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New Democratic Leader Jack Layton speaks to reporters after his party's Parliament Hill caucus meeting on Nov. 3, 2010. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
New Democratic Leader Jack Layton speaks to reporters after his party's Parliament Hill caucus meeting on Nov. 3, 2010. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Potash approval would be wind in NDP sails, pollster says Add to ...

Jack Layton and his New Democrats will emerge as winners if the Harper government approves the takeover of Saskatchewan's Potash Corp., a former Tory pollster says.

Voters in Saskatchewan, Dimtri Pantazopoulos says, will turn to the NDP over Michael Ignatieff Liberals.

"They are philosophically opposed to foreign ownership regardless of the consequences," he said of Mr. Layton's team, adding the party's "historic context" in the province will make it the top choice.

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Stephen Harper's Conservatives have 13 of the 14 federal seats in Saskatchewan; the Liberals have one.

EKOS Research president Frank Graves, meanwhile, says the group of Canadians with the biggest concerns about foreign takeovers are the most educated and affluent voters.

"Daresay the dreaded elites," Mr. Graves said, a nod to the fact the Tories have successfully made "elite" a dirty word in politics.

The pollsters weighed in on the issue as financial markets and political observers awaited Industry Minister Tony Clement decision Wednesday afternoon on whether to green light Australia-based BHP Billiton's $38.5-billion (U.S.) offer for Potash Corp.

Neither Mr. Pantazopoulos, who used to poll for Mr. Harper's Conservatives, nor Mr. Graves see potash as a ballot question.

"It's a pretty complex issue and I don't think it's currently a top public issue," Mr. Graves said. "Although, it has the potential to become so in Western Canada, where some have warned it could be the next NEP."

On Wednesday, The Globe reported on concerns within the Calgary business community about a rehash of the National Energy Program. Brought in by the Trudeau Liberals, it ended up enraging Albertans who believed the federal government was intruding into their affairs to benefit of Central Canada.

"The NEP along with Quebec independence are the seemingly eternal bogeymen of Canadian politics," Mr. Graves said, noting too that Canadians are "strong free traders".

He noted there is never much concern about foreign takeovers unless "they tread into 'sacred' areas like culture and communications or the financial services sector."

Mr. Pantazopoulos rules out the potash deal as a ballot box issue because it "does not contribute to a narrative of economic mismanagement - jobs will likely continue in that sector in Saskatchewan - and it does not directly affect consumers.

"This issue will generate a lot of heat, and a few short-term sparks, but at the end of the day it is not an issue that people will get their heads around in a federal election campaign."

Nevertheless, he predicted that if the deal is approved the Conservatives will certainly experience a voter backlash.

"This will create some political discomfort the Conservatives as a result, mostly in Saskatchewan, but to some extent by people outside the province who are concerned by foreign takeovers," he said. "Granted, many of these voters [outside Saskatchewan]fall outside the Conservative base, but the Conservatives need some of these voters if they are to improve their political fortunes."

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