Saskatchewan

Potash play defined Brad Wall in 2010

The nail-biting drama over a $40-billion foreign takeover bid for Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan is solidified in the mind of Premier Brad Wall as the year's defining episode.

Saskatchewan premier reflects on year dominated by PotashCorp bid

The nail-biting drama over a $40-billion foreign takeover bid for Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan is solidified in the mind of Premier Brad Wall as the year's defining episode.

"What is lasting is the issue itself," Wall said in an interview. "The personalities that were involved, myself included, that's more fleeting and more temporary.

"I think we're going to have a discussion in the country about what is a strategic resource," he added.

The fight over the future of Saskatchewan's potash industry dominated Canada's political and business headlines for weeks.

Wall came out swinging in October when he vehemently opposed Australian mining giant BHP Billiton's takeover bid for privately owned, Saskatoon-based PotashCorp, the world's largest producer of the key fertilizer ingredient.

The premier argued that Saskatchewan could lose billions in revenue from taxes and royalties and painted the deal as anti-Canadian. He suggested the country's strategic interests would be at risk if it sold most of its potash industry to an international company.

The federal government decided the sale would not provide a net benefit to the country, and the bid was subsequently withdrawn. It was a key moment for Saskatchewan and Wall.

Wall's performance impresses

Louis Gagnon, a Queen's University business professor who followed the ins and outs of the potash debate closely, said it left a big impression across the country.

"Saskatchewan is the place to be. I think that's the perception. It's gaining importance. It's gaining economic strength. Its profile has been increasing and it's an increasingly attractive place to be and to do business in."

The premier's stance showed an "ability to assert oneself, one's interest, one's provincial interest," Gagnon said.

"Do we expect premiers of small provinces to stand up for their citizens? I guess we do, but we're always a bit surprised when they do it, because it's the David and Goliath story. David sometimes doesn't stand up, but [Wall] sure did."

Seeks home-grown advice

Wall, 45, was born and raised in Swift Current and has lived there most of his life. On most days, he still makes the two-hour drive to and from Regina to be home with his wife and three children.

"It's just a good place to be for perspective," he said. "I get some of my best advice at the produce section at Safeway in Swift Current from people.

"Without being sort of maudlin about it, I do think it's important that I get home and get that perspective. And I hope that my family would say it's important that I'm hanging around a lot too."

With a spate of problems besetting some of his more tenured counterparts in other provinces, and high-profile resignations of premiers in Newfoundland and British Columbia, Wall will, in the new year, be one of the more senior voices among Canada's first ministers.

But he's cautious heading into a provincial election as leader of the Saskatchewan Party next November.

A rabid football fan, he uses a Saskatchewan Roughriders metaphor: "I'm a Riders fan, so third-quarter leads don't mean a lot to me," he laughed.

"I'm confident in the fact that Saskatchewan's in a very good place, that we have good momentum economically as a province. I'm confident in the team that we have of men and women in our government and as candidates.

"And beyond that, I'm not really confident in much because I think you need to approach these things as though ... you're behind and that you have to earn it."

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