Mr. Speaker, I am honoured that you recognized me. I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge your colleagues from Joliette.
I will not be sharing my time today, but I would like to take a brief moment to recognize the work of parliamentary interns. I was privileged to have Sonja Tilro on my team for several weeks. She has done an incredible job, and this speech will be one of her final contributions to my team. I would like to acknowledge this contribution, as well as that of all parliamentary interns, who are distinct assets who add value to our Parliament.
Today we have before us Bill , a government bill that seeks to amend the Investment Canada Act. This is the first major amendment to the Investment Canada Act since 2009, when the government introduced a national security review process for foreign investments. There have been no other proposals since then, other than a few concurrence amendments when entering into trade agreements.
In essence, Bill C-34 increases the government's ability to better control foreign investments, but only those that could harm national security. It makes no changes to the economic benefit part of the act. The issue of truly modernizing the Investment Canada Act is being avoided yet again and major issues will not be addressed this time either.
Bill C‑34 essentially makes seven changes to make the review process more effective. We are pleased to see that the work of the Standing Committee on Industry and Technology was taken into account and inspired these changes, which are the following: new filing requirement prior to the implementation of investments in prescribed business sectors; authority for the minister to extend the national security review of investments; stronger penalties for non-compliance; authority for the minister to impose conditions during a national security review and so on.
The Bloc Québécois supports Bill C‑34, which, in our opinion, improves oversight of investments that may be injurious to national security. However, the current version of Bill C‑34 simply does not include enough protection for our businesses in Quebec and the government has missed a golden opportunity to strengthen our business network and prevent our resources and capital from going offshore. To achieve this necessary energy transition, we need every economic tool at our disposal.
Is it still possible to add elements in order to better protect head offices and send a clear message that a multilateral agreement could be considered to meet the need, expressed by Quebec, of controlling the development of its economy and protecting businesses in the strategic niches it has created?
The Investment Canada Act was passed in 1985 and requires that the government ensure that important foreign investments are “to be of net benefit” to Canada before being approved. In 2009, the act gained a section on national security that gives the government the power to block a foreign investment if it is deemed to be injurious to national security. We are talking about investments in particularly critical sectors, especially those made by foreign governments or companies linked to those governments. Bill C‑34, introduced on December 7, 2022, by the , has improved the reviews and increased the minister's powers, but only for investments related to national security.
My speech will identify a few elements that could be studied seriously by the committee when we get to that stage of the legislative process.
A few members are here today to read what is in the bill dealing with investment in Canada. What tools will allow development to occur with confidence while maintaining some control over foreign investment? How important is the protection of intellectual property? What commitments and conditions are we prepared to demand of investors in order to promote the creation of wealth here, in Quebec?
We are preparing our future in the image of the Quebec model, and we simply want the federal government to recognize this. The federal government's foreign investment policy these past years can be summarized in two words: deregulation and permissiveness.
The policy provides for increased scrutiny when national security is at stake, but otherwise the floodgates are open. The fact is, all other foreign investments are approved virtually automatically and without review. Statutory review mechanisms, which the government readily insists on protecting in every trade agreement that it signs, are essentially rendered ineffective.
I want to come back to the work of the Standing Committee on Industry and Technology.
In the Bloc Québécois' supplementary report, which was submitted at the same time as the standing committee's, we identified the main elements that are essential to strengthening Quebec's economic development model.
Let us talk about how the Conservative and Liberal governments have handled the threshold at which agreements must be submitted for review under the Investment Canada Act over the past 10 years.
In 2013, the Conservative government set the tone when it announced plans to raise the threshold at which the government evaluates whether foreign investments are actually beneficial. Then in 2015, the Liberal government sped things up.
Do these policies have a real impact? Yes. Over the course of that decade, things went off the rails. Every time we had a chance to study this issue in committee, witnesses sounded the alarm about the flaws in the current act. The threshold is not high enough, and too many agreements simply do not get reviewed.
