Federal government sells its multibillion-dollar stake in General Motors

OTTAWA — The Harper government has unloaded its remaining multibillion-dollar stake in General Motors.

The federal Finance Department said the government sold nearly 73.4 million shares Monday in an unregistered block trade to Goldman, Sachs & Co.

The government’s stake in the automaker was worth more than $3.3 billion Monday, based on a US$36.66 price at the close and an exchange rate of $1.2473. But it’s unclear how much the sale will benefit Ottawa’s bottom line.

The sell-off comes as the Conservative government searches for ways to live up to its election-year promise to balance its books in 2015-16, a long-running pledge that appeared at risk of remaining unfulfilled amid the negative economic impacts of the global oil slump.

Regardless, the government has repeatedly maintained it will eliminate the deficit in the budget that will be tabled April 21.

The sale also comes only a few days after the start of the 2015-16 fiscal year, which means proceeds from the sale will boost the budget’s bottom line.

Canada was the only North American government still holding stock acquired as part of the 2009 effort to bail out the then-sputtering automaker.

The province of Ontario sold its remaining GM holdings in the winter, while the U.S. government sold the last of its stake in December 2013.

Ottawa had reiterated its intention to eventually unload its GM shares.

In a statement, Finance Minister Joe Oliver said the sale means GM has returned to private-sector ownership and taxpayers are no longer exposed to the market.

“Our investment in GM was always meant to be temporary,” Oliver said.

“We never believed the Government should be a shareholder of a private sector company for an indefinite period of time.”

Last fall, the government predicted a $1.6-billion surplus for 2015-16, but crude prices fell even further in the months that followed.

The unexpected oil-price plunge forced Oliver to take the unusual step of delaying the budget. Budgets are usually delivered in February.

Oliver has even acknowledged achieving balance may mean dipping into Ottawa’s $3-billion contingency reserve, which was set aside for unforeseen circumstances.

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Andy Blatchford, The Canadian Press

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