The Re-Education of Saskatchewan's Premier Brad Wall
Wall Is Willing To Intervene To Protect 'People's Potash' !!!
By Murray Mandryk
August 28, 201
"In describing the potential impact of a BHP Billiton takeover of PotashCorp, Premier Brad Wall is now using words like "transformational."
"Trust me. There isn't a more important issue facing the province of Saskatchewan today," Wall told reporters Thursday.
For the Saskatchewan Party supporters who whole-heartedly believe in the greater glory of unfettered capitalism in the so-called "New Saskatchewan", Wall's talk of intervening in the free market with "conditions on licences" and perhaps even production levels and royalties must come as a big shock.
But ask Wall what's behind his words and you'll find that they've come from conversations with past political veterans of the resource wars from all sides of the political spectrum. And for a Sask. Party government seen by many as a bit too accommodating to big business at the expense of the people's best interests, this would seem transformational as well.
For the first two years of its three-year existence, Wall's government ran hard on the notion of a "New Saskatchewan" that would no longer be held back by a stodgy 16-year-old social democrat government with its anti-business sentiments.
With the Sask. Party's arrival in 2007 neatly coinciding with perhaps the biggest resource boom in the province's history -- the 2004 to 2008 record revenues in oil, gas and potash revenues that translated into record surplus budgets -- this initially proved to be a pretty easy sell. To further solidify the notion, the new Sask. Party repealed Allan Blakeney's "Potash Production Act" that created the Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan Crown in the 1970s and introduced legislation to make unionization of workplaces more difficult. Add to this the messaging from Energy Minister Bill Boyd that his government wouldn't touch oil royalty rates (even when it was selling at $150 a barrel), and the potash companies should get most anything they want to encourage mine expansion.
The emerging "new Saskatchewan" was starting to sound strikingly similar to former premier Grant Devine's "Open for Business" era . . . or at least, that seemed to be the case until the recent rather transformative developments in the potash industry.
First came the 2009 potash sales crash that sent the loud message that all the catering in the world to this industry -- including generous royalty holidays for new and old mine development, corporate office jobs, miner employment, etc. -- doesn't always result in the delivery of the economic reward promised.
And now comes this summer's $38.6-billion takeover bid of PotashCorp by the Australian-based mining giant BHP, creating newfound worries in government ranks that new corporate ownership will overproduce to drive down potash prices and undercut competitors -- a move that would reduce Saskatchewan's potash royalties.
But as much as it appears that Wall's interventionist talk contradicts his government's free-enterprise mantra for the "new Saskatchewan", the premier contends his approach is consistent with both past practice and his government's vision of the new Saskatchewan.
"The new Saskatchewan is keenly aware of the resources we have," Wall said in an interview Friday, further noting potash's "strategic importance as a provincial resource that the rest of the world wants."
Wall said his new approach came after recent conversations with former Alberta premier Peter Lougheed (who led the 1970s fight over provincial control of resources), Devine and even former NDP premier Roy Romanow. While reluctant to divulge specifics of the conversations with the former premiers, Wall noted that "pragmatism is the branch between all ideologies" and that all three have very similar views on the most pertinent issues. That view, Wall said, was best summed up by Lougheed who told him: "The resource belongs to the people," and; "There's absolutely nothing wrong with any government of any stripe putting conditions on the development of its resources."
Asked if this means he is willing to risk BHP Billiton pulling out of the province altogether, Wall reiterated that it's the people's resource and Saskatchewan potash will be there long after any mining company.
Some might see this change in the Wall government as rather transformational. Or, it might be an admission that the new Saskatchewan isn't so different from the old Saskatchewan, as some have suggested.
- Mandryk is the political columnist for the Leader-Post.
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