Wall says he's 'pleased' with Potash on promises

By Joe Couture, The StarPhoenix August 16, 2013 - Premier Brad Wall says he's pleased with PotashCorp's progress in keeping promises it made to the province at the time of the attempted takeover by BHP Billiton in 2010. "We get a report from (PotashCorp), and I've had a chance to talk to (CEO) Bill Doyle directly about it. We had a conversation about the status of the pledge and I think Saskatchewan people should be pleased. We're certainly pleased," Wall said.

"They're heading toward the exact number they promised for head office jobs. They've had so many move up from Illinois.

"They've actually exceeded their targets for overall numbers of employees. They're moving in the right direction in terms of aboriginal employment," he added.

"And from a corporate citizen standpoint, here's a company that has exceeded their pledge, frankly, I think, and expectations."

As examples of that, Wall pointed to PotashCorp's contributions to the STARS air ambulance program and to the new Global Food Security Institute.

"We ought never to take that for granted," he said of the community efforts. "There's an economic part to all this, but the company makes sure it's part of life in Saskatchewan. We're pretty proud of them."

In addition to bringing jobs to the province and supporting community initiatives, PotashCorp has continued to strengthen the Canpotex marketing alliance, another part of the pledge it made at the time of the takeover attempt, said Wall, who successfully fought against that takeover.

"In the meantime, we have another good corporate citizen, a great corporate citizen, in BHP, who have been moving forward step by step with what potentially could be the largest mine in the world at Jansen Lake and investing a lot of money here notwithstanding the fact that we advocated against the takeover, so I think things went very well and I hope the province is pleased with that decision we made and what's happened in the wake of it."

Bill Johnson, senior director of public affairs for PotashCorp, also said the corporation has made progress in living up to its pledge.

"I don't think that anyone can question whether this company is committed to the province of Saskatchewan," Johnson said.

"We're nearing the completion of $6.2 billion of expansion spending. We've

grown our executive and our workforce in Saskatchewan significantly and we continue to contribute to community initiatives in a very significant fashion."

Twelve of PotashCorp's 15 senior executives now work out of the Saskatoon office, with only those responsible for U.S. nitrogen and phosphate operations and U.S. sales remaining south of the border.

Five top executive jobs were moved to Saskatoon after the pledge was made, and one new one was created in the city.

Overall, staff numbers at PotashCorp's corporate headquarters have increased by 30 per cent, Johnson said.

"Outside of that, we've also added approximately 400 permanent positions at our mines."

In terms of community investment, the company put more than $16 million into initiatives last year, he noted.

"We're involved in projects both large and small around the community," Johnson said.

"The large ones perhaps garner more of the headlines, but the smaller projects we're involved in are equally important, particularly to those organizations that we're supporting - and we support literally hundreds of them around the province."

Murray Fulton of the Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy said the BHP takeover attempt "certainly changed the landscape of the potash industry

in the province.

"There is this bit of a fight for, if you like, the hearts and minds of the people of Saskatchewan in terms of who has the best profile," Fulton said.

BHP has "upped their corporate presence," sponsoring a number of events, and becoming "a bit better known than certainly they were when they made the takeover bid," he said.

If the Jansen mine does happen, the additional production capacity also could affect the industry, and indications BHP will remain out of Canpotex "just changes up the whole marketing side," Fulton said.

NDP Opposition Leader Cam Broten said the progress on PotashCorp's commitments seems "very positive" and he also wishes "the best" to BHP.

"I'm very optimistic about the future of potash in the province and there's room for multiple players," he said.


© The StarPhoenix 2013