Two high-profile Canadian Conservatives back CNOOC-Nexen deal

Thu Sep 27, 2012 1:51pm EDT

* Canadian government mulls CNOOC takeover of Nexen

* Opinion on bid among governing Conservatives is split

Sept 27 (Reuters) - Two former top aides to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said on Thursday he should approve a $15.1 billion bid by China's CNOOC Ltd to take over Canadian oil producer Nexen Inc, saying the benefits outweigh the risks.

Canada's governing Conservatives are split over the bid, with some party members concerned about letting a Chinese state-owned enterprise buy Canadian energy assets. Fans of the deal say China can help provide the huge foreign investment Canada needs to develop the oil-rich tar sands of Alberta, one of the world's biggest crude deposits.

Former Conservative industry minister Jim Prentice, now a vice president at Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, said he thought the government would allow the bid to go ahead.

"We need foreign capital to develop our resources, especially the oil sands," he told BNN Television, noting that Harper has made increasing trade with China a top priority.

"It would be a very bad time to turn around in the middle of the road on that ... I think when you look at this transaction and examine it, it makes sense for Canada, and that's why I think the government will see the wisdom of that."

Current Industry Minister Christian Paradis is studying the CNOOC bid to see if it is of net benefit to Canada. The initial 45-day deadline for a government decision expires on Oct 12, but the government is likely to extend it for another 30 days.

The Conservative government shocked markets in 2010 by rejecting Australian miner BHP Billiton Ltd's takeover bid for Canadian fertilizer producer Potash Corp, making markets wary of what stance the government will take on Nexen.

Tom Flanagan, Harper's former chief of staff, also urged the government on Thursday to approve the CNOOC bid, a move he said that would show Canada is still open for business.

"The critics have genuine concerns, which deserve to be discussed, but I think it would damage Canada's interests for the minister of industry to reject this acquisition," he wrote in the Globe and Mail newspaper.

He also noted there had been no public opposition to the deal from the influential Canadian oil and gas industry.

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