Canada is building a reputation for uncertainty on foreign investment – by Martha Hall Findlay (Globe and Mail – February 16, 2016)

Our federal government has changed, but certain economic fundamentals have not. Canada relies on trade and depends significantly on foreign investment. Being open to trade and investment has been fundamental to Canada’s historical success – and it’s key to our future success.

Foreign investors require stability and certainty. Canada does well in offering political and economic stability, but after a decade of inconsistent decisions, lack of clear criteria, mixed messages to the global investment community, inability to move forward with indigenous communities and, more recently, disregard for our own regulatory decisions, we are building a unique reputation for uncertainty.

In 2010, Ottawa’s refusal to allow Australia’s BHP Billiton’s purchase of Potash Corp. surprised many. The decision was seen as political, and ripples were felt throughout the global investment community. In 2012, Canada approved the acquisition of Nexen by China’s CNOOC, only to immediately, and confusingly, impose rules preventing other similar investments.

Canada made flip-flopping decisions on foreign investment in the telecom sector as well. In 2009, it actively supported investment by Orascom in Wind Mobile (to the point of cabinet overruling the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission with respect to foreign-ownership rules).

Yet it subsequently refused (on undisclosed national security grounds) to allow Accelero, controlled by the same interests as Orascom, to acquire MTS Allstream. The decision was a surprise not because of the importance of national security issues, but because Canada had so recently been so welcoming to investment by the same interests in the same sector.

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