all acquisitions made by Chinese companies.

Aecon argues that, quite apart from a hefty premium for shareholders, the deal will provide access to capital and an international network.

Critics, like former Conservative cabinet minister Peter MacKay, claim that the Canadian government needs to block the takeover of major industries by state-owned Chinese enterprises that don’t operate according to market principles.

The deal was raised in the House of Commons Monday by Green leader Elizabeth May, who asked Justin Trudeau to assure Canadians that it would be given a thorough review before being rubber-stamped.

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