Mr. Speaker, I want to deviate from my original plan, to continue from the comments from the member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue. He brings up an interesting aspect to the debate on the Rona experience. That is important in a couple of contexts I want to expand on, because it was a Canadian, Quebec-based iconic company. It still has remnants today, but it was a really good sensation for not only Quebec but also parts of Ontario and other parts of Canada. The member was very astute in reflecting on the lack of information and support we got in order to guarantee decision-making as it was taken over by Lowe's.
When we think about national security, sometimes we think about weapons, intelligence and all those matters. However, sometimes we forget that our national security also includes competition in the market and access to goods and services, which we undermine by allowing foreign takeovers like that. Now a private equity firm in the United States is basically in ownership of Lowe's. This gives more of a skewed and distorted representation, when what we had was actually a Canadian iconic company that was taken over. The decision-making process, as the member has noted, was never clear to all of Canada.
On top of that, we went through the pandemic and people actually stayed at home and did renovations. We have softwood lumber shortages and we have had lack of competition in a number of different fields. We know this from the cellphone industry, for example, but we also know it through the oil and gas industry with a lack of refining capacity. The takeover of Rona is one that we need to look at and reflect on in a different way than just as a transaction.
We traditionally feel these things through the workers and those who are directly impacted at that moment, but we also have to be more complex in Canada because we are dealing with a number of oligopolies that control certain aspects of our market. Let us look at our grocery store chains, for example, where there is a lack of competition and where there was even collusion on bread pricing and fixing. We know that at the industry committee we also heard testimony that when the hero pay was ended, the grocers all talked to each other that week and decided within the same day to stop that payment to workers.
The reason I raise these things is that there is a deeper level of vulnerability in our economy because Canada is more susceptible than the United States and Europe to a lack of competition. We have a competition law that is vastly outdated. Therefore, New Democrats will be bringing amendments to Bill C-34 at committee that actually address some of these issues, and we are hoping that we will see support for that from other parties. The committee, I will note, is well led by a bipartisan effort and we have actually done some really good work. That is why I referenced earlier the work we got done in a previous Parliament and I will return to a bit later, but the process was basically usurped because of the election.
On top of that, the current minister puts forth a fair amount of legislation that has happened and is very busy. I give him credit for all of those things, but he has yet to address that in a comprehensive way. I hope that when he comes to committee to bring the bill forward, he will be prepared to deal with some of those questions, and I think he will be. We did not hear it today, but that is okay. However, the committee process will be very robust and I am looking forward to that. I am going to get into a few of those recommendations a bit later, but I want to emphasize that, just because they were in the last Parliament, this does not mean they are irrelevant. In fact, we have had to bring back a number of reports that were dealt with.
Bill C-34, officially the national security review of investments modernization act, is an act to amend the Investment Canada Act, and it actually goes back to the 1980s. It really dealt with the fact that many Canadian companies were being bought by U.S. firms and investment, and we had some of the hollowing out of Canada. There has been notation about the reviews, and right now, under the current process, about 99% are not even looked at or touched, so that has not worked at all. In fact, the act, in its modernization approach to it, has actually had a couple of amendments.
I first came to the House in 2002. Subsequently, in 2003, we did a review of China Minmetals and raised the fact that nondemocratic governments, that one being China, and state-owned companies were purchasing Canadian natural resources. What was ironic about this time period was that Canada, under Paul Martin and the Liberals, was divesting from Petro-Canada.
For those who remember Petro-Canada, we actually had a strategy and an investment in that, which was quite significant, but we divested it, shockingly. I could get into more details about that than are probably necessary here, but when Mr. Martin sold it, within six months we lost another $4 billion. We could have attained more for the assets because it went up in the market after that. That is a side story.
It also led to some of the problems we have now with a lack of competition for refining, because Petro-Canada was allowed to close refineries, the most significant one being in the Burlington-Oakville area. We have a lack of competition because refineries now produce for everybody, and that is one of the challenges that we have in the oil and gas sector.
I wanted to note that because China Minmetals and other companies under the state-sponsored flag were buying up Canadian companies. Ironically, we were divesting as a country from assets that we actually had, which was unfortunate, I think, and still is to this day.
At any rate, that brought in a push for us to ask for the security screen for that, and it is not just for China. I want to be clear on this. We are talking about non-democratic governments in general, and that is what I have been referring to, which should have an additional screen on them.
