for sale: country and contents?

by Hugh

The latest big Canadian company to get sold off to foreign interests is Alcan, the Montreal-based Aluminum giant. It’s hard to imagine any big Canadian companies left in a decade or so unless we change our policies. Among the big Canadian companies that have been sold off in the last few years: Four Seasons Hotels, Algoma Steel, Dofasco, Harris Steel, Inco, Falconbridge, Sleeman Breweries, ATI Technologies, Hudson’s Bay Company, Terasen, Westcoast Energy, Molson, Labatt, and MacMillan Bloedel. BCE was on the chopping block recently, but snatched up by the Ontario Teachers Pension Fund.

I read one report (can’t find a link, sorry) about the TSX claiming it has become a “ridiculous” exchange, slowly getting hollowed out of all the cornerstone, blue chip companies form the foundation around which smaller companies operate.

Lots of Canadians get very rich in these deals, especially shareholders and top executives … and in the short term, deals like this usually come with job guarantees etc. But in the long run, Canada loses control of the companies, and, importantly, the experience of running big successful corporations – since top decision-making gets exported elsewhere, even if, as in the case of Alcan, a nominal head office stays in the country. This is worrisome.

All this is especially important in the oil and gas sector (considering that, I think, we’re heading soon to peak oil) where we’ve sold off a huge percentage of ownership to foreign companies. Compounding that worry is our inability, under NAFTA, to exercise any national energy security policies. I gather no other major industrial country in the world has such a set policy of selling off control of the national economy.

A number of big names in corporate Canada are worried:

As Derek Burney, former CEO of CAE, has said, “virtually every country in the world, including the bastion of free enterprise on our southern border, has the means to review and block transactions in the name of national security or national interest.”

Other big corporate guys who agree include the CEO of Manulife, and, according to our pal Layton, others saying that the issue must be addressed include: Gordon Nixon (Royal Bank Canada), Gerry Schwartz (Onex Corp.), Peter Munk (Barrick Gold Corp.) and Dick Haskayne (former CEO of several Alberta oil and gas companies).

So what happens next?