Aecon Chinese takeover bid is latest to be blocked by federal government
A number of big-ticket international acquisitions have been squashed by the feds on national security grounds over the years
TORONTO—The federal government’s decision Wednesday to block the $1.5-billion acquisition of Aecon Group Inc. by a Chinese state-owned company over matters of national security makes it the latest takeover deal quashed after reviews under the Investment Canada Act.
Such reviews target investments made by foreign companies trying to acquire control of Canadian businesses and allow the federal government to stop deals it deems “injurious to national security.”
Here’s how a few recent takeover attempts fared when facing a government analysis:
2018: REJECTED: Aecon Group Inc.
Ottawa announced that China-based CCCC International Holding Ltd’s bid for Aecon would face a review in February. Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains said that based on advice from security agencies, the government believed there was “a potential of injury to national security.”
Experts had urged the government to proceed cautiously when weighing any investment bids by Chinese state firms and to be as transparent as possible in reviewing the proposed deal.
On Wednesday, the deal was rejected, prompting Aecon to release a statement saying it was disappointed with the decision.
Some worried the decision would have an impact on Canada-China relations, which has been a significant priority for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau since his 2015 election.
The Chinese embassy in Ottawa responded to the decision by warning it that it would affect the relationship between the two countries and would “seriously undermine the confidence” of Chinese investors.
2017: APPROVED: Norsat
Last June, China’s Hytera Communications received approval to purchase Vancouver-based Norsat International Inc., which developed a satellite system for the Canadian Coast Guard and counts the Taiwanese Army, the U.S. Department of Defense, Fox News and Boeing as clients.
The deal underwent a preliminary security screening, but then the federal government decided to waive a further review and approve the deal.
In the wake of the deal, a U.S. congressional commission pushed for the Pentagon to puts its relationship with Norsat under review, saying Canada’s approval of the deal “raises significant national-security concerns for the United States as the company is a supplier to our military.”
2017: APPROVED: ITF Technologies
O-Net Communications, which is partially owned by the Chinese government, purchased Montreal-based ITF Technologies in 2015 and landed approval from then-prime minister Stephen Harper’s government.
The Conservative cabinet flip-flopped after a national security review warned the deal would speed up China’s ability to domestically produce military laser technology meeting Western standards, Globe and Mail sources alleged.
In 2017, Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government scrapped the decision and called for a new review, which allowed O-Net to keep ITF.
2014: REJECTED: Beida Jade Bird
In 2014, Chinese company Beida Jade Bird wanted to open a 130,000-square-foot alarm manufacturing plant in Saint-Bruno, Que. and hire dozens of employees by the end of 2015. La Presse reported the plans went awry when the federal government forced Beida Jade Bird to undergo a national security review.
Unnamed sources that spoke to LaPresse said the $30-million location was rejected because of its close proximity to the Canadian Space Agency’s headquarters.
2013: APPROVED: Nexen
In December 2013, Chinese state-owned entity China National Offshore Oil Co. Ltd won approval from the federal government to buy Canadian oil and gas company Nexen Inc. and its Long Lake oilsands project for US$15.1 billion.
When the deal was first announced in July, CNOOC made a series of guarantees to the Canadian government around job creation, head office location and corporate governance, leading Industry Minister Christian Paradis to say he was satisfied that the deal would be a net benefit to Canada.
2013: APPROVED: Progress Energy Resources Corp.
At the same time as the CNOOC deal won approval, Prime Minister Stephen Harper gave Malaysia’s Petronas the go-ahead to buy Progress Energy Resources Corp., which was developing natural-gas lands in northeastern B.C. and had significant presence in northwest Alberta.
The $6-billion deal was initially rejected by the federal government, but the company later revised its proposal to make new commitments to satisfy the federal government.
2013: REJECTED: Manitoba Telecom Services’ Allstream
A sale of the Manitoba Telecom Services’ business unit Allstream to Egyptian investment group Accelero Capital Holdings was blocked in October 2013 by then-industry minister James Moore over “unspecified national security concerns.”
The government’s move to block Accelero had many worried because it came just as BlackBerry was putting itself up for sale and as Tony Clement, the then-treasury board president and former industry minister, reasserted that the country would be stringently reviewing any foreign investment from a national security perspective.
2013: ENDED: Wind Mobile
Amsterdam-based telecommunications company VimpelCom stepped away from its June 2013 bid to acquire Globalive Wireless Management Corp. and its subsidiary, Wind Mobile, as the deal was awaiting approval from federal regulators.
Some suggested VimpelCom’s withdrawal came because approval was taking too long to secure, but the company said at the time only that “it continues to be interested in consolidating its interest in Wind Mobile Canada and in working with the government of Canada to achieve this goal.”
2010: REJECTED: Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan
Mining giant BHP Billiton walked away from a $40-billion hostile takeover bid it had made for PotashCorp in November 2010, after Ottawa ruled that it would not offer net benefits to Canada.
Then-industry minister Tony Clement initially declared the government would stop the deal, but gave BHP Billiton an extra 30 days to alter its deal before he made a “final decision.”
The proposed deal had been mired in criticism from then-Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall, who had pushed for the federal government to “stand up for Canada and Canada’s national strategic investments” by denying the bid, which the province complained would wreak havoc on its economy because of potash’s prominent role in Saskatchewan’s food production.
2008: REJECTED: MacDonald Dettwiler and Associated Ltd.’s space division
In April 2008, the federal government stopped a $1.3-billion deal that would have seen Vancouver-based MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates’ space division, which refurbished the Canadarm, find a new home at the U.S.-based Alliant Techsystems Inc.
Jim Prentice, industry minister at the time, said the sale was blocked because “we don’t see net benefits to Canada in this transaction.”
It was reportedly the first deal stopped by Industry Canada since its act came into effect in 1985.
Before Prentice announced the ruling, former Canadian Space Agency head and former astronaut Marc Garneau argued it would result in taxpayer-funded technology being sold off and would hamper the future of Canada’s satellite-building capabilities because MDA had exclusive global rights to images taken from the RADARSAT-2 satellite.
After the sale was blocked, the federal government amended the Investment Canada Act national security test and warned that fewer foreign investments in the country would meet its requirements.
Since then, MDA has transformed into a U.S. company and is listed on the New York Stock Exchange with a new name, Maxar Technologies.