The Current

'We don't need to be paranoid': Security concerns over Aecon deal unwarranted, says expert

Should Canada assume the worst about the takeover of Canadian construction company, Aecon by a Chinese state firm? Wenran Jiang argues security concerns are overblown.
A $1.5 billion takeover of Canadian construction company, Aecon Group Inc. by a Chinese state-owned firm is under a federal government national security review to consider potential national security risks. (Arnulfo Franco/Associated Press)

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A huge business deal proposed in the Canadian construction industry is stirring debate in the House of Commons. 

Last year, a Chinese state-owned company, CCCC International Holding Ltd., offered $1.5 billion to buy the Canadian construction and infrastructure firm Aecon Group Inc., a company involved in building the CN Tower and Vancouver's Sky Train.

While construction firms have questioned the Chinese company's record on safety and corruption, it's the implications for national security that have raised red flags. 

Security intelligence expert Wesley Wark called on the federal government to do a national security review. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

National security expert Wesley Wark is one of the people raising concerns about the proposed Aecon deal. He called on the Canadian government to conduct the review, pointing to several issues that could pose a potential national security threat.

"A company like this — involved in critical infrastructure — doesn't just pour concrete, it operates in what I call an 'information space.' It has access to a lot of sensitive information, particularly on the defence side, but it can also be true of the energy side, " Wark told The Current's guest host Laura Lynch.

He argued that following guidelines that have been around since 2009 should not be construed as shutting the door to Chinese investment, but rather "far from it."

"We're saying that Canada has a national security interest in major foreign investments, and we go through a process of adjudicating these foreign takeovers to see if they might have a harmful impact on Canadian national security. That's a very legitimate — it seems to me — process to apply for any country."

Canadian construction firm, Aecon Group employs more than 12,000 people across the country. (Tobin Grimshaw, AP/Canadian Press)

Wenran Jiang, a senior fellow at the Institute of Asian Research at UBC, supports a national security review in this case, but said security concerns are overblown. 

"We don't need to be paranoid," he told Lynch.

"We do not see any reason, even by the most severe critics, to come up with any evidence that we should block the deal based on national security concerns."

Jiang said thwarting this deal would send bad signals to the Chinese and the international community.

"Making excuses to block a deal that shouldn't be blocked based on national security concerns, we consider that a state intervention in the free market."

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this page.

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The Current received a statement from the Office of the Minister of Innovation, Science & Economic Development  It reads, in part:

"We are following the advice provided to us by the national security agencies. As repeatedly stated in the past, under the Investment Canada Act, national security agencies are part of the review process from the beginning of all investments. They provide input at each step of the process and we listen to their advice."

We also contacted Aecon Group Ltd, for an interview but no one was available, but a statement was provided:

"Aecon and CCCI remain committed to working with the Investment Review Division to obtain approval of the transaction and will provide any information required. The specifics of the review remain confidential. It continues to be business as usual at Aecon – we are focused on delivering excellent service to our clients, working with our partners and bidding and securing new projects."

The Current also contacted the Chinese embassy in Ottawa, but we have not heard back.

This segment was produced by The Current's Liz Hoath and Alison Masemann and Vancouver Network Producer Anne Penman.


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