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Canada alone will decide on Nexen: PM

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OTTAWA -- A $15-billion bid by China's state-owned offshore oil company for Canada's Nexen Inc. "raises a range of difficult policy questions," Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Thursday.

But Harper says cautionary signals from the United States about the takeover bid will not be a factor in whether the deal ultimately gets the green light.

"I don't think it's a surprise for me to tell you the government of Canada will take its own decision, irrespective of what the government of the United States does," the prime minister said at a joint availability news media session with the visiting president of Tanzania.

"We don't, obviously, follow their judgments in these matters."

Nexen, a Calgary-based oil and gas company, is Canada's 10th-biggest revenue generator in the industry and there are widespread concerns about it falling under the control of the Chinese National Offshore Oil Co.

Those concerns have spread as far as the U.S. Congress due to Nexen's considerable American operations.

In July, Rep. Ed Markey, the ranking Democrat on a congressional natural resources committee requested the takeover be blocked by U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner.

"Giving valuable American resources away to wealthy multinational corporations is wasteful, but giving valuable American resources away to a foreign government is far worse," Congressman Ed Markey wrote to Geithner.

A U.S. Energy Department spokeswoman subsequently stated "regulators are looking closely at this deal," and last month, CNOOC formally asked the American government to review its Nexen proposal for national security concerns.

The same debate is taking place north of the border, with the Harper government under sharp attack from its political opponents for a Foreign Investment Review Act that critics characterize as opaque and unclear.

The prime minister acknowledged Thursday his government is wrestling with the CNOOC-Nexen review.

"This particular transaction raises a range of difficult policy questions, difficult and forward-looking issues," Harper said.

"Those things will all be taken into account under the act in assessing the net benefit of this investment to this country before we take a decision. And obviously we continue to gather information and opinion on that."

Harper was responding after the NDP finally declared itself formally against the takeover Thursday following weeks of calling for a full public airing of the sale.

Although the official Opposition doesn't get a say in the matter -- not even a parliamentary vote -- New Democrats claim to have public opinion on their side as they make the case for rejecting the CNOOC takeover, citing issues from national security and environmental concerns to CNOOC's human rights and employment record.

"We've certainly seen the opinion polls moving over the last month as well, showing more and more opposition by Canadians to this takeover," said Peter Julian, the NDP natural resources critic.

Alberta Premier Alison Redford said Thursday foreign investment has contributed to her province's economic growth. She said she has provided some advice to Ottawa on the merits of the deal, which she says contains a number of agreeable principles, though she wouldn't elaborate on specifics.

Industry Canada's current review period for the proposal ends Oct. 12 but can be extended by up to a month.

At issue is a net-benefit test for Canada under the Investment Canada Act, a list of parameters that have been widely criticized as open to political manipulation.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 5, 2012 B6

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