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TORONTO, Ontario (Reuters) - Canadian Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau, in a tight race to be the country's next prime minister, said on Thursday his party is open to foreign investment in Bombardier Inc as long as it protects the country's interests.
Trudeau's position contrasted with the opposition New Democrats, running third in polls, which when asked about possible Chinese investment in Bombardier said Ottawa should protect key sectors like aerospace.
The embattled Canadian plane and train manufacturer, which held unsuccessful talks to sell a majority stake in its CSeries jetliner program to Airbus also previously approached an unnamed Chinese company.
Those discussions ended three to four weeks ago, according to a source familiar with the situation.
Both party leaders spoke after they were asked whether a Liberal or NDP government would allow a Chinese company to buy a majority stake in Bombardier's CSeries project. Polls show the ruling Conservatives and Liberals virtually tied in the run up to an Oct. 19 election.
"We are always open to global investment in a way that respects and defends Canadian interests, and that is the approach we will take on foreign trade and foreign investments," Trudeau told reporters during a campaign stop.
Trudeau's comments followed a similar message from the provincial government in Bombardier's home province of Quebec. Officials signaled they are open to foreign investment after
The collapse of the Airbus talks were the latest blow to Bombardier, which is saddled with debt as the CSeries program limps toward commercial service in 2016, years late and billions of dollars over budget. The company has been struggling to sell the narrow-body jet and has not announced a new firm order in more than a year.
NDP leader Thomas Mulcair noted Prime Minister Stephen Harper had allowed China's state-owned CNOOC Ltd. to buy Canadian producer Nexen Energy.
“We’ve sold out control of our oil and gas sector to China. I’ll never allow that,” he told reporters.
Asked whether he would block any Chinese investment in Bombardier if the NDP became government, Mulcair did not rule it out, saying the law requires Canada assess if there is net benefit to the country.
"The government has to also make sure that key sectors of our economy like aerospace, like the auto sector, are not sold off, are not imperiled to the point where they have to be sold off," he said.
Quebec's Economy Minister Jacques Daoust on Wednesday signaled that a majority stake held by overseas interests would not be unusual and stressed that the most important issue for him was that the company's head office stay in Montreal.
Any deal involving the sale of the CSeries to Chinese buyers would likely trigger a federal government review.
A spokesman for the federal department responsible for foreign takeover reviews declined to comment.
Additional reporting by Euan Rocha in Toronto and Leah Schnurr and David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Christian Plumb