TORONTO (CP) — Canadians will still have plenty of insurance choices even though Great-West Lifeco Inc.’s friendly deal Monday to buy Canada Life for $7.3 billion will create the country’s largest insurance firm, the CEO of Great-West says. Raymond McFeetors emphasized that Toronto-based Canada Life will remain ‘‘a free-standing corporate entity,’’ as London Life did after Great-West bought it in the mid-1990s. ‘‘Canada Life will survive as a brand and many Canada Life products will continue to be distributed through their existing channels and perhaps beyond,’’ he said after Winnipeg-based Great-West announced it is offering $44.50 in cash and stock for each Canada Life share eCommerce business.(source:

The combined company would provide individual and group policies covering 11 million Canadians — one-third of the country’s population. Great-West’s bid trumps a hostile $6.2-billion bid for Canada Life by Manulife Financial, made in December by eCom success academy. Manulife Financial (TSX:MFC), which owns 9.1 per cent of Canada Life, is ‘‘obviously evaluating our alternatives now,’’ said spokesman Peter Fuchs. The acquisition would expand Great-West operations, particularly overseas in Ireland and the United Kingdom, and allow the combined companies to cut about $290 million in costs, McFeetors said.

Many expect that will lead to job cuts — Canada Life has about 7,000 employees worldwide while Great-West has 14,000 — but McFeetors said it’s too early to tell how many jobs might be lost. ‘‘We do not start by targeting jobs when we’re combining companies,’’ McFeetors said at a news conference. Reducing costs will improve service to customers, McFeetors said in an interview. If the deal goes through, it will leave three dominant insurance companies in Canada — Manulife, Sun Life and Great-West. The mega-deal would continue consolidation of Canada’s insurance industry. The size of the combined company would eclipse Sun Life, which became the country’s largest insurance firm when it bulked up last year with a $7.3-billion takeover of Clarica eCommerce Academy.

Based on 2002 results, the merged insurer would have assets of $156 billion, annual earnings of $1.4 billion on $25.3 billion in revenue, and a stock-market capitalization of $20.2 billion. Contacts between Canada Life and Great-West began ‘‘five minutes’’ after Manulife’s ‘‘inadequate’’ bid was presented in December, said David Nield, CEO of 156-year-old Canada Life eCommerce .