Now that BHP Billiton has given up on ever acquiring Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan, Tony Clement's workday may be finally coming under control.
The Industry Minister seems to have been in the middle of every controversy facing the Harper government lately. He had the unenviable job of defending the government's decision to eliminate the mandatory long-form census; he was called on the justify the government's plans to spend $16-billion to purchase and maintain a new fleet of fighter aircraft, and Mr. Clement had the responsibility under the Investment Canada Act for approving or prohibiting BHP's attempted takeover of Potash Corp.
Mr. Clement's decision to prohibit the sale, confirmed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, upset critics, like The Economist magazine, who worried Canada was closing the door to foreign investment. But allowing the sale would have led Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall to declare war on the Conservatives.
BHP could still have caused the Tories political problems by coming back with a counteroffer during the 30-day period within which those counteroffers are permitted.
By giving up the game, the Australian mining giant has put the Potash story to rest, and left the Conservatives with one less thing to worry about. It will also make it easier for the Tories to justify the decision and to lay out new guidelines for foreign investors nervous about suffering BHP's fate, because the government was bound to keep its reasoning secret during the 30-day window.
In a news conference Sunday, Mr. Clement said BHP failed to meet three of six criteria used in such cases. He said the government felt the takeover would not have a beneficial effect on Canada's ability to compete in world markets; on productivity, efficiency and innovation in Canada; and on the country's overall level of economic activity.
The government also believes there may be a silver lining to the census contretemps. A Tory insider argues that, once the long-form censuses start arriving in people's mail boxes next year -one in three households will get one - public indignation at the time-consuming and intrusive forms could redound to the Conservatives' advantage.
Of course, there's still that pesky contract for the F-35 fighter jets to defend. But comparatively, at least, things are actually starting to quiet down for one of the Harper government's busiest and most controversial ministers.