First on BNN: Aecon Group CEO John Beck defends Chinese takeover
Aecon Group Chief Executive Officer John Beck is firing back at critics of the company’s proposed sale to a Chinese state-owned enterprise. In an interview on BNN, Beck said any assertions the engineering and construction giant would become a pawn of Beijing’s Communist Party as a result of a sale to the overseas investment arm of China Communications Construction Company were untrue.
“It is repeated in the media that some security experts say that we’re going to be an agent of a communist government. Really?” he said.
“We are not going to be representatives of a foreign government. I mean, we just aren’t.”
Critics of the $1.5-billion deal have said, if consummated, it would jeopardize the security of some of the key infrastructure projects, including nuclear reactors and power grids, that Aecon helps build. Beck dismissed those concerns, arguing the company merely follows instructions.
“We pave roads, we pour concrete, we pull cable, we cut and we weld pipe. We have no access to intellectual property, we have no access to proprietary knowledge,” he said.
“We do what we’re told to do through specifications and government drawings or private sector drawings and details, and we don’t operate those things, we have no access to what’s going inside those things. We don’t operate electricity grids; we don’t operate anything that we have built.”
Aecon has been involved in the engineering and construction of some iconic Canadian landmarks, including Toronto’s CN Tower, Montreal’s Place Ville Marie and the St. Lawrence Seaway.
A former top Canadian security official said he’s unconvinced the company could escape Beijing’s influence if it falls into the hands of a Chinese state-owned enterprise. In an interview on BNN, former Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) Director Ward Elcock said CCCI is beholden to one party and one party only: the Chinese government.
“A Chinese [state-owned enterprise] serves only one master, and that master is ultimately the Communist Party of China. It defines what it wants its companies to do,” he said.
“Some may want us to believe that those companies will have Canada’s interests at heart, but it’s hard to imagine that a state-owned enterprise in China owning a company in Canada has any interest but advancing the interests of China.”
Beck said there was no way Aecon would agree to a deal that restricts the company’s ability to make its own decisions, independent of political interference.
“We would be run by a Canadian management team, we would abide by Canadian laws, rules and commercial practices, and none of that which is alleged, we understand, could possibly take place in what we do,” he said.
Beck said there would be no job cuts if the deal falls through, but CCCI has a track record of going on hiring sprees after acquiring a company, and looked to its A$953-million acquisition of Australia’s John Holland as a template.
“In the example of John Holland in Australia, which is about the same size as we are, they’re hiring a thousand people a month,” he said. “We would [be able to do the same], and we could.”