Minister of Industry Jim Prentice said Thursday he has yet to make a decision on extending the deadline to approve the sale of the space and robotics division of MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. but said approval wouldn't be granted unless it met with a "net benefit" for Canadians.
Prentice has until March 22 to approve the $1.3 billion sale of the MDA division behind the Canadarm and the Radarsat 2 satellite to American defence contractor Alliant Techsystems, or ATK.
Appearing at a standing committee on industry, science and technology looking into the deal, Prentice was repeatedly asked by committee members Peggy Nash, a New Democrat MP, and Scott Brison, a Liberal, to extend the deadline 30 days but he declined to commit to an extension.
"I have not reached that point yet. I have not made that decision," he said, explaining the Investment Canada Act does not require him to ask for an extension of the review until the deadline is reached. Until that time, he said he would review the proposed sale carefully.
"I will be diligent in ensuring the net benefits are examined and the interests of Canadians are protected," he said.
Nash had first called for the extension last week to give the committee a chance to speak to more people on the issue, including MDA. The company was invited to appear at the hearings but declined because of the short notice it was given.
Key to the proposed sale is the recently launched Radarsat 2 satellite, which is capable of producing images of the Earth with a three-metre resolution.
Under a deal between MDA and the government — which contributed $430 million to the project through the Canadian Space Agency — MDA owns the satellite and can generate revenues from commercial contracts with other nations, while federal departments in turn will be able to access information from the satellite at no cost.
Former astronaut Marc Garneau appeared before the committee last week asking the sale to be blocked, arguing "MDA is not just another Canadian company."
Garneau, the former president of the Canadian Space Agency and federal Liberal candidate, said MDA is the only space company in Canada capable of building large satellites.
Hugh Thompson, a spacecraft systems engineer at MDA, told the committee last week he doesn't want to work for ATK, which makes cluster bombs, mines and munitions as well as rocket components.
On Tuesday, MDA shareholders voted 99.9 per cent in favour of the transaction, but the deal still requires regulatory approval in both Canada and the U.S.