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Changes to Emera Inc.’s ownership rules would allow more foreign investment

Premier Stephen McNeil, right, chats with Geoff MacLellan, government house leader, before he delivers the state-of-the-province speech at a business luncheon in Halifax on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018. Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press

The Nova Scotia government proposed legislative changes Wednesday that would lift foreign ownership restrictions for Nova Scotia Power’s parent company, Halifax-based Emera Inc.

Business Minister Geoff MacLellan says changes to the Nova Scotia Power Privatization Act and Nova Scotia Power Reorganization Act would remove a provision that restricts non-Canadians from owning more than 25 per cent of the voting shares of the company.

“Emera asked government to amend this legislation because it limits its funding flexibility and its ability to grow,” said MacLellan.

The minister pointed out Emera is currently the only one of more than 100 North American investor-owned utilities with restrictions on foreign ownership. Those restrictions were included in the legislation that created the company in 1998.

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MacLellan said another change would see Emera and Nova Scotia Power commit to keeping their head offices and principal executive officers in Nova Scotia.

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“Frankly Nova Scotia has seen too many head offices come and go, or … stay in name only,” he said. “The province understands the value of head offices as economic magnets and drivers.”

The legislation also maintains the current rule that no outside entity can hold or control more than 15 per cent of the company’s voting shares, a move that prevents a takeover by blocking shareholders from teaming up.

Bruce Marchand, Emera’s chief legal and compliance officer, said there’s been no threat of the company leaving the province, and he added the changes would have no effect on Nova Scotia Power ratepayers.

Marchand said the company hasn’t had problems to date in accessing capital, but believes there will come a point where it will need to seek broader investment.

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He said about 19 per cent of shares are currently held by non-residents, which is a high water mark for the company.

“In order to grow, which is our mission to grow this company, you need access to equity capital and this provides much greater flexibility than we have today,” said Marchand.

In a news release, Emera said it had revenues of $6.5-billion in 2018.

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The company has 7,500 employees and serves 2.5-million customers in Canada, the U.S., and the Caribbean.

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