A line in the snow

Thank goodness Industry Minister Jim Prentice is taking an extra month to consider the sale of MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. (MDA) to foreign interests. At the end of his consideration, he must reject the transaction.

Canada has too few global brands. In our more than 140 years as a nation, you can count on one hand the Canadian manufacturing firms known around the world: Massey-Ferguson (long gone), Bata, Nortel (for a time), Bombardier and Research in Motion. MDA belongs among the celebrated because of Canadarm, Canada’s contribution to the International Space Station, as well as Radarsat-2, an observation satellite. The prospective owner, Alliant Techsystems Inc., a Minnesota-based munitions maker, is unlikely to honor the heritage.

MDA shareholders have voted 99.9 per cent to sell; shareholders always do. But in Canada’s mixed economy, where private and public sectors create together, there are other owners. Taxpayers have contributed $500 million to the success of Radarsat and MDA. Doesn’t that give all of us a vote?

The Conference Board of Canada recently produced a study claiming that foreign takeovers don’t matter, there is no hollowing out of Canada. This conclusion, following the loss of our entire steel industry last year – just the most recent asset grabs after decades of denuding – has been challenged by Dominic D’Alessandro, president and CEO of Manulife Financial, himself a $15-billion buyer of a U.S. giant, John Hancock Financial Services. “There’s something wrong when you have too few leaders,” said D’Alessandro. “Every country needs its heroes, and I think Canadians are poorly served by the point of view that says, ‘It doesn’t matter.'”

Minister Prentice, here’s your chance to be a hero.

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