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When I pick up the phone, the voice on the other end says: "Zena, could you please stand by for Mr. Martin. He’d like to talk to you about the topics for his interview with Howard."
After a few seconds I’m connected to the unmistakable voice of former Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin. And I know which of the four broad topics I’ve suggested for the interview he’ll zero in on -- foreign investment, state-owned oil companies and the proposed takeover of Nexen by CNOOC.
He launches right in. "Now look, with that whole question of foreign investment, I’m going to have to be honest right now and tell you I may try to duck that one. You can ask the question of course – you gotta do what you gotta do – but I don’t know if people want to hear from an old war horse like me on this."
After a bit more conversation, we both know where we stand -- we’ll ask and he’ll 'duck' to the extent that he can.
I hang up the phone and I settle in to preparing the research for one of the Howard Green’s regular talks with the former prime minister, each one refreshing and enlightening in its own way. And I marvel at the fact that it is the first time that a prime minister -- former or current -- has ever called ME.
You can hear the interview for yourself in the links to the videos on the right. But what emerges from Friday’s interview with Martin is an engaging half-hour on topics ranging from the U.S. fiscal cliff ("Americans should come to grips with the fact that they are not an overtaxed country."), to the crisis in the euro zone ("You must have the same institutions in a monetary union as you have in a political union."), and whether there is a housing bubble in Canada ("We’re nowhere near the problems of the U.S., and there are even signs that housing is coming back.").
And yes, he did have something to say about foreign investment in Canada and the question of state-owned enterprises buying important Canadian assets.
"There has to be a different set of rules" on foreign state-owned enterprises wanting Canadian assets, he says. Rules that "perfectly satisfy that there will not be misuses of the power of the state."
And while the former prime minister is in favour of greater free trade with China, he says there should be more openness and transparency on Canada’s side when it comes to discussing issues such as reciprocity and the Canada-China Investment Treaty (a.k.a the Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement) which comes into effect at the end of the month.
So much for ducking.