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Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger (JOHN WOODS)
Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger (JOHN WOODS)

Manitoba backs Wall on keeping 'strategic asset' Add to ...

Opposition from the provinces to the takeover of Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan Inc. by Australia's BHP Billiton Ltd. is gaining momentum, as Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall finds allies in his effort to block the $38.6-billion deal.

Manitoba weighed in with its concerns over the takeover on Friday, after Alberta and Quebec added their support for Mr. Wall's position earlier in the week.

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Mr. Wall revealed his new recruit in a speech to a Bay Street audience, where he reiterated his position that Ottawa can turn down the deal while maintaining Canada's position as a country that is still open to foreign investment.

"Canada can say 'no' and still be a strong and open free-trading economy," he said.

The Saskatchewan government wants the deal vetoed because of potential lost jobs, reduced tax and royalty payments to the province, and a concern that a strategic industry will end up controlled outside the country.

But the province will still be friendly to business and try to attract outside investment, Mr. Wall insisted.

Federal Industry minister Tony Clement said he will rule by the end of the day on Nov. 3 on whether the proposed takeover meets the "net benefit" test under the Investment Canada Act.

In an interview, Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger said he decided to back Mr. Wall because "I support the notion that this is a very strategic asset for the country." Essentially, he said "they are owned by the people of Canada and we should ensure that control doesn't completely vest outside of Canada."

Potash Corp. should not be sold without a very clear view of what "net benefit" means for the whole country, Mr. Selinger added. "[Ottawa]should be very careful so we don't lose control of a strategic asset like potash."

New Brunswick - the only other province in Canada with a Potash Corp. mine - has also expressed its concerns to Ottawa about the deal. A spokesman said Premier David Alward has written to Prime Minister Stephen Harper detailing concerns about jobs and provincial royalties, although the letter recognized Ottawa's jurisdiction over the matter and "stops short of saying it is a good or bad deal."

A spokesman for B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell said the province will not be taking a position on the issue.

Mr. Wall told reporters after his speech that he thinks many provinces would like to see a national discussion of the Investment Canada process "not to stop takeovers, not to stop foreign direct investment, but to make sure our process can accommodate a deal like this ... involving a huge amount of strategic national resource."

He said he has not decided yet whether to go to Ottawa for a last-minute pitch to the federal government, before its final decision. He said that he did not want to "unnecessarily jam things up with last-minute meetings" and that the Investment Canada process has to be respected.

Mr. Wall said he sees no third option, other than an outright acceptance or rejection of the takeover by Ottawa. There is no compromise that would overcome the "strategic concerns" about a key resource falling into foreign hands, he said.

He rejected the idea that BHP might make promises that would render the deal acceptable. "When you look at the record in Canada of those promises being made by companies involved in takeover, they are not kept. Dreams and train smoke, and we can't balance a budget on that."

If Ottawa gives the nod to the takeover "we will have to look at all of our options" to make sure Saskatchewan's royalty revenue from potash is maintained, Mr. Wall said.



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