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Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall (TROY FLEECE)
Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall (TROY FLEECE)

Saskatchewan open for business, despite opposition to BHP: Wall Add to ...

Premier Brad Wall is priming for his next big challenge, convincing major companies that Saskatchewan is still open for business.

After telling the world's largest mining company to take its $38.6-billion (U.S.) bid for Potash Corp. and go home, Mr. Wall's job now shifts to damage control.

In an impassioned speech Thursday, Mr. Wall rejected the Australian company's plan to take over one of Saskatchewan's crown jewels, underscoring the strategic importance of Potash Corp. and appealing to a nationalist sense that too many of Canada's corporate icons have fallen into foreign hands.

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Now the Premier faces an uphill battle to convince the world that his province remains a good place to do business.

It's the fallout the province must deal with after making what Mr. Wall calls the "difficult decision" of recommending Ottawa reject BHP Billiton bid for Potash Corp .

According to Mr. Wall, it's not about the money. Instead, the feisty Premier is trying to convince Ottawa that, with its political support, Saskatchewan should hold the reins of a strategic resource seen as a solution to a mounting global food shortage, and not hand that control over to a foreign buyer.

The cost of making that controversial call is not something Mr. Wall is taking lightly.

"With respect to the position we've taken and the reasons that we've taken the position, I'm okay. I'm comfortable we've made our case … If I have any concern at all, to be honest, it's on the brand side," Mr. Wall, 44, said in an interview Friday in his office at the Saskatchewan Legislature in Regina.

"We have worked very hard to improve the brand of this province as a place to invest. I think we are fine there, but my thinking we are fine is not good enough for me. We have to make sure we are fine."

For the Saskatchewan Party Leader, who won a majority three years ago on the promise of bringing more business to his province, that means immediately embarking on a road show across Canada, and possibly Asia, to ensure that pro-business message isn't lost.

Mr. Wall's job is to prove that BHP's bid for Potash Corp. is not just another acquisition. For him, it's a takeover of a piece of Saskatchewan. It's the "people's potash" said Mr. Wall, because its production helps pay for many of the services people in his province need.

"In the interests of jobs for Saskatchewan families, in the interests of the quality of life that we prize that is funded by revenue to government, and in the interests of the place of our province and our country in the world, we must say no to this hostile takeover," Mr. Wall said in his career-defining speech that has captured the attention of politicians and investors around the world.

The province's pushback is unlikely to have scared off any other potential bidders for Potash Corp., said Mr. Wall, who hasn't seen any evidence of rival offers about to come forward.

"I think that ship has sailed to some extent," he said. "I don't think our comments yesterday really have an impact on that. I think if something was coming it would be more real than it is already."

That's despite Potash Corp. chief executive Bill Doyle's insistence that another bid is coming to trump BHP's offer.

"I don't know. We never got that sense," Mr. Wall said.

Taking a stand against BHP's bid could also mean repairing the province's relationship with its conservative peers in Ottawa, in particular after Mr. Wall criticized Investment Canada for allowing other foreign buyers to break promises of maintaining jobs and investment in recent years.

If Mr. Wall is worried about fraying that relationship, it doesn't show. "We know we aren't going to agree on everything," he said. "The province needs the feds and the feds need the province. We can have disagreements."

Ottawa doesn't appear to have been swayed, so far, by Mr. Wall's strong words, vowing to make its own decision.

"I'm neither the headwaiter to the Premier of Saskatchewan, nor am I a butler to the president of BHP," Industry Minister Tony Clement told reporters in Ottawa after Mr. Wall's speech Thursday.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has seemingly dismissed Saskatchewan's patriotic pitch, saying this week the Investment Canada decision is over "a proposal for an American-controlled company to be taken over by an Australian-controlled company."

How Mr. Wall's comments will eventually play out internationally is not yet clear. While BHP is trying to convince the province its bid will make Saskatchewan better off, one of the miner's top executives warned of the impact of long-term implications of a government turning away foreign interests.

"No one country has a monopoly on the development of their resources, with countries competing for capital," BHP chairman Jac Nasser told his shareholders at a meeting in London this week, hours before Mr. Wall's speech.

But Mr. Wall reacts with a shrug, pointing to other countries, including Australia where BHP is based, who have taken the same stance he has for Saskatchewan.

"We can find the balance in this country between sustainable resource development and the prosperity that comes with that and also a Canadian influence on that. It's our resources," he said.



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