OTTAWA (Reuters) - The Canadian government brought in a rising political star to handle the sensitive issues of telecommunications policy and foreign takeovers on Monday, naming James Moore as industry minister as part of a wider cabinet shuffle.
Moore, 37, will be the Conservative government’s point person on whether to allow foreign enterprises to buy domestic companies. This would give him a crucial role if outsiders were try to take over smartphone maker BlackBerry, a Canadian innovation success story now fallen on hard times.
He will also take the lead on issues related to telecommunications, where the government has said it will reject any sales of wireless spectrum that would lead to further concentration in a market already dominated by three big players.
Moore, a tall, imposing figure, is no stranger to controversial files after five years in charge of the politically charged heritage portfolio.
As heritage minister, Moore was responsible for funding the arts and the Canadian Broadcasting Corp, neither of them popular causes among the more right-wing sections of the Conservative government’ political base.
But his tenure at heritage was marked by few signs of unhappiness from party supporters, which government officials say is a testament to Moore’s deft handling of the two files.
Canada, a bilingual country wary of Americanizing influences from its powerful southern neighbor, gives special weight to cultural and heritage issues, while the idea of foreign takeovers of Canadian companies is also unpopular for many.
There are strict limits on foreign investment in the telecommunications and banking sectors, and the industry minister may block foreign takeovers if they are not seen as being of net benefit to Canada. It is up to the minister to determine exactly how to apply that opaque “net benefit test”.
Canada has blocked only a handful of foreign takeovers in recent years, one of them a blockbuster bid from global mining giant BHP Billiton for fertilizer company Potash Corp, which faced tough opposition from politicians in the Prairie province of Saskatchewan, where the crop nutrient potash is mined.
Moore would face difficult decisions if a foreign company were to bid for all or part of BlackBerry.
The company, under its old name of Research In Motion, thrived for a decade as the inventor of successful devices for on-your-hip email, and Moore’s predecessor in the industry department, Christian Paradis, said he hoped it would survive as a Canadian company.
But BlackBerry has faced a big loss of share of an increasingly competitive market. Last month it reported disappointing sales and a wider-than-expected quarterly loss, reviving speculation that it may be forced to seek a buyer.
Writing by Janet Guttsman; Editing by Peter Galloway