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Nov 1, 2017

Aecon takeover shouldn’t set off alarms, will likely be approved: Former ambassador

Aecon deal will 'probably' be approved by Ottawa: Former Canadian ambassador to China

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A former Canadian ambassador to China says security concerns about the proposed takeover of Calgary’s Aecon Group Inc. by a Chinese-based construction giant are overblown and shouldn’t get in the way of closing the deal.

“It doesn’t strike me as a deal that is going to be viewed as a question of national security,” Howard Balloch, Canada’s ambassador to China from 1996 to 2001, told BNN in an interview Wednesday. “As long as the company is prepared to meet the normal conditions to demonstrate net benefit I don’t see why the government of Canada would withhold approval.”

The overseas investment arm of China Communications Construction Company has agreed to pay $1.45 billion for Aecon, which has a storied 140-year history in landmark Canadian construction and engineering projects such as the CN Tower, Vancouver's SkyTrain and the Halifax Shipyard.

The purchase has raised concern among some federal politicians about national security since Aecon has done extensive work in Canada’s nuclear power and infrastructure industries.

In an interview with BNN last week, Aecon CEO John Beck dismissed those fears, noting the company’s work on the refurbishment of Ontario’s Darlington nuclear facility does not involve access to sensitive nuclear information.

Aecon CEO: China's CCCI will have 'no influence' on our day-to-day business

Aecon Group CEO John Beck joins BNN to discuss the company's takeover by China's CCCI. He says that the deal is meant to help the company compete with international players.

The Aecon takeover would likely be a net benefit to Canada, according to Balloch, because the increased heft of the company could help it to invest in, and secure contracts from, Canada’s fledgling infrastructure bank.

Before giving the deal a green light, Balloch believes the federal government will likely demand Aecon continue to provide “sustained transparency” following the foreign takeover.

“Aecon has been a public company… [Ottawa] will expect it to continue to act as if it were a Canadian public company: making public its financial statements, having independent Canadian directors on the board, and continuing to perform as if it were more or less a Canadian public company,” he said.

Balloch said there’s an “unfair” bias and skepticism about Chinese companies when they attempt takeovers in this country, despite what he believes is a strong track record of living up to undertakings after closing those deals.



“If you look at the performance of Chinese-owned Canadian companies – like some of those in the oil and gas industry – they have very much lived up to their commitments… sometimes at a time of relative difficulty for the sectors and the same is not always true for takeovers of other nationalities,” he said.