The result is striking. Between 2009 and 2019, the proportion of foreign investments subject to review fell from 10% to just 1%. My colleagues heard that right. Under the current rules, 99% of foreign investments are now automatically authorized without a review. That is why the Bloc Québécois demanded that the department lower the threshold.
The Quebec model includes businesses that are much smaller in size and number. The department must lower the threshold in order to stop this transfer of our intellectual property and talent into the hands of companies headquartered outside of Quebec. This problem comes at a bad time. Over the past 30 years, the nature of foreign investment in OECD countries has changed. New investment is down, while investments in the form of mergers and acquisitions of existing companies are up.
We understand that we need to get on the same footing as our trading partners. If there is one thing the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us, it is that global supply chains are fragile and that it is unwise to be completely dependent on decisions made abroad.
The new review process is essentially the same as the one in the United States. Adopting it increases the chances of the Americans continuing to consider us as a reliable partner. That is a condition for being a well-integrated preferred supplier in their supply chains.
In a context where protectionism is on the rise among our neighbours to the south, which could seriously upset our economy, it is an important asset and the Bloc Québécois applauds it. The Standing Committee on International Trade is currently looking at the possible effects of U.S. policies in favour of the electrification of transportation that have the potential of excluding our companies that specialize in this, including electric vehicle batteries. In addition to the new guideline on critical minerals which is likely to diminish China's footprint in this sector, Bill is reassuring, which is a good thing.
Critical minerals and the electrification of transportation also raise important issues. As in other countries, there are good reasons to protect our businesses and encourage them to set up near the resources they need. We cannot blame other countries for taking the opportunity to get their hands on our businesses, provided a comprehensive and thorough review has been done.
The region of Abitibi‑Témiscamingue is no exception. We are aware that our region will be coveted for its minerals such as rare earth, lithium, copper, nickel and gold. The region is full of critical minerals all the way to northern Quebec.
We also have one of the best universities, Université du Québec en Abitibi‑Témiscamingue or UQAT, which has international experts and top-notch programs. We want to play a leading role and really succeed in this field. For my part, I foresee the creation of a centre of excellence for critical and strategic minerals.
It is now time to create the necessary jobs and to undertake the long-term economic and industrial transformation towards a carbon-neutral future. The time has come to create a future where Quebec will be a global leader in clean technologies by focusing on essential minerals and the development of an innovative and sustainable ecosystem for the production of batteries, or what I call the green mine.
Bill C‑34 is in addition to the new critical minerals guidelines that the government adopted on October 28, 2022, and that apply to 31 minerals that are critical for the sustainable economic prosperity of Canada and its allies. By supporting the new government guidelines for these 31 critical minerals, more strategic projects for resource regions will be developed.
This is a real opportunity to prepare our own future through the creation of technological goods and the electrification of transportation. I am referring to the minerals necessary for the production of technological goods and the electrification of transportation. There is a real opportunity to position Canada and Quebec as leaders in exploration, extraction, processing and production, and to make Canada a leader in the production of batteries and other digital and clean technologies, and to develop an innovative and sustainable battery industry ecosystem in Quebec and Canada, including making Canada and Quebec a world leader in battery manufacturing, recycling and reuse.
In those areas, an investment from a foreign government or affiliated company will be considered a disadvantage from the outset. It will be subject to national security review and will likely be denied, except in exceptional circumstances.
The burden of proof is reversed here. The investment is refused outright, unless the investor can demonstrate that it is truly beneficial. The government recently blocked three mining investment projects by applying this directive.
That said, Bill and the new Canadian critical minerals strategy should put the brakes on Chinese companies taking our resources. It should put a stop to our industries being so dependent on foreign resources.
Let us talk about security. While we are currently talking about the risks that Chinese companies represent to our security and our technological choices in telecommunications, it is just as important to assess the risk involved in foreign investors taking our resources away from our industries. By thoroughly and diligently reviewing the economic and security components of every investment, we can capitalize on those who would bring us prosperity and avoid those who would put us at risk.
