The CEO Poll: Gimme shelter

Canadian business leaders are wary of foreign ownership.

Business leaders give the federal mini-budget high marks.

The Competition Policy Review Panel last week delivered its long-awaited report on Canada’s foreign investment practices, recommending changes to the country’s ownership rules and stressing the need for Canadian companies to be more competitive abroad. A group of 119 CEOs offered their own thoughts on foreign ownership in a poll conducted by COMPAS Inc.

Most of the CEOs believe Canada’s foreign ownership policies are uncoordinated and need to be re-examined, although 29% of the respondents say the country’s rules tend to work well in their current form. A more nuanced series of questions revealed the business leaders to be largely in agreement on a number of ownership-related issues.

The respondents are most adamant that militarily significant sectors of the economy be protected from foreign ownership, including uranium mining. Nearly 95% of them agree. (The Competition Policy Review Panel, however, recommended liberalizing investment restrictions around uranium mining.)

A strong majority of the respondents (80%) say some form of protectionism is necessary for oil and gas producers, whereas only 53% feel the cultural and media sectors should be protected.

The CEOs believe strongly in reciprocity, meaning they would be more receptive to ownership from companies located in countries that are also open to allowing Canadian investment. “Reciprocity is vital,” wrote one respondent. “Equality in markets is paramount to healthy competition.”

Private companies are viewed more favourably than state-owned firms, and the CEOs were lukewarm about the idea of using ownership policy to promote democracy, such as limiting the ability of companies based in undemocratic countries to buy Canadian assets.