Stephen Harper spent the election campaign asking Canadians for a majority to ensure the country’s economic stability. And, indeed, “stability” appears to be an accurate summary of Harper’s plan now that voters have granted his fondest wish. Rather than be emboldened by a hefty mandate, the Prime Minister seems satisfied to continue with the same incremental economic agenda that defined his last term. But amid promises of more of the same, there is slight hope that the Conservative government might finally address a long neglected issue — foreign ownership laws.
Nearly five years ago, then Industry Minister Maxime Bernier struck a panel led by Lynton “Red” Wilson, the former president and CEO of BCE, to review Canada’s foreign ownership laws. The panel delivered its report in the summer of 2008, calling for increased foreign ownership in a host of sectors, from telecommunications to mining to the airline industry. And then — nothing happened.
While the government constantly promised to take action on the panel’s findings, no legislation was ever tabled. In the meanwhile, myriad high-profile news stories — from Industry Minister Tony Clement overruling the CRTC’s ruling that Windmobile violated foreign ownership guidelines to the government’s decision to block the sale of Potash Corp. to BHP Billiton — made clear why Canada’s foreign investment guidelines must be updated.
A story in today’s Globe and Mail suggests the government may finally be ready to tackle the foreign ownership issue. As Jay Myers, president and CEO of Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters told the paper, the stable government could ” remove some of the partisan and political calculations out of some of these major policy decisions.” And so this sleeper issue — largely absent during the election itself — looks like one place where the Conservatives will decide incremental change is no longer good enough and a more brash approach is required. As Canadian Business has said before, such action would be not only welcomed, but also long overdue.