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(Originally Published Oct. 26, 2004)

Economic Sovereignty Then and Now

Here's something to add to the list of things that have changed about Canada in the last two decades: our response to economic encroachment by other countries.

It was 24 years ago this week -- October 28, 1980 -- that the federal government of Pierre Trudeau introduced the National Energy Program. The NEP was designed to promote Canadian ownership of this country's energy resources and to moderate prices to consumers at a time when the rest of the world was paying ruinous prices for fuel and U.S. interests appeared poised to snap up Canada's energy sector.

The NEP was reviled in the Alberta oil patch, which saw the move as a grab by Central Canada of the West's resources. The Program was dismantled by the Progressive Conservative government of Brian Mulroney after their landslide election win in 1984.

Flawed as the NEP was, it at least represented a response to a set of circumstances that had the potential to dramatically transform Canada's economic landscape even as our resources slipped away into foreign hands.

So where is Ottawa's response today to China's plans to gobble up our resource companies?

China is in serious negotiations to buy up Noranda Inc., Canada's biggest mining company. And China's foreign minister told The Globe and Mail last week that his country wants to acquire more Canadian companies to satisfy its voracious appetite for natural resources to feed its super-heated economy.

All this may not necessarily be a bad thing; Prime Minister Paul Martin has welcomed the proposed takeover of Noranda. But his own industry minister said he wants the deal examined with "some depth and with some care." It is the industry minister who has it right.

It may well be that the narrow Canadian nationalism of a quarter-century ago is no longer required today. Perhaps our economy has matured to the point where we buy up properties abroad and must accept that others buy up ours. But Canadians would be well served by a debate that invites them to examine with eyes wide open the possibility that much of our resource sector could be passing into foreign hands.

There is also the human-rights dimension of all this; China's record on dissent is not an enviable one. Do we really want to have our resource sector controlled by companies owned by a state that has shown such contempt for basic human rights?

It is also useful to recall that the NEP enjoyed significant support from many Canadians who could not abide the idea of Americans taking over more of our economy. Is there no-one out there who cannot abide the idea that other foreigners are gaining control of our economy?

Email to joel@joelruimy.com

Copyright 2004 Joel Ruimy

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