Also, something that has been missed, and I am looking forward to an amendment on this and how to address this, is the issue of private equity firms, where we have iconic Canadian companies that have been bought up by private equity firms, where we do not even know who the real owners are of some of those companies. Again, this could affect competition and a series of things, so I am hoping that this bill can look at an amendment to deal with some of those things as well. There have been a lot of challenges that we have with the ownership rules and, again, 99% are not even looked at as they are under the threshold right now.
The other thing about this bill, and I do give the minister credit on this, as he has brought it to Parliament. There have been previous amendments to this bill, in 2009 and other times, that came as part of budget implementation acts. To be fair to the government, and to be fair to the minister, when we put something through a budget, it does not get the same scrutiny that individual legislation gets.
For those policy wonks out there, and I know it is a Friday afternoon and how this place works is probably very riveting, but when it goes through a budget, the budget does not actually have all of the committee work that happens with legislation. I think that is important to note and to give the government and the minister credit for that, because now this will be referred to the industry committee, which has a history of doing some really good work.
It will get a full vetting process through this place and also through the Senate. Whatever comes out of the process we are going to go through here will get a full review, which is necessary. That is why it will be interesting, though. The challenge will be what will be admissible for amendments, what will be out of scope and what will be in scope. Those procedural things will start to work themselves through.
Again, this is the proper process to bring this through. We had warned about some of the weaknesses that we are dealing with today during the budget bill. When we talk and debate budget bills and those elements, they get washed over very quickly. That will not happen with this bill. It will have its proper due course and time in the House, in the chamber.
Again, as I noted, it will go through the other place, the Senate, and if they make any changes, then they will have to be approved by the House at the end of the day. Therefore, for the procedural elements, I think we will start on a much better footing than ever before.
That is why I am really still strongly advocating for the previous report that the committee did on the Investment Canada Act. It was over 70 pages. We heard a lot of witnesses. My friend in the Bloc did some excellent work on critical minerals, especially when we look at the province of Quebec, which has some very strategic assets for the province, and also with reflection to the rest of the country as well. We are going to be part of a strategy for auto and, as well, other types of battery modernization. That is critical.
There are a lot of issues to be dealt with and unpack there. I think one of the things that we look at in this bill is, again, the threshold. There are two areas that the act really kind of focuses on. The net benefit would be, if the takeover takes place, whether there will be an improvement in the Canadian economy and the workplace, and it is very subjective about that. That has been whitewashed many times before.
I will give another good example, and I am showing my age here again, with Future Shop versus Best Buy. Essentially, we had two consumer electronics marketing platforms in this country, and Best Buy basically bought up Future Shop, another Canadian iconic company, and we now have less competition, less innovation and less access for the public to access some of the services that are necessary.
I know we like to buy a lot of things online right now, but especially when it comes to the maintenance and repair of electronics, we still require certain services. Future Shop is gone now, which basically affects competition. I think that Best Buy's only competitor is really the online stores now; maybe Staples and a handful of other stores still compete with us. However, this was approved and we lost Future Shop.
The other case I want to refer to when we think about strategy, which is frustrating for me, is Zellers. If people remember Zellers, it was another iconic Canadian retail store. I put forward then, and I think the government needs to reflect on its approval of this takeover, that it had higher wages, a union, benefits, and at a time when the industry was losing money, a profit margin. Then the American store Target was allowed to come in. Target took over some stores and closed others. It then exited the country. This was basically done to eliminate competition, and it eliminated jobs as well.
I do not know what it was like in other stores, but in Windsor, it was ridiculous when Target came in. I was a goalie in hockey, but I am retired now because of my knee and a lot of other reasons. Hon. members have also reminded me of my goals against the average. At any rate, Target had multiple aisles of just one hockey stick, so it was a false takeover. These are serious things because we lost not only those jobs but also competition in a market where we have seen diminishing retail assets. It was not just about the store; it was also an anchor for other malls and shopping centres. What I am getting at is that there are many ways of looking at this.
When we have this review in Parliament, it will be interesting to see what we get regarding the capability to expand the current form of the bill. I am not sure what is going to be ruled in or out of order for some of the amendments I have. However, it will be interesting, and I am sure my colleagues will have some of those things.
One important point about the bill, and I want to talk about a couple of things that I think are important, is that a notification process would be used. Therefore, the minister would get more of a heads-up about takeovers. For me, and I think it is also fairly safe to say for some of my colleagues from the Conservatives, the Bloc and perhaps the Liberals, we will probably want more reviews or access to reviews. In my opinion, that would provide a benefit for the process. This is also going to be important when we are looking at some of the more serious innovations that we have coming forward and certain companies.
