Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Playing with fire: Conservatives must be very sure about any Potash decision

The entire drama over the PotashCorp's potential buyers is going to be coming to an end soon, with the federal government, and the Conservative Party, now the key players in the future of this extremely profitable company that is going to play a role in the future of Saskatchewan's and prairie economy for years to come.

However, the Conservatives are entering into some dangerous territory regarding BHP Billiton's "hostile" takeover of PotashCorp. Not only are they going to be rubbing against those opposed to the deal, including Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, whatever decision they end up making could upset their own core supporters, especially those opposed to interference by any government in the dealings of the corporate world, of which a decision against BHP would be a stark example of.

If the federal government comes out either in support of the takeover, or a simple leave-it-be approach, then they risk being seen as negligent. This could harm not only their prospects among the voters of Saskatchewan and other provinces, but corporations that rely on a strong government presence in order to help promote and/or maintain operations (as is the case with a lot of resource-based companies in Canada, PotashCorp no exception) are going to look at their options - the Conservatives who aren't giving them support, or another federal party that will.

If they come out against it - and it's either or, there's no compromise to be had here - then, as I said, they risk costing themselves some support among those economic libertarians that wouldn't like such big government interference. While this might not end up being the largest share of votes, and indeed any lost votes could be made up for any of those votes that could drift to the Conservatives because they opposed it, the risk is still fairly great. After all, a step in this direction could lead to the Conservatives pushing the envelope a little more, if they feel secure enough. Speculation, to be sure. Yet, would the government that scraps the long-form census despite overwhelming opposition in order to please its uber-libertarian base, risk losing that base more for the sake of saving PotashCorp?

Whatever the decision is, the Conservatives will have to be strategic about it. Sure, it's not nice to play politics with the business world, the livelihood of thousands of workers, and the economy of entire swaths of a country, but it's what happens anyways. They'll have to be pretty damn sure about any decision they make.

The Liberals, meanwhile, have already come out clearly against it. I'm not so sure this was the right decision, or at least I question its pace. While the takeover bid by BHP isn't the best of offers, to take sides so quickly might lead to some speculation about our apparent inclination towards opportunism. I'm not saying I'm for the bid, but let's put it this way: the takeover of an American-controlled company by an Australian mining giant is maybe not something to take so lightly, or to oppose to readily, simply because others do. Companies like this are taken over all the time, but the massive scale of this takeover is what has caught everyone's eye. $39-billion for PotashCorp may very well be too little for the company, but isn't that for the shareholders of PotashCorp to decide? They're the ones who will decide its fate in the end, after all. If Wall wants to implement any taxes to regain lost revenue, then that's his, and Saskatchewan's, business. But should we really be all gung-ho against a common occurrence in the business world?


  1. Key Sask Liberals have close ties with Potash Corp execs and workers. Fact is, this is a very carefully, clearly thought out position - with the needs of the Province and Potash Corp considered carefully (along with the collective needs of the workers). This Corp has to stay in Sask.

  2. You're the third person to tell me this, so I believe you guys now. xD

    Still, one wonders whether or not the decision by the federal Liberals will actually translate into anything tangible. Will we receive any votes out of it? Cynical question to ask (greater good and all that), but it's one worth asking.