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Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall speaks with reporters in the Rotunda of the provincial legislative on Wednesday Nov. 3, 2010 in Regina, Sask. (TROY FLEECE/THE CANADIAN PRESS/Troy FLEECE)
Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall speaks with reporters in the Rotunda of the provincial legislative on Wednesday Nov. 3, 2010 in Regina, Sask. (TROY FLEECE/THE CANADIAN PRESS/Troy FLEECE)

Potash decision is proof to Wall that 'Canada works for the regions' Add to ...

As Brad Wall strode into a room in the Saskatchewan legislature late Wednesday, nearly two dozen of his cabinet ministers stood and applauded.

Then they each moved into position behind him as he prepared to address Canadians, eager to share in a moment of victory for a premier whose fierce opposition helped turn the country against the sale of his province's biggest corporation.

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"Let me just say that, quite unequivocally, Canada works. Canada works for the regions. In this case it has worked, to a great extent, for the people and the province of Saskatchewan," Mr. Wall said.

It was a conciliatory tone from a man who has spent weeks hectoring the federal government and riding a wave of support from premiers and business leaders across the country - people whom he thanked for their help. He also took great pains to credit federal Industry Minister Tony Clement for a national decision that has, in many ways, paved the way for Mr. Wall's leadership at home.

"It's a good day for Brad Wall," said David McGrane, a professor of political studies at the University of Saskatchewan, who sees this as boosting the Premier's efforts to unseat the NDP as the natural governing party of the province.

"Stephen Harper seems to be taking the advice of Brad Wall, which looks great for Brad Wall in the eyes of Saskatchewan voters."

It may also burnish Mr. Harper's image in the eyes of voters both in Saskatchewan - where the move was seen as securing the 13 of 14 federal seats the Conservatives currently hold - and across the country.

But the greatest lift may come to Mr. Wall, who had been criticized at home for his failures to secure more favourable equalization payments and funding for a stadium from the federal government. He emerged as an early voice of caution soon after BHP announced its bid for Potash Corp. His government commissioned a report that cast doubt on the benefits of BHP ownership, and he himself gained national stature through his opposition to the deal.

It was a dramatic departure for a man who was elected on the principle that government should limit its intervention in the world of business - and his position has earned him some withering comparisons with the provincial NDP party that he defeated in the last election.

"That's the big risk he took," Prof. McGrane said. "You have Brad Wall sounding like an NDP - like Tommy Douglas. He could alienate his base."

But supporters of Mr. Wall say it was a choice of political necessity in a province with a long history of standing up to major corporations - and a populace loath to risk any injury to an industry that has poured billions into government coffers.

From a political standpoint, "there was about as much chance of this [takeover]being successful as selling the Saskatchewan Roughriders," said former premier Grant Devine, who first worked with Mr. Wall when he was hired as a ministerial assistant.

"This thing doesn't sell. Anybody that doesn't see that, doesn't live here."

In fact, from that perspective Mr. Wall stood to gain politically by his opposition to the deal whether he prevailed or not.

But having his views carry the day, Mr. Wall was also able to position himself as a national voice - a position that could deepen the political intrigue surrounding an articulate, young politician who despite his inability to speak French has been mooted as potentially capable of serving federally.

Mr. Wall did little to dissuade those notions Wednesday, with comments whose national scope could well have come from a sitting prime minister.

"Maybe this is new phase for Canada in terms of how we look at these deals," he said. "One that's balanced by our desire to be open, but also by our realization that the world will want what we have. A world that seeks energy security and food security and food security needs ... a strong and vital Canada."

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