It also makes it possible for us to keep pace with our allies, particularly the United States. It guarantees that we are considered a reliable, preferred partner in trade and in the development of critical mineral supply chains and that we can continue to be a part of the green future.
The amendments to the act make the national security review process more efficient by giving the Department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, in consultation with the Department of National Security, the power to make an order extending the national security review referred to in section 25.3.
In the past, an order from the Governor in Council was needed at this step of the process. By eliminating the need for an order from the Governor in Council, the partners responsible for intelligence security will have more time to complete the intelligence analyses, which are becoming increasingly complex.
The protection of our intellectual property is another important issue. The amendments to the act put in place a pre-implementation filing requirement for some investments in designated sectors. That will enable the government to have an overview of the investments made in sectors where the investor could obtain sensitive assets and information, intellectual property or trade secrets, for example, immediately after an investment is made.
Now the government will be able to prevent that kind of irreparable damage. Investors operating in designated sectors will have to submit notice within the timelines specified in the regulations. The bill also provides for better information exchange with international counterparts. Amendments to the act facilitate international information exchange and authorize the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry to disclose information about an investor to allied countries to support their intelligence analyses and national security reviews if the minister deems it appropriate to do so.
Previously, information about a given investor was considered privileged and could not be disclosed. This amendment will enable Canada to better protect itself against investors that may be actively seeking the same technology in several countries or when there is a shared national security interest. That said, Canada would of course not communicate that information for reasons of confidentiality or any other reason.
The government's blind spot is the preservation of our economic levers. All these developments are good, but they are incomplete. The Bloc Québécois wants the government to do much more. Last year, according to the annual report the department's investment division tabled in Parliament in October, foreigners submitted 1,255 proposed investments totalling $87 billion.
Of those 1,255 investment projects, only 24, or 2%, were considered to have national security implications and would have been covered by the new rules contained in Bill . The remaining 1,221 foreign investments remain subject to the old lax rules and almost all were automatically approved without review. Only eight, or less than 1%, were reviewed to determine whether they actually provided a net economic benefit.
Over the years, the act has been weakened. The threshold below which the government does not even review the investment continues to rise. Virtually all investments pass through like clockwork without the government being given the authority, under the Investment Canada Act, to assess whether it is beneficial.
The current act, passed in the mid-1980s, assumes that full liberalization of investment is good, that just about any foreign investment is good, regardless of the loss of decision-making levers and head offices that it entails, the resulting weakening of Montreal's financial sector, the total dependence of our businesses on foreign suppliers, the possible land grab, the loss of control over our natural resources and so on.
By focusing solely on national security, Bill does not address Quebeckers' and Canadians' gradual loss of control over their own economy. For that reason, we invite the government to table another bill to modernize the entire Investment Canada Act and not just the part on national security. National security is a good thing, but so is economic security. In particular, the government must lower considerably the threshold for the approval of foreign investments without review.
We must be open to foreign investment because it is a vector of growth and development that we cannot allow ourselves to ignore. Global competition is fierce. We have a significant competitive advantage. We are reliable and our carbon footprint is by far the best thanks to our hydroelectric power.
Furthermore, we all want to support our domestic corporations and to help them grow and create wealth for Canadians. Our goal is to protect our companies and head offices, which we know are important decision-makers.
I want to reiterate that Quebec's economy is and will always be open to the world. Openness toward foreign investment is essential for enabling Quebec to access major trade networks, which is crucial for guaranteeing the prosperity of our relatively small-scale economy.
However, we must be careful about opening our doors to investors. To date, the Investment Canada Act has not helped. We are encumbered by an investment act that has been watered down in many ways since the 1980s.
The total market liberalization that plagued the 1980s had a negative impact on the quality of our local economies and resulted in the weakening of financial centres like Montreal, the withdrawal of decision-making power and tools from head offices, land takeovers, and loss of control over our own resources.