One of the things that sticks in my craw is when we have Canadian taxpayers giving money to corporations, and because there are no rules, the corporations move the innovation out of the country.
I will give a quick example. Former minister Bains, whom I enjoyed working with in this House and this chamber, gave money to Nemak, an auto manufacturer from Mexico in Windsor. Nemak had bought out a Ford assembly provision. It got money for the innovation for a transmission. This was the only Canadian facility. When this was announced, I asked what guarantees the government had that it was going to keep the work here. The government said that there was no problem and it was all taken care of. I asked how. The government said that it was done and not to worry, and that was the end of it. What ended up happening is that Nemak was a terrible employer. Not only that, but it did the innovation in the Windsor plant and then moved it to Mexico and closed the Windsor plant. We had to fight, including in court, to protect the workers' pensions and the money that was owed to them. I will not give the government credit for that, because it was horrible in this case; we had to take it to court as well.
I have seen enough of this in my community in the auto sector. I know this personally. My brother worked for Windsor Plastic Products. A foreign company took it over and took not only all its assets but also its money for the United Way and employment insurance. It basically took everything it could out of this country. We have seen this take place a few times. Nemak got the Canadian taxpayers' money and did the innovation. Now we are giving auto supports to other companies to compete against the product that was produced at our expense and is now built in Mexico. It makes no sense.
There has to be something in this act that is going to deal with some of these things. Maybe that is where we get more transparency with regard to any type of endeavours that the minister is allowed to do, so that the bill does have that, where the minister can put more specifics on it.
As noted earlier, some of the smaller companies we have can actually be some of the most critical. We spend a lot of money for SR&ED tax credits. They are for research, development and so forth. Those all have to become public if a Canadian company is going to be taken over by any foreign company, whether it is a state one, a non-state one or a private equity firm. I think we have the right to know if Canadian taxpayers' money has been used, whether through tax relief or innovation support, which are excellent and I support a lot of those things. There should be no shyness when one is going to the taxpayer to ask for support for a business. It has to be disclosed later on. There should be a full review. That is one of the things that can be reviewed publicly.
This legislation also creates another process for judicial review that will be behind closed doors because some of the information can be challenging for the government and the company to deal with as it involves security.
When I talk about security, I want to highlight the transition we are seeing right now in some of these small and medium-sized companies. I would like to see greater reviews on them because they deal with privacy and intellectual property. We are getting into artificial intelligence, for example, and we are actually subsidizing quite a bit of innovation on that front. I think there needs to be full disclosure for those things, to at least notify us that the money went in there. Maybe we do not know all the types of products and services that are being done, if there is sensitive information, but at least it can be noted that they received taxpayer funding. I think that would give us more confidence when it comes to this issue.
When we think of these Internet-type services and other things that are taking place right now, we have had some referrals stopped. We had MacDonald Dettwiler, and I want to thank Peggy Nash, former member of Parliament for Parkdale—High Park, who did an amazing job in this chamber stopping that takeover. The other one we fought against, and thank goodness it was stopped, was for potash, another highly publicly subsidized company, but also a natural resource that is very important in Canada. When we think about the critical minerals in the upcoming years in the auto sector, we need to be mindful of that.
Microchips were referenced in previous discussions by members from the Conservatives and the Bloc. We used to be the producers for the world in the Mississauga area. Then we allowed this to be outsourced to Taiwan quite a bit, and now the United States is into massive subsidization. We are doing some investments now too. We need to make sure that we have a long-term plan for those things.
When certain industries get a certain amount of money from the public, we should be looking at some rules and regulations on time frames once they get significant public income. That should be reviewed and mandated to have a different threshold.
Other countries have been dealing with this issue as well. Japan has brought in some new legislation, as well as Australia and even India when it comes to its land borders with other countries and investments. They brought in some new rules, as did the European Union.
I do appreciate the fact that this is coming through the chamber this time. Many times during the budget debates, my responsibility for the New Democrats was to challenge the fact that the government was doing it through a budget process and it rubber-stamped it. We are in this situation for a reason. It is because we did not do the right thing.
This is a start to do the right thing. When this does get to committee, I look forward to a co-operative process and hopefully we can do some comprehensive reform.