Asper sez CanWest in acquisition mode

O'seas investors may be on horizon

TORONTO — Not only is CanWest Global in “acquisition mode,” but based on the opinions expressed by principals at the annual general meeting held in Toronto Thursday, the company appears to be trolling for U.S. entities to buy into the family-controlled national network as well.

Founder and executive chairman of the board Izzy Asper acknowledged that CanWest Global has funds burning a hole in the corporate pocket and is in “current discussions” with a number of entities the size of Canadian specialty powerhouse NetStar (the fish that got away earlier this year when rival CTV bought 68%, pending regulatory approval). “We’re looking at things of significant size in Canada, the U.S., the U.K., Europe,” he said, “in conventional TV, Internet investments, other media.”

Investment possibilities

And while Asper maintained that the family-controlled network has no interest in divesting, he left the door open for the possibility that international investors may in the future buy in.

“We believe that there should be a lot of associations, relationships, partnerships,” Asper told reporters. “Canada is not going to become a backwater.”

In fact, both Asper and his son Leonard, who this year took on the post of president and CEO, spoke of the need for Canadian deregulation and the imminent possibility of additional relationships with American entities. Leonard Asper called for foreign ownership restrictions of Canadian companies to be raised to 49% from 33%.

As is his habit, Asper Sr. came out guns blazing for Canadian deregulation. “If Bell and Southam and Alliance Atlantis and Shaw walked into the CRTC and the Competition Bureau and said ‘We want to merge,’ I think Canadian law would prohibit that — and that’s got to change,” he told assembled reporters after the meeting. “Attitudes have to change — otherwise the outlook, in media, communications, entertainment, is bleak.”

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