As Jacques Parizeau wrote in 2001, even before China joined the World Trade Organization, “we do not condemn the rising tide; we build levees to protect ourselves”.
Since the Quiet Revolution, the Government of Quebec has gained significant economic and financial leverage enabling it to pursue a policy of economic nationalism—the intensity of which varies from one government to the next—that gives Quebeckers greater control over their economy.
Unfortunately, as the Investment Canada Act was weakened over the years, the levee crumbled. We have to convince the government to insert new provisions into the act to shore it up.
This is a welcome development, but it is not enough. Major investments from corporations with ties to the Chinese government have shifted things. Canada is starting to realize that it needs better oversight over foreign investments and has to make sure they are beneficial before authorizing them. This bill signals an awareness that was a long time coming, and the Bloc Québécois is happy about that.
Mr. Speaker, I want to deviate from my original plan, to continue from the comments from the member for . He brings up an interesting aspect to the debate on the Rona experience. That is important in a couple of contexts I want to expand on, because it was a Canadian, Quebec-based iconic company. It still has remnants today, but it was a really good sensation for not only Quebec but also parts of Ontario and other parts of Canada. The member was very astute in reflecting on the lack of information and support we got in order to guarantee decision-making as it was taken over by Lowe's.
When we think about national security, sometimes we think about weapons, intelligence and all those matters. However, sometimes we forget that our national security also includes competition in the market and access to goods and services, which we undermine by allowing foreign takeovers like that. Now a private equity firm in the United States is basically in ownership of Lowe's. This gives more of a skewed and distorted representation, when what we had was actually a Canadian iconic company that was taken over. The decision-making process, as the member has noted, was never clear to all of Canada.
On top of that, we went through the pandemic and people actually stayed at home and did renovations. We have softwood lumber shortages and we have had lack of competition in a number of different fields. We know this from the cellphone industry, for example, but we also know it through the oil and gas industry with a lack of refining capacity. The takeover of Rona is one that we need to look at and reflect on in a different way than just as a transaction.
We traditionally feel these things through the workers and those who are directly impacted at that moment, but we also have to be more complex in Canada because we are dealing with a number of oligopolies that control certain aspects of our market. Let us look at our grocery store chains, for example, where there is a lack of competition and where there was even collusion on bread pricing and fixing. We know that at the industry committee we also heard testimony that when the hero pay was ended, the grocers all talked to each other that week and decided within the same day to stop that payment to workers.
The reason I raise these things is that there is a deeper level of vulnerability in our economy because Canada is more susceptible than the United States and Europe to a lack of competition. We have a competition law that is vastly outdated. Therefore, New Democrats will be bringing amendments to Bill at committee that actually address some of these issues, and we are hoping that we will see support for that from other parties. The committee, I will note, is well led by a bipartisan effort and we have actually done some really good work. That is why I referenced earlier the work we got done in a previous Parliament and I will return to a bit later, but the process was basically usurped because of the election.
On top of that, the current minister puts forth a fair amount of legislation that has happened and is very busy. I give him credit for all of those things, but he has yet to address that in a comprehensive way. I hope that when he comes to committee to bring the bill forward, he will be prepared to deal with some of those questions, and I think he will be. We did not hear it today, but that is okay. However, the committee process will be very robust and I am looking forward to that. I am going to get into a few of those recommendations a bit later, but I want to emphasize that, just because they were in the last Parliament, this does not mean they are irrelevant. In fact, we have had to bring back a number of reports that were dealt with.
Bill , officially the national security review of investments modernization act, is an act to amend the Investment Canada Act, and it actually goes back to the 1980s. It really dealt with the fact that many Canadian companies were being bought by U.S. firms and investment, and we had some of the hollowing out of Canada. There has been notation about the reviews, and right now, under the current process, about 99% are not even looked at or touched, so that has not worked at all. In fact, the act, in its modernization approach to it, has actually had a couple of amendments.
