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article imageCanada Day OP/ED: The Pride of our Products and the Spectre of Foreign Ownership

By Kyle Pallanik     Jun 30, 2007 in Business
With Canada Day Just one day away, it's time to celebrate the heritage of our country, but with so many of our companies and home grown products now owned by foreign companies. Just what is there that we can truly call Canadian anymore?
Do you remember those rousing Molson Canadian ads with the guy ranting on the microphone proudly proclaiming 'I Am Canadian!' They really struck a chord with beer drinkers and the company did really well, until 2005 when Molson Inc. merged with Adolph Coors Co. to become Molson Coors Brewing Co.
 I Am Canadian ?  Uh  not so much anymore.
'I Am Canadian'? Uh, not so much anymore.
Selling off to foreign ownership has almost become a trend in the beer industry since Labbatt Brewing Co. Ltd, was sold to Belgium's Interbrew SA in 1995 after being a Canadian owned heritage company since 1847. Last year Sleeman Breweries Ltd. was bought by Japanese Sapporo Breweries Ltd. There are still over 100 micro breweries that are proudly Canuck and enjoy support from Canadian beer drinkers, but they are left to do their own research into exactly who is actually Canadian owned and not just brewed in Canada.
Well what about Canada Dry? That's got to be Canadian right? Well it was founded in Toronto in 1904, but it's been a footnote in the portfolio of Texas based Dr. Pepper/Seven Up since 1982.
Eatons, which was once one of Canada's largest retailers and with a history going back to 1867, was bought by Sears which is based out of Chicago. Even older than that, the Hudson Bay Company, the oldest commercial corporation in North America and as much a part of Canadian history as the fur trade in British North America, was sold to Jerry Zucker, the South Carolina billionaire.
Other examples include ATI Technologies, a Canadian graphics chip maker, which is now owned by California based AMD. Bauer, Cooper and Hespeler, all historic hockey equipment manufacturers are all owned by Nike. Speaking of hockey, the legendary Montreal Canadiens and the building that they call home are owned by American George N. Gillett Jr. Even exclusive rights to RCMP images on souvenirs is owned by California based Walt Disney.
I guess we'll all have to sit back and enjoy a Tim Horton's coffee on Canada day but even that was merged with Dublin Ohio based Wendy's in 1995. However, in 2006, Wendy's made it into a separate publicly traded company and Tim Horton's head office remains in Oakville, Ontario.
One cannot discuss this topic without seeing the influence of foreign interest in the oil industry, where some estimates state that more that 50 percent of the precious resource is foreign owned. Of all the manufacturing in Canada, more than 50 percent of those revenues also go to foreign pockets. Auto Manufacturing, one of the country's most important industries is dominated by companies based out of Japan, USA and Germany.
What exactly is the problem here? Are Canadians really good at developing products to the point where they become major household entities, but before they get a chance to put them on the international market, somebody from out of town comes around waving wads of money in their faces? Do we blame the governments of Brian Mulroney or Stephen Harper for eroding Canadian interests while they kow tow to American presidents? Do we blame feint hearted CEO's for not having the vision or the bravery to burst into the international stage?
There are certainly some political problems, especially the negative effects of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which allows foreign companies gain unprecedented control over natural resources without much fear of interference by the government.
Perhaps we can take Roots as a role model. The store concept was based on the childhood experience of founders Michael Budman and Don Green, at Camp Tamakwa, a summer camp in Algonquin National Park. They have shown up on the world stage with outfits for olympic athletes and are actively pursuing interests in Southeast Asia, in partnership with Hong Kong based Li & Fung Trading Ltd. I wish them well in their endeavour. I hope they tap into that massive Chinese market and prove to other Canadian enterprises that they shouldn't sell out so early and give the international market a shot. Canadian investment in other countries is only a small fraction of the total national revenue each year. It's time to raise the ante.
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