TORONTO, Nov 15 (Reuters) - The leader of Canada’s main oil-producing province issued a rare direct rebuke of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s foreign investment policy on Friday, saying uncertainty over the rules was taking a serious toll on investment by foreigners.
Alberta Premier Alison Redford was speaking a week after Harper said it would be “foolish” for the Canadian government to provide absolute clarity on the rules because it needed some discretion in considering takeover bids.
After a meeting of provincial premiers, she told reporters that the rules had changed so often and so unilaterally that they were deterring foreign investors.
“It’s too easy to say there needs to be a little bit of uncertainty. There is too much uncertainty right now,” Redford said.
Harper brought in new rules last December as he allowed China’s CNOOC Ltd to buy domestic energy firm Nexen Inc despite unhappiness among some legislators in the ruling Conservative Party, who did not like the idea of Chinese state-owned enterprise scooping up Canadian energy assets.
He announced that henceforth state-owned companies would be able to buy majority stakes in Canadian oil sands only in exceptional circumstances.
“This isn’t just about state-owned enterprises in China. Unfortunately many of us who are looking to equity firms in different parts of the world have heard commentary that there’s so much uncertainty right now with respect to the rules in Canada that it’s giving them pause,” she said.
The premier added that these were “sophisticated investors who understand that there’s always going to be a little give and take. But the rules have been changing so quickly and so unilaterally in Canada for far too long.”
Redford said in the last year there had been a “drastic drop in volume” of merger and acquisition activity from foreign investors.
Redford is from the provincial Progressive Conservative Party, part of the same family as the federal Conservative Party but widely seen as less right-of-center.
Peter Julian of the left-of-center federal New Democrats, said of her remarks: “What we have is another messed up economic file from the Conservatives that does not provide clarity. It does not have foreign or Canadian investors’ confidence.”