Investing in a strong Canada-China relationship


A recent forum by the University of Alberta brought together academics, senior government officials, and business and industry executives to discuss public policy issues related to Chinese investments in Canada.

The high-level forum supports the provincial government’s international efforts, said Teresa Woo-Paw, associate minister of international and intergovernmental relations.

“Alberta plays a vigorous role in focusing and prioritizing international activities, and our efforts are enhanced tenfold by a knowledgeable and engaged private sector, as well as the support and involvement of the non-profit sector and educational partners,” Woo-Paw said. “I commend the China Institute for this opportunity to discuss public policy challenges and to explore where opportunities lie for Alberta to deepen trade and investment ties with China.”

The minister made the comments in Calgary during the forum, Public Policy Dimensions of Chinese Investment in Canada, organized by the U of A’s China Institute.

Calgary’s mayor, Naheed Nenshi, underscored that statement.

“This forum is vital,” he said. “Change happens in the world when there’s engagement. And investment from China into Canada—and conversely, Canadian investment into China—are an important part of starting relationships. We still need to talk about human rights, labour standards and the environment. But we cannot do that in the absence of business relationships, so a forum like this helps to create and foster those relationships.”

The forum comes amid considerable public policy discourse on future Canada-China economic relations and on the heels of a recent Government of Canada report, Canada-China Economic Complementarities Study, which outlined seven sectors of opportunity for growth in commerce.

But for those opportunities to become realities, there needs to be a coherent public policy between all levels of government, says Gordon Houlden, director of the China Institute.

“All 14 governments are aligned in wanting more investments in Canada. Where it gets complicated is the resources sector, where the provinces own the resource but where the federal government has responsibilities in terms of investment promotion. And in those areas there needs to be more coherence of policy, because if we don’t have that between the federal and provincial governments, there’s a risk that will drive away foreign investment, to the detriment of the Canadian economy.”

Nenshi agrees, noting that there’s a need for the federal and provincial governments—and also municipal governments, in some cases—to talk together about the benefits of investments.

“Business benefits when you reduce risks, and the largest risk is uncertainty,” Nenshi says. “The federal government’s policy needs to be more proactive so that people know immediately, early, what the ground rules are as they’re starting to think about the way they invest. What does national benefit mean? How will it be defined? These are examples of questions that will be helpful for foreign and domestic business.”

To help answer those and other questions, delegates spent the day tackling issues such as recent developments in Chinese investments in Canada; public policy implications of Chinese investments, with a focus on the energy sector; understanding state-owned enterprises; and future prospects for Chinese investments in Canada and Alberta.

U of A board chair Doug Goss welcomed delegates and noted the importance of their deliberations in light of China’s investments in Canada—which reached $20 billion last year.

“The rapid rise of China in the 20th century, most notably its economy, and its bright prospects for the 21st century, compel us to consider carefully the implications of Chinese economic success for Canada,” he said. “China, now possessing deep reserves of foreign currency, can be a key part in building 21st-century prosperity for Canadians. The China Institute is dedicated to enhancing understanding on issues involving both China and Canada by creating opportunities, such as this high-level forum, for fruitful and substantive dialogue.”