Nortel is too valuable to lose

For Conservatives gathering here tomorrow for their summer strategy session, the simmering controversy over the bankruptcy sale of Nortel Networks poses a puckish question: Is it reasonable to expect a minority federal government to walk and chew gum at the same time?

For Conservatives gathering here tomorrow for their summer strategy session, the simmering controversy over the bankruptcy sale of Nortel Networks poses a puckish question: Is it reasonable to expect a minority federal government to walk and chew gum at the same time?

Walking in politics is winning and the current ruling party has now accomplished that twice. Chewing is advancing the national interest and Conservatives, in sorry contrast to the best of their minority predecessors, have yet to get the hang of it.

After three-plus years in power, Stephen Harper’s party is more proficient at politics than policy. Whether waiting patiently for a majority to impose core beliefs or accepting compromise as the price of power, the result is the same.

Decisions that change the country for better or worse are influenced more by the search for partisan advantage than the public good.

Run a moist finger down the list of Conservative priorities and find Conservative demographics. Twice trimming the GST, positioning punishment at the centre of criminal justice and spending big on the military are as popular with the party base as an aggressive green plan, a balanced foreign policy or best-and-brightest education and industrial strategies are not.

That’s understandable, familiar and fair enough. As Brian Mulroney memorably observed, “Ya gotta dance with those that brung ya.”

So it’s really no surprise the Prime Minister is rushing public billions to the rescue of the multinational auto giants while making it easy for foreigners to buy what’s left of Canadian icon Nortel.

Not just the dominant industry in Ontario, the province that decides federal elections, the auto sector also employs many thousands of those ordinary, hard-working, tax-paying folks Harper talks about so often.

On the other hand, Nortel’s payroll is largely offshore and those who do work here are not stereotypical Conservative voters.

There are other reasons why this government waited until yesterday to show any interest in a Canadian solution to the Nortel problem.

Accounting scandals, the sickening plunge from stock market heights that hurt so many small investors and the company’s failure to build support for a new business model all make it easier for Ottawa to turn away than get involved.

Whatever the rationale or the politics, the national interest is best served by bringing a fitter, more competitive and Canadian Nortel out of bankruptcy.

That isn’t going to happen if a foreign firm, with $300 million in help from Export Development Corp., is allowed to own Nortel’s most valuable wireless assets. It won’t happen if Conservatives, fixated on narrow politics, lose sight of what’s broadly important for the country.

As the Science, Technology and Innovation Council recognized in last year’s report, it’s essential to build on Canada’s competitive advantages. One of those is a company on the wireless cutting edge.

Conservatives owe it to our future to protect that asset. They can do it by putting the Ericsson purchase under foreign investment review long enough for Research In Motion, the Waterloo BlackBerry creators, and interested equity investors to prove they are ready and able to raise a viable phoenix from Nortel’s ashes.

That Industry Minister Tony Clement is now willing to at least consider scrutinizing the offshore purchase is a pin step in the right direction.

But Ottawa needs to chew long and hard before Canada spits out something of such sustaining national significance.

James Travers is a syndicated national affairs columnist for The Toronto Star.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Lyn Radford, 2019 Canada Winter Games board chair, was named 2020 Sport Event Volunteer of the Year at the Prestige Awards. (File photo by Advocate staff)
WATCH: Lyn Radford wins award for volunteer efforts

The board chair of the 2019 Canada Winter Games in Red Deer… Continue reading

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Red Deer dips below 300 active COVID-19 cases

The number of active COVID-19 cases in Red Deer continued to drop… Continue reading

A candlelight vigil will be held in Red Deer on Thursday to honour the 350-plus people killed in the Easter bombing attack in Sri Lanka. Contributed photo
Candlelight vigil planned for deaths linked to Olymel COVID-19 outbreak

A candlelight vigil is being planned for those who died due to… Continue reading

Red Deer Rebels forward Jaxsen Wiebe battles Calgary Hitmen forward Cael Zimmerman for a loose puck when the two teams squared off in February last season. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Calgary Hitmen shutout Red Deer Rebels

Rebels name centre Jayden Grubbe team captain ahead of Friday’s game

Bryson, six, and Mara, eight, play with puppies from Dogs With Wings Saturday. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
WATCH: Dogs With Wings introduces Red Deer program

A program that trains puppies to be certified service, autism, facility and… Continue reading

Walter Gretzky father of hockey hall-of-famer Wayne Gretzky waves to fans as the Buffalo Sabres play against the Toronto Maple Leafs during third period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Tuesday, January 17, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Funeral for Walter Gretzky to be held Saturday in home town of Brantford, Ont.

The funeral for hockey legend Wayne Gretzky’s father Walter will take place… Continue reading

A sign for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service building is shown in Ottawa on May 14, 2013. A newly released audit report shows that difficulties with the judicial warrant process at Canada's spy agency — an issue that made headlines last summer — stretch back at least nine years. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Spy warrant shortcomings stretch back almost a decade, newly released audit shows

OTTAWA — A newly released audit report shows that difficulties with the… Continue reading

In this file photo, a lotto Max ticket is shown in Toronto on Monday Feb. 26, 2018. (By THE CANADIAN PRESS)
No winning ticket for Friday night’s Lotto Max jackpot

TORONTO — No winning ticket was sold for the estimated $29 million… Continue reading

A trial countdown sign marks the days at George Floyd Square, March 4, 2021, in Minneapolis. Ten months after police officers brushed off George Floyd's moans for help on the street outside a south Minneapolis grocery, the square remains a makeshift memorial for Floyd who died at the hand of police making an arrest. The trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin will begin with jury selection on March 8. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
Officer’s trial could reopen intersection where Floyd died

MINNEAPOLIS — During a group’s recent meeting at the now-vacant Speedway gas… Continue reading

FILE - In this Aug. 30, 2020 file photo Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell calls for an end to violence in the city during a news conference a day after a demonstrator was shot and killed in downtown Portland. Amid protests following the police killing of George Floyd last year Portland dissolved a special police unit designed to focus on gun violence. Critics say the squad unfairly targeted Black people, but gun violence and homicides have since spiked in Oregon's largest city, and some say disbanding the 35-officer unit was a mistake. (Sean Meagher/The Oregonian via AP, File)
As violence surges, some question Portland axing police unit

PORTLAND, Ore. — Elmer Yarborough got a terrifying call from his sister:… Continue reading

Harley Hay
Harley Hay: Just don’t call it cod liver oil

Many people swear that a daily dose of various vitamins is an… Continue reading

Email editor@auburn-reporter.com
Letter: Preserving green spaces in Red Deer

The Advocate published an article Feb. 11 about Sunnybrook residents concerned about… Continue reading

Former Toronto Argonauts lineman Chris Schultz remembered as a gentle giant

Former Toronto Argonauts lineman Chris Schultz remembered as a gentle giant

Most Read