Canada Gets Its Hands Dirty

by Deon Daugherty, Senior Editor

Blanket statements about a specific group of people is typically frowned upon, but I submit that in this case, it would a tough assertion to challenge.

Canadians are known to be rather nice people.

Even after the Obama administration strung along TransCanada’s polite request for a presidential permit – for seven long years – did you hear CEO Russ Girling or Alberta’s Prime Minister Albert Justin Trudeau hurl barbs across the border? Nope.

In fact, you’re more likely to hear harsher words between former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and his onetime protégé Marco Rubio as they battle it out for the GOP nomination for U.S. president. Come to think of it, that sort of nastiness could be the logic behind the sentiment heard every four years that, “If so-and-so becomes president, I’m moving to Canada.”

And now, I’ll bring you to the nexus of my thesis: Canada’s gentle nature may be due for a good shaking.

Our neighbor to the North is currently in the midst of one of its biggest attempted hostile takeovers in its history. You see, in Canada, an opportunistic company can appeal to another’s shareholders – essentially bypassing the board of directors – with a takeover attempt. Suncor Energy is attempting to do just that with a C$4.5 billion stock-for-stock offer to the shareholders of Canadian Oil Sands (COS). If that sounds strange, it’s because that approach wouldn’t fly in the U.S., where the board carries significantly more sway than its shareholders.

After months of unfriendly negotiating, management at COS isn’t happy because they say Suncor is undervaluing them. Meanwhile, Suncor is having to negotiate through a pre-emptive set of regulatory changes that makes its bid that much more complicated. A situation ripe for hostility.

But when I interviewed Aaron Atkinson, a Canadian lawyer and corporate consultant in Toronto at Fasken Martineau, I had to tell him that writing about Canada and using the word “hostile” in my lede seemed counter-intuitive.

He got it, and laughed. His perspective, though, reflects the landscape of the energy industry, whatever the country.

“That’s true,” he said of his gentle countrymen, quickly adding, “But I think people can get pretty nasty up here if they have enough at stake.”

 

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