On