I first came to the House in 2002. Subsequently, in 2003, we did a review of China Minmetals and raised the fact that nondemocratic governments, that one being China, and state-owned companies were purchasing Canadian natural resources. What was ironic about this time period was that Canada, under Paul Martin and the Liberals, was divesting from Petro-Canada.
For those who remember Petro-Canada, we actually had a strategy and an investment in that, which was quite significant, but we divested it, shockingly. I could get into more details about that than are probably necessary here, but when Mr. Martin sold it, within six months we lost another $4 billion. We could have attained more for the assets because it went up in the market after that. That is a side story.
It also led to some of the problems we have now with a lack of competition for refining, because Petro-Canada was allowed to close refineries, the most significant one being in the Burlington-Oakville area. We have a lack of competition because refineries now produce for everybody, and that is one of the challenges that we have in the oil and gas sector.
I wanted to note that because China Minmetals and other companies under the state-sponsored flag were buying up Canadian companies. Ironically, we were divesting as a country from assets that we actually had, which was unfortunate, I think, and still is to this day.
At any rate, that brought in a push for us to ask for the security screen for that, and it is not just for China. I want to be clear on this. We are talking about non-democratic governments in general, and that is what I have been referring to, which should have an additional screen on them.
Also, something that has been missed, and I am looking forward to an amendment on this and how to address this, is the issue of private equity firms, where we have iconic Canadian companies that have been bought up by private equity firms, where we do not even know who the real owners are of some of those companies. Again, this could affect competition and a series of things, so I am hoping that this bill can look at an amendment to deal with some of those things as well. There have been a lot of challenges that we have with the ownership rules and, again, 99% are not even looked at as they are under the threshold right now.
The other thing about this bill, and I do give the credit on this, as he has brought it to Parliament. There have been previous amendments to this bill, in 2009 and other times, that came as part of budget implementation acts. To be fair to the government, and to be fair to the minister, when we put something through a budget, it does not get the same scrutiny that individual legislation gets.
For those policy wonks out there, and I know it is a Friday afternoon and how this place works is probably very riveting, but when it goes through a budget, the budget does not actually have all of the committee work that happens with legislation. I think that is important to note and to give the government and the credit for that, because now this will be referred to the industry committee, which has a history of doing some really good work.
It will get a full vetting process through this place and also through the Senate. Whatever comes out of the process we are going to go through here will get a full review, which is necessary. That is why it will be interesting, though. The challenge will be what will be admissible for amendments, what will be out of scope and what will be in scope. Those procedural things will start to work themselves through.
Again, this is the proper process to bring this through. We had warned about some of the weaknesses that we are dealing with today during the budget bill. When we talk and debate budget bills and those elements, they get washed over very quickly. That will not happen with this bill. It will have its proper due course and time in the House, in the chamber.
Again, as I noted, it will go through the other place, the Senate, and if they make any changes, then they will have to be approved by the House at the end of the day. Therefore, for the procedural elements, I think we will start on a much better footing than ever before.
That is why I am really still strongly advocating for the previous report that the committee did on the Investment Canada Act. It was over 70 pages. We heard a lot of witnesses. My friend in the Bloc did some excellent work on critical minerals, especially when we look at the province of Quebec, which has some very strategic assets for the province, and also with reflection to the rest of the country as well. We are going to be part of a strategy for auto and, as well, other types of battery modernization. That is critical.
There are a lot of issues to be dealt with and unpack there. I think one of the things that we look at in this bill is, again, the threshold. There are two areas that the act really kind of focuses on. The net benefit would be, if the takeover takes place, whether there will be an improvement in the Canadian economy and the workplace, and it is very subjective about that. That has been whitewashed many times before.
I will give another good example, and I am showing my age here again, with Future Shop versus Best Buy. Essentially, we had two consumer electronics marketing platforms in this country, and Best Buy basically bought up Future Shop, another Canadian iconic company, and we now have less competition, less innovation and less access for the public to access some of the services that are necessary.
