Industry Minister Tony Clement has strongly denied a media report that the government was prepared to accept the proposed foreign takeover of the Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan but backed out at the last minute for fearing of losing political support in the province.
The allegation about the government's reasons for rejecting the takeover bid by BHP Billiton appeared in a Tuesday column by Murray Mandryk in the Regina Leader-Post newspaper.
"I seriously question the sources talking to Mr. Mandryk, because so much of his innuendo, rumour and misinformation is so far off it really does a disservice to the Canadian public," Clement said in a statement.
"As the minister responsible for the Investment Canada Act, I can confirm that I made my decision to reject the proposed BHP Billiton-Potash Corporation transaction after consultation with Saskatchewan MPs and listening to the position of the government of Saskatchewan based on the facts of the deal."
Mandryk wrote that only Harper and the Tories' "inner circle" knew that Clement would reject the bid by the Australia-based company to acquire PotashCorp. Ottawa had planned to approve the deal "until the waning hours and days before that Nov. 3 announcement," Mandryk wrote.
Mandryk also claimed that the 13 Tory MPs from Saskatchewan had no idea the deal was being rejected. Mandryk said that sources told him the deal was scrapped for two reasons.
According to Mandryk, Saskatchewan MPs told the Prime Minister's Office about a private poll conducted by PotashCorp that showed four to six of the MPs would lose their seats if Ottawa approved the deal. The province has lobbied the federal government to reject the takeover bid.
As well, Mandryk claims, a leak to former Postmedia columnist Don Martin that the takeover was about to be approved with conditions caused panic in a "government already paranoid about legal breaches of confidentiality over the approval process."
But Clement insisted that once the decision was made, it was never changed.
"At no time was there an 11th-hour change to protect political interests," he said. "Nor was a change precipitated by a 'leak,' because the story mentioned was filled with false facts."
Clement said that leading up to the announcement, there were some "very speculative rumours" published.
"I can tell you that not only are they false, but this was a case of highly irresponsible journalism that affected stock markets around the world," he said. "In fact, I encouraged the media to wait until the process had run its course. Some did not and, clearly, had the story wrong."
When Clement made his decision, he said BHP's offer would not benefit the country. Although he gave BHP 30 days to revise its bid, the company eventually withdrew its offer.