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Monday Morning Commentary

Rick Swenson

Another week has gone by and the great potash debate continues unabated. You are all probably aware of the “poll” that came out on Friday last that was commissioned by News Talk Radio. The poll results confirm what most of us have been hearing on the streets and on coffee row. Saskatchewan people are leery of a huge foreign multi-national taking over the majority of the potash reserves that lie under the province of Saskatchewan and therefore, belong to the people of Saskatchewan.

It was interesting to note that about ¼ of the people responding to the pollster still believe that Potash Corp was a crown corporation controlled by the government. That was quite astounding to me as it has been a privately-run company controlled by shareholders for the last 21 years. But it is also indicative of the special place that potash holds in the hearts of Saskatchewan residents regardless of their political ideology. Brad Wall and his government are now solidly on the side of studying the matter further. The friends of big business have now realized that the international corporate agenda is not always in alignment with the practical needs of a province like Saskatchewan.

Further to this new-found consultation and study are reported conversations with former Premiers Lougheed of Alberta and Devine and Romanow of Saskatchewan and their views on this issue. It’s too bad Wall didn’t do some of this consultation two years ago when he was designing Saskatchewan’s budget, listening to the CEOs of the potash companies and their projections of $800 a tonne potash as the world was slipping into recession. Maybe the $2 billion blunder could have been avoided because I’m sure any of the 3 aforementioned gentlemen would have told him that you should use 5 year averaging and caution when listening to people whose sole interest is keeping the share value of their companies and their own pension plans as high as possible. As I’ve said before, at the end of the day – this resource doesn’t belong to a company, another country or a bunch of politicians – it belongs to the people of Saskatchewan.

On another topic, my wife and I made a quick business trip north of Prince Albert this last week and couldn’t help but notice the change in the countryside from a year ago. I know it has been widely reported about conditions in Saskatchewan but seeing is believing and having the opportunity to visit with people from Moose Jaw to Waskesiu and back talking about the challenges faced by people in farming, the wood industry, the tourism business and just interested Saskatchewan people tells me that there are going to be very significant challenges for this province in the months to come. A really interesting conversation was with an individual in the wood business who was telling me about an offer by a Chinese company to buy the former Weyerhaeuser pulp mill at Prince Albert during the last few weeks and no one from Domtar, the present owner or the government would even entertain a discussion or tour of the facility. This Chinese company has recently bought another mothballed pulp mill in BC and converted it to the manufacture of rayon from wood cellulose. So much for Enterprise Saskatchewan wanting new innovation for Saskatchewan!

This trip confirmed in my mind that Saskatchewan needs another view of how we manage our affairs – one different than what is being offered by the Sask Party and the NDP. The fact that both governments have allowed that mill to become idle in the first place and to sit idle for this period of time and not entertain viable options is an affront to Saskatchewan’s dignity.

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These issues must be debated for “The Right Reasons”.

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