I know we like to buy a lot of things online right now, but especially when it comes to the maintenance and repair of electronics, we still require certain services. Future Shop is gone now, which basically affects competition. I think that Best Buy's only competitor is really the online stores now; maybe Staples and a handful of other stores still compete with us. However, this was approved and we lost Future Shop.
The other case I want to refer to when we think about strategy, which is frustrating for me, is Zellers. If people remember Zellers, it was another iconic Canadian retail store. I put forward then, and I think the government needs to reflect on its approval of this takeover, that it had higher wages, a union, benefits, and at a time when the industry was losing money, a profit margin. Then the American store Target was allowed to come in. Target took over some stores and closed others. It then exited the country. This was basically done to eliminate competition, and it eliminated jobs as well.
I do not know what it was like in other stores, but in Windsor, it was ridiculous when Target came in. I was a goalie in hockey, but I am retired now because of my knee and a lot of other reasons. Hon. members have also reminded me of my goals against the average. At any rate, Target had multiple aisles of just one hockey stick, so it was a false takeover. These are serious things because we lost not only those jobs but also competition in a market where we have seen diminishing retail assets. It was not just about the store; it was also an anchor for other malls and shopping centres. What I am getting at is that there are many ways of looking at this.
When we have this review in Parliament, it will be interesting to see what we get regarding the capability to expand the current form of the bill. I am not sure what is going to be ruled in or out of order for some of the amendments I have. However, it will be interesting, and I am sure my colleagues will have some of those things.
One important point about the bill, and I want to talk about a couple of things that I think are important, is that a notification process would be used. Therefore, the minister would get more of a heads-up about takeovers. For me, and I think it is also fairly safe to say for some of my colleagues from the Conservatives, the Bloc and perhaps the Liberals, we will probably want more reviews or access to reviews. In my opinion, that would provide a benefit for the process. This is also going to be important when we are looking at some of the more serious innovations that we have coming forward and certain companies.
One of the things that sticks in my craw is when we have Canadian taxpayers giving money to corporations, and because there are no rules, the corporations move the innovation out of the country.
I will give a quick example. Former minister Bains, whom I enjoyed working with in this House and this chamber, gave money to Nemak, an auto manufacturer from Mexico in Windsor. Nemak had bought out a Ford assembly provision. It got money for the innovation for a transmission. This was the only Canadian facility. When this was announced, I asked what guarantees the government had that it was going to keep the work here. The government said that there was no problem and it was all taken care of. I asked how. The government said that it was done and not to worry, and that was the end of it. What ended up happening is that Nemak was a terrible employer. Not only that, but it did the innovation in the Windsor plant and then moved it to Mexico and closed the Windsor plant. We had to fight, including in court, to protect the workers' pensions and the money that was owed to them. I will not give the government credit for that, because it was horrible in this case; we had to take it to court as well.
I have seen enough of this in my community in the auto sector. I know this personally. My brother worked for Windsor Plastic Products. A foreign company took it over and took not only all its assets but also its money for the United Way and employment insurance. It basically took everything it could out of this country. We have seen this take place a few times. Nemak got the Canadian taxpayers' money and did the innovation. Now we are giving auto supports to other companies to compete against the product that was produced at our expense and is now built in Mexico. It makes no sense.
There has to be something in this act that is going to deal with some of these things. Maybe that is where we get more transparency with regard to any type of endeavours that the is allowed to do, so that the bill does have that, where the minister can put more specifics on it.
As noted earlier, some of the smaller companies we have can actually be some of the most critical. We spend a lot of money for SR&ED tax credits. They are for research, development and so forth. Those all have to become public if a Canadian company is going to be taken over by any foreign company, whether it is a state one, a non-state one or a private equity firm. I think we have the right to know if Canadian taxpayers' money has been used, whether through tax relief or innovation support, which are excellent and I support a lot of those things. There should be no shyness when one is going to the taxpayer to ask for support for a business. It has to be disclosed later on. There should be a full review. That is one of the things that can be reviewed publicly.
