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On being a Banana Republic (09/06)

I like the looks of Mick Davis, the chief executive officer (CEO) of Xstrata, the new owner of Falconbridge.

I like the looks of Mick Davis, the chief executive officer (CEO) of Xstrata, the new owner of Falconbridge. He fired the entire board of Falconbridge (with the exception of my old friend Jamie Wallace) within days of buying the company, and for good measure sent the CEO of Falconbridge packing the same day.

Mick actually should have paid them all a bonus. He couldn’t have done it without them. Jamie presumably will be gone after making introductions, but maybe he is being slated for bigger assignments in Zug. Hard to tell. Falconbridge itself will cease to exist shortly anyway.

No flies on Mick.

Over to Roger Agnelli, the CEO of Brazil’s Companhia Vale do Rio Doce, the apparent lottery winner at Inco.

“Canada is a mining country. It’s a country that has legislation, experience, tradition and very good people who work inside the sector so it was very important for us to be in a country like Canada. It’s an investment-grade country. It’s a developed country. So we had a dream—we had a dream to be there.”

No doubt Pierre Berton is rolling over in his grave. Hard to say which of Pierre’s books should be first on Roger’s summer reading list. Should it be The Promised Land, The National Dream, The Invasion of Canada, or maybe just skip to The Last Spike.

The sell-out of Sudbury is all over but the whimpering.

The federal government, in an act of uncommon effectiveness, dropped everything to speed the approval of the takeover of Falconbridge. They should do time management seminars for the Europeans who mulled over Inco’s purchase of Falconbridge for more than half a year and they don’t even have a mine in their territory. Now, they still don’t have a mine, but at least they have a new head office.

Banana Republic: (definition)  A small country (especially in Central America) that is politically unstable and whose economy is dominated by foreign companies and depends on one export (such as bananas).”

Sound familiar? Well, sort of.

Northern Ontario is huge and short on bananas. We are not politically unstable—we are politically comatose. Our economy is rapidly being dominated by foreign companies (add Domtar to that list) and yes, we depend on one kind of export. All is not lost. Global warming may provide an opportunity.

 I’ve been writing about the implications of the sell off of our mining companies for a while now, probably too much. I can’t seem to shake it. The more I try to leave it behind the more agitated I become. Part of it, I guess, is just being a sore loser.

What is most annoying is not the outcome. Life is full of wins and losses. No, it is the lethargy, the lack of passion, the lack of outrage; basically the lack of a pulse in the body politic that is so galling. The body politic includes business leaders that can’t compete.

The irony of the prime minister of the country flying to Canada’s north to declare how he will protect the sovereignty of the nation while having no opinion on the ownership of the nation’s resources defies imagination. But let’s be fair.

Ontario, which owns the resource, has no opinion either. The Tory party in Ontario has no opinion, the Liberal party of Canada and its local MPs have no opinion. To its credit, the NDP has an opinion and it is hostile. Unfortunately, having had a chance to govern this province, it is unlikely their opinion is going to count for much any time soon.

Let’s remember what matters. What matters is building sustainable communities. To do so, the public purse must get its fair share. To do so you need to make it clear to companies who have the license to exploit our minerals that they do so at our pleasure and for our benefit, not just their shareholders.

 Much of that leverage has been frittered away, but maybe all of this nonsense is an opportunity. Noranda, the precursor to Falconbridge, was no great community builder. Their bosses at Brascan hated the mining business and were trying to get out for years. Inco, while better at it than Falconbridge, did very little for a very long time. In the end, companies are like people. Within reason, they do what they have to do to make a living.

It is up to northerners to demand their piece. No one else is going to do it. Let’s hire Mick. We could use a predator.