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BHP Billiton (TIM WIMBORNE/Tim Wimborne/Reuters)
BHP Billiton (TIM WIMBORNE/Tim Wimborne/Reuters)

Why BHP Billiton and the Premier of Saskatchewan are chummy again Add to ...

There's peace on the Prairies.

Australian mining giant BHP Billiton Ltd. [[entity]]HP Billiton Ltd. [[/entity]]HP-N said Tuesday it is moving its diamonds and specialty products business from Vancouver to Saskatoon, prompting praise from Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall.

Mr. Wall may have spurred the federal government's decision last fall to block BHP's $39-billion bid for Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan Inc., but now the two sides have kissed and made up.

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BHP has long said its goal is to establish a premier potash business based in Saskatchewan, and its relocation announcement only served to underscore those plans. The transfer involves moving about 30 jobs that will add to the 69 employees the company already has in Saskatoon.

Among those yet-to-be transferred employees is Tim Cutt, who will take over as president of diamonds and specialty products on June 1.

Mr. Cutt is currently president of production in BHP's petroleum business, a job he has held since 2007. In his new role, he will replace Graham Kerr, who is returning to Australia owing to a family illness but is expected to assume a senior role with BHP at a later date, the company said.

Mr. Cutt issued a statement saying he is "delighted" to be returning to Canada, while also highlighting his fondness for Saskatchewan, where his mother was born.

"While it has been a privilege to work in BHP Billiton Petroleum, I am looking forward to working with the Diamonds team at Yellowknife and Ekati and to playing my part in developing an industry-leading potash business in Saskatchewan that creates value for shareholders, plays an active role in the community and creates new jobs and opportunities for the province," his statement said.

BHP announced earlier this year that it is conducting a feasibility study on its Jansen potash mine in Saskatchewan. A final decision on whether to proceed won't be made until next year.

"When we withdrew our offer for Potash Corp. we said 'We remain committed to Canada and we plan to develop a significant presence in the potash industry in Saskatchewan. As part of those plans we will continue to progress our Jansen project and other development opportunities,'" a company spokesman added in an e-mail.

Last fall, Ottawa rejected BHP's bid for Potash Corp. for not providing enough benefits to Canada after Mr. Wall spearheaded opposition to the deal. Critics had argued that potash, a key ingredient in fertilizer, ought to be viewed as a strategic asset.

On Tuesday, Mr. Wall stressed there were never any hard feelings between the two sides, adding his province has worked hard to attract investment and jobs.

"This is very, very good news from BHP Billiton who have been a great company to deal with in the wake of the decision last fall," Mr. Wall said in a telephone interview.

He later added: "They've been a great corporate citizen and we just are grateful they are making this decision and we get to welcome these families and new jobs to the province."

Mr. Wall said BHP's announcement also proves that Canada can reject takeovers that fail the "net benefit" test, while still maintaining its reputation as a good place to do business and invest.

When asked if BHP's office relocation also signals the miner might be harbouring a lingering interest in Potash Corp., Mr. Wall replied: "I think they are pursuing a different model now."

 
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