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Western Provinces and Territories

 October 26, 2010


By Kim Pollock

What does a political opposition do? People in Saskatchewan know. They’ve seen an effective NDP opposition at work recently on
the case of BHP Billiton’s attempted takeover of the Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan.

They’ve also seen their government waffling. The Sask Party government’s first instinct was to “let the market decide” what’s best
for Saskatchewan. When BHP first announced its $39 million offer for PCS in mid-August, energy and resources minister Bill Boyd
shrugged: “The government of Saskatchewan would support whatever market forces are at play here.”

But NDP leader Dwain Lingenfelter said that potash was too important for that; Saskatchewan’s citizens should come first. So
Premier Brad Wall shifted to supporting the takeover – as long as PCS’s headquarters remained in Saskatchewan. Lingenfelter
quickly pointed out that Saskatchewan law already requires that.

Lingenfelter was also quick to respond to news that should its bid succeed, BHP would exit Canpotex, the jointly-owned marketing
arm of Saskatchewan’s potash producers. That would not only undermine smaller producers but also cost Saskatchewan millions in
lost resource revenues. Wall merely commissioned a Toronto-based think tank to do a study.

Lingenfelter jumped far out ahead of Wall on Sept. 7 when he demanded that the people of Saskatchewan have input into the creation
of a serious plan for the province’s potash reserves. Flanked by Steelworkers from the potash mines, Lingenfelter called for public
hearings into the issue of potash control. He accused Wall of having shown weak, indecisive leadership and contradictory positions
and called for an immediate recall of the Saskatchewan Legislature to set out the terms for the future of potash in the province.

Yet by Sept. 21, Wall still really had no position. He had not ruled out allowing the BHP bid but was waiting on his “independent”
report before giving feedback to the federal government, which has the power to approve the sale under the terms of the Investment
Canada Act. Wall said he would give Ottawa its advice sometime after September 30.

Wall’s consultants reported on Oct.4, saying the proposed takeover could reduce Saskatchewan government revenues by at least $2
billion over the next 10 years. Boyd said the report “changed very little” but called its conclusions “worrisome”.

Lingenfelter thought it was more than worrisome and turned his attention to the federal government. “We continue to demand that the
people of Saskatchewan be given a voice on this issue before this takeover bid is rubber stamped by the federal government,” he

Lingenfelter reiterated his position at a Steelworkers-hosted town hall meeting in Saskatoon on Oct. 13 where he laid out a seven-point
plan he'd like to see the Wall government adopt when negotiating with foreign companies. “The silence is deafening coming from the
Wall government. They simply don't know, or don't seem to know what action they should take,” he said.

Finally last week, Wall caved to pressure, officially rejecting BHP’s bid, saying it fails to provide a "net benefit" for the province in
terms of jobs, royalties and strategic interest. That’s a long way from “let the market decide.” It’s about where Lingenfelter was back
in mid-August. And Wall wouldn’t have got there without pressure from the NDP opposition. That’s what a political opposition
should do.

Kim Pollock is a United Steelworkers research representative, based in Burnaby.



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