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Report On Business Brad Wall says people have spoken and they don’t want SaskTel sold

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall.

Mark Taylor/The Canadian Press

Premier Brad Wall is hanging up talk of a potential sale for Saskatchewan's provincially owned telecommunications company.

Wall says selling SaskTel is off the table and there won't be a referendum on the idea either.

"I just have the clearest sense from voters, similar to in the middle of election campaigns in the past, that they're not interested," Wall said as the legislature returned for the spring sitting Monday.

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"They're not interested in a referendum. They're not interested in the potential sale of SaskTel."

Wall mused last year about selling SaskTel, but said it wouldn't happen without holding a referendum on any offer.

Some critics have said the government was looking at a potential sale because it's cash-strapped and needs to cover a $1.2-billion deficit.

The takeover of Manitoba Telecom Services by Bell Media also leaves SaskTel as the last regional carrier in Western Canada and makes it vulnerable.

An assessment released last June said the MTS takeover poses serious regulatory, competitive and financial risks for SaskTel. For one, establishing Winnipeg as a western headquarters for Bell could erode SaskTel's share of the Saskatchewan business market.

Wall says taking a sale off the table doesn't rule out selling shares in the Crown corporation to a potential partner.

The government introduced legislation last fall that would allow it to sell up to 49 per cent of a Crown without the move being considered privatization.

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"I think to the extent there's the chance to build a partnership with others, that we would be open to it," he said.

"I think people were worried about losing control. If you lose total control of a company to another company, even if you have golden share legislation, do we lose the chance to have the head office? What about the jobs that are in rural Saskatchewan? What about the coverage issue?"

Wall notes that the issue came up at the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association convention last month and those who expressed opposition to selling SaskTel got a round of applause.

But Wall says his comments at the convention that SaskTel and other Crowns could benefit from partners were also welcomed too.

Interim NDP Leader Trent Wotherspoon says the idea of a sale was ludicrous.

But Wotherspoon says the government should also pull the proposed legislation that would allow up to 49 per cent of a sale.

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"It's nothing short of deceitful to continue to advance the sell-off of potentially up to 49 per cent of SaskTel or any other Crown corporation," said Wotherspoon. "It's about doing the right thing right now, scrapping that bill."

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