Sydney port deal still on with controversial Chinese firm

Controversy surrounding the China Communications Construction Company isn't expected to affect a proposed container terminal project for Sydney harbour.

Feds block takeover of Canadian operation by China Communications Construction Company

A ship passes the contained disposal facility in Sydney Harbour where the Cape Breton Regional Municipality is proposing to build a container terminal. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

Government and port officials in Cape Breton are forging ahead on a proposed container terminal project that includes a controversial Chinese partner.

On Wednesday, the federal government blocked the China Communications Construction Company's plan to take over Aecon, a Canadian construction firm, citing national security concerns.

The Chinese company is one of several Canadian and international firms that has agreed to help build a container terminal in Sydney.

Marlene Usher, CEO for the Port of Sydney Development Corp., said Thursday the federal decision could have upset local plans.

But, she said, the Chinese firm, known locally as Quad C, is still working with port marketer Albert Barbusci on the plan.

Marlene Usher, CEO of the Port of Sydney Development Corp., says she doesn't have any specific concerns about the China Communications Construction Company. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

"We were disappointed, just in the sense that Quad C will be disappointed, and we just don't want that to lessen their appetite to come to Canada," Usher said.

"But having said that, Albert's been in contact with them every step of the way so no, they're very much still interested in our project."

The state-controlled Chinese company has been sanctioned internationally for bid-rigging, but is still considered one of the world's largest construction firms.

The container terminal project is still in the planning stages, and officials have said they still need to find a shipping line to commit to using a terminal in Sydney harbour before construction can begin.

Usher said she doesn't have any specific concerns about the Chinese company, and said further due diligence will be conducted before any final deal is struck.

"I do know that this company has a good reputation in construction," she said. "They've partnered on other projects internationally in Australia. They have a very solid relationship with us."

CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke says the federal decision to block an investment by the China Communications Construction Company has no bearing on the local container terminal project. (George Mortimer/CBC)

Cecil Clarke, mayor of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality and the main architect of the current container terminal proposal, said the federal decision to block an investment by Quad C has no bearing on the local project.

"The federal government has done what it has the jurisdiction and the authority to do in the interests of Canada, but we also know the government's committed to Canada-Asia-and-China trade and that's what we'll stay focused on," he said.

Nova Scotia Business Minister Geoff MacLellan said regardless of what has happened elsewhere, the province intends to strictly enforce local laws.

The province doesn't have the power to veto a local deal with the Chinese firm, but it will ensure the municipality and the port authority adhere to regulations on municipal land use and taxation, labour and the environment, he said.

Nova Scotia Business Minister Geoff MacLellan says the province doesn't have the power to veto a local deal with the Chinese firm. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

Companies from other parts of Canada and around the world need to know they can invest with confidence in Nova Scotia, and Nova Scotians need to be able to trust the province to look after their best interests, MacLellan said.

"I don't think any Cape Bretoner would mind an investment as long as we are protected, and seeing those details is exactly how we would verify that their investment is safe and our land and our assets here are safe, as well," he said.

About the Author

Tom Ayers

Reporter/Editor

Tom Ayers has been a reporter and editor for 32 years. He has spent the last 14 years covering Cape Breton and Nova Scotia stories. You can reach him at tom.ayers@cbc.ca.