The time is now - right now - for the Canadian government to step up to the plate and use the Investment Canada Act review provisions to demonstrate that, like the leaders of Canada's great global companies, it has graduated from scout status to being a full partner in global competitiveness.
It is a crying shame that dreadful management has destroyed a great Canadian company in Nortel. But that doesn't mean that as some kind of bizarre penance we have to help a major global competitor of RIM acquire important Canadian-made intellectual property assets that it can, and will, use against Canadian interests.
I can't get past that last sentence: it betrays a fundamental misunderstanding about what Canadian interests are. Yes, certain Canadian firms may find themselves in a more difficult position - but then again, if ownership of Nortel's assets were crucial to survival, there's an obvious remedy: pay the full market price for them.
I can't think of any reason why we should care about the nationality of the person who owns those patents. Seriously: who cares? Apart from the warm fuzzies ("It's ours!") and indulging in unseemly bits of xenophobia ("No outsiders!"), there isn't much in the way of a concrete reason to have a preference. Moreover, arguments based on the fact that public funds were used to subsidise Nortel should be dismissed out of hand: that money is a sunk cost. When you do a cost-benefit analysis, you always ignore sunk costs.
Martin's argument explains much
of our current problems when it comes to productivity. Here we have a
case of intellectual assets that have been produced by Canadians, and
their owners are expected to accept less than full market price. Why?
Because no Canadian investor thinks that they're worth what foreigners are
willing to spend.
Right there, we see why no Canadian in their right mind would spend much time or effort doing R&D: they know that the best price they can ever get is one offered by other Canadians. And this price is always going to be lower than what other innovators in other countries can expect to receive.
Worse, this also means that Canadian bidders can knowingly low-ball when they make their offers for Canadian-born intellectual property. Why didn't RIM outbid Ericcson? Because they know that they could bid low, invoke patriotism and still get the assets at a discount?
If we want Canadian firms to start thinking that R&D and innovation are things of value, perhaps we should disabuse them of the notion that they can be had on the cheap.