This legislation also creates another process for judicial review that will be behind closed doors because some of the information can be challenging for the government and the company to deal with as it involves security.
When I talk about security, I want to highlight the transition we are seeing right now in some of these small and medium-sized companies. I would like to see greater reviews on them because they deal with privacy and intellectual property. We are getting into artificial intelligence, for example, and we are actually subsidizing quite a bit of innovation on that front. I think there needs to be full disclosure for those things, to at least notify us that the money went in there. Maybe we do not know all the types of products and services that are being done, if there is sensitive information, but at least it can be noted that they received taxpayer funding. I think that would give us more confidence when it comes to this issue.
When we think of these Internet-type services and other things that are taking place right now, we have had some referrals stopped. We had MacDonald Dettwiler, and I want to thank Peggy Nash, former member of Parliament for Parkdale—High Park, who did an amazing job in this chamber stopping that takeover. The other one we fought against, and thank goodness it was stopped, was for potash, another highly publicly subsidized company, but also a natural resource that is very important in Canada. When we think about the critical minerals in the upcoming years in the auto sector, we need to be mindful of that.
Microchips were referenced in previous discussions by members from the Conservatives and the Bloc. We used to be the producers for the world in the Mississauga area. Then we allowed this to be outsourced to Taiwan quite a bit, and now the United States is into massive subsidization. We are doing some investments now too. We need to make sure that we have a long-term plan for those things.
When certain industries get a certain amount of money from the public, we should be looking at some rules and regulations on time frames once they get significant public income. That should be reviewed and mandated to have a different threshold.
Other countries have been dealing with this issue as well. Japan has brought in some new legislation, as well as Australia and even India when it comes to its land borders with other countries and investments. They brought in some new rules, as did the European Union.
I do appreciate the fact that this is coming through the chamber this time. Many times during the budget debates, my responsibility for the New Democrats was to challenge the fact that the government was doing it through a budget process and it rubber-stamped it. We are in this situation for a reason. It is because we did not do the right thing.
This is a start to do the right thing. When this does get to committee, I look forward to a co-operative process and hopefully we can do some comprehensive reform.
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time.
I am pleased to speak to Bill , an act to amend the Investment Canada Act.
Canada has a long-standing reputation for welcoming foreign investments and a strong framework to promote trade while advancing Canadian interests. In fact, Canada has one of the earliest and most robust screening processes for foreign investments in the world.
The Investment Canada Act was enacted 38 years ago, in 1985, to encourage investment in Canada that contributes to economic growth and employment opportunities. The act allowed the government to review significant foreign investments to ensure these benefits exist. The act was updated in 2009 to include a framework for national security review of foreign direct investments.
Bill would implement a set of amendments to improve the national security review process of foreign investments and modernize the ICA. Collectively, these amendments represent the most significant legislative update of the ICA since 2009. These amendments would also ensure that Canada’s review process is consistent with our allies'.
However, in my view, there is another issue in foreign direct investment that should be looked into, and that is dealing with economic security. I believe this is not only an opportunity but also a necessity that we deal with foreign direct investment that results in economic stagnation of any sector of our economy, thus affecting our long-term economic security.
Let me explain this by first quoting a couple of sentences from the backgrounder that was published, which states, “The Act is designed to encourage investment, economic growth and employment”. The backgrounder also states, “The Government of Canada has committed to promoting economic security and combatting foreign interference by modernizing the ICA to strengthen the national security review process and better mitigate economic security threats arising from foreign investment.” For me, the keywords are “economic security”. There is no mention of the words “economic security” in the bill tabled by the government that we are debating today. Probably the thought is that “economic security” and “national security” are considered as synonyms.
I will now explain the importance of economic security. Canada is growing. Our population is growing. Our economy and GDP are growing, and we need our economic sectors to grow and contribute to economic growth and employment. If any economic or industrial sector does not grow and does not contribute to economic growth due to foreign direct investment, then in my view this is a threat to economic security. Any stagnation or complete lack of economic growth in a growing economy will directly affect our economic security in the medium to long term.
I will give two examples where foreign direct investment in Canada has resulted in stagnation of economic growth, which in turn is a threat to our economic security.
The two industrial sectors that are prime examples of this are the steel and aluminum industries in Canada. All steel and aluminum sector companies in Canada are foreign-owned. Due to our encouragement of foreign direct investment, today both of these sectors, with 100% foreign ownership, have been reduced to a branch office of multinational companies that are dominating aluminum and steel industry worldwide. Due to this 100% foreign ownership, there has been no increase in production capacity in both of these sectors in Canada for the last 20 years.
During the last 20 years, aluminum production has basically stagnated at about three million tonnes. While many new aluminum smelters are being set up in China and other countries, the installed capacity of the aluminum sector in Canada has stagnated. It is the same with the steel industry. During the last 20 years, the installed capacity has basically stagnated at about 15 million tonnes. Not only is there no growth in the production capacity of steel and aluminum, but due to 100% foreign ownership, Canada’s steel and aluminum exports are limited just to the U.S. and Mexico. There are hardly any Canadian steel and aluminum exports to Europe or the growing markets in Asia.
Canada has signed numerous free trade agreements across the world. We have free trade agreements with Europe and Asia-Pacific countries. In total, we have free trade agreements with over 50 countries, but has the aluminum and steel sectors taken advantage of these free trade agreements to increase Canadian exports? The answer is absolutely no.
Therefore, my question is this: If our welcoming foreign direct investment leads to 100% foreign ownership in any entire industrial sector and this results in growth stagnation of that sector, is it not a threat to our long-term economic security? If 100% foreign ownership prevents Canadian industry from taking advantage of our natural resources and our expertise to export Canadian goods across the world, is this not a threat to our long-term economic security?
We need all sectors in our industry to add value to our natural resources and contribute to Canada's economic growth by increasing their capacity to produce. We need all economic sectors to build on our many decades of knowledge and expertise to contribute to Canada's economic growth by increasing Canadian exports across the world. I again state that if any economic or industrial sector does not grow and does not contribute to economic growth due to foreign direct investment, then in my view this is a threat to economic security. Also, any stagnation or complete lack of economic growth in a growing economy will directly affect our economic security in the medium to long term.
I call upon the House to take this opportunity to address this shortcoming in the Investment Canada Act. Other than that, I completely agree with everything else that has been proposed in the bill. There was a need to update and streamline the administrative process in light of a shifting geopolitical environment and a need for alignment with international allies and for better coordination efforts with allies.
The world looks a lot different now than in 2009 when the act was last amended. The global market has rapidly changed with shifting geopolitical threats. Canada's interactions with the rest of the world are changing. The government has seen a rise in state-sponsored threat activities from hostile state and non-state actors. They are attracted by Canada's technologically advanced and open economy and world-class research community.
The level of sophistication of these threats has also increased. Hostile state and non-state actors are deliberately pursuing strategies to acquire goods, technologies and intellectual property through foreign investments that will damage Canada's economy and undermine national security while controlling the supply chain of critical goods. In fact, Canada has one of the earliest and most robust screening processes for foreign investments in the world.
The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated this threat by creating vulnerabilities that could lead to opportunistic, harmful investment behaviour by foreign investors. They are looking to buy up vulnerable Canadian businesses. In response, the government has taken swift, concrete action to enhance scrutiny on inbound investments related to public health and critical goods and services.
The government again took action recently by enhancing scrutiny of investments involved in sensitive goods and technology, such as critical minerals, critical infrastructure and sensitive personal data. Through these amendments, the government is prepared to once again take action to strengthen the national security review while still allowing for positive foreign investments. Economic-based threats to national security are of increasing concern not just for Canada but for our allies as well.