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Albertans wary of Chinese oil sands ownership

University of Alberta poll suggests Chinese resources investment is acceptable, but ownership is less welcome.


October 25, 2012
by The Canadian Press

CALGARY—Albertans are wary of Chinese investment in the province—especially full ownership of Alberta companies, according to a poll by the University of Alberta’s China Institute.

The think-tank polled 1,210 people just days before China National Offshore Oil Co. announced its controversial $15.1-billion deal to take over Calgary-based Nexen Inc.

On balance, it’s a mix of positive negative. Albertans are quite conflicted in their views of China,” said institute director Gordon Houlden.

The annual survey found 37% of those polled agreed partial Chinese investment in Alberta is acceptable, with 36% disagreeing and 27% undecided.

The numbers, however, were more extreme when it came to full ownership—only 15% agreed it is acceptable, 64% disagreed and 21% neither agreed nor disagreed.

When it comes to investment, Albertans are on balance negative in their views. When it comes to full ownership in particular of Alberta-based companies by Chinese enterprises, it’s seen as undesirable,” said Houlden, a former Canadian diplomat who’s had five postings in China.

Though the institute hasn’t done polling since the Nexen deal was announced, Houlden said “if anything, I think perhaps the views have become more polarized and probably more negative on balance.”

The Nexen-CNOOC deal is currently being weighed by Industry Minister Christian Paradis, who must determine whether the transaction is of “net benefit” to Canada. The review is to last until Nov. 11, though it can be extended in 30-day increments with the permission of the buyer.

The net benefit test has been criticized for its lack of clarity, though Prime Minister Stephen Harper promised earlier this week that new guidelines would be coming “soon.” Unease has been growing since Ottawa’s surprise rejection of Malaysian company Petronas’ $6-billion takeover of Calgary-based natural gas producer Progress Energy Resources late Friday.

Attitudes in the survey were divided starkly along political lines, with supporters of the right-wing Wildrose Party much less enthusiastic about Chinese investment than voters further left on the political spectrum.

I think that the wariness of China has an ideological dimension as well as an economic dimension,” said Houlden.

On the more positive side, the poll suggested Albertans are not particularly threatened by China’s rise as an economic power, are in favour of exporting oil and gas to China and view China as a stable trading partner.

Alberta Premier Alison Redford said she’s skeptical of the interpretation of the survey results.

I’ve seen some of the results of that. I think that that’s jumping to quite a conclusion. What Albertans have said, as I understand it, is they want to make sure that as governments, that we’re making sure that there’s a net benefit to Canada.”

©The Canadian Press