Harper’s foreign-ownership math

theglobeandmail.com – blogs – Strategic consultant Bruce Anderson writes about contemporary politics and broader social trends.
Thursday, March 11, 2010.   Bruce Anderson

One of the items in last week’s Throne Speech that has been garnering a fair bit of commentary is the intention by the government to open up the telecom sector to greater levels of foreign investment. While the decision is triggering some news coverage, and a bevy of questions for more detail about what the government intends and how it will proceed, the basics of this decision are a lot less controversial than they would have been 10 or 20 years ago.

By a margin of 55 per cent support to 36 per cent opposed (from the latest Harris Decima poll conducted for The Canadian Press) voters like this element of the government’s plan. It has strong appeal among the Conservative base (70 per cent support), but what’s more noteworthy is that barely half of those on the left of the spectrum, NDP supporters, oppose this idea. Fully 60 per cent of Liberal voters like it. While women are a little less sure than men, more women support this idea than say they will vote Conservative, so the bottom line is that if the government thinks this is good policy, there is little risk of public backlash.

It wasn’t always this way.

Consumers have come to believe that the nationalism that makes us want to see strong Canadian enterprises shouldn’t be a substitute for thoughtful public policy about how to attract investment to Canada and how best to stimulate competition.

We want Canadian companies to be able to compete around the world, and win against the best in the world, and we get that this is a lot easier if we don’t impose unusual conditions on where they can go to attract the investment capital they need to grow.

What’s more, we’re also a pretty convinced that laws and regulations can ensure that businesses operate in our national interest. Constraints on access to capital are increasingly seen as a blunt, unnecessary, and sometimes harmful alternative to regulation.

As the government proceeds along this course, it can take some comfort in the trends in public opinion that have been clear for some time: this kind of policy may not be water cooler chatter for a lot of folks, but the basic idea the government is pursuing is reasonably well understood, and pretty broadly supported. The burden of proof, if a debate really does materialize, will tend to rest mostly on those who oppose this shift, rather than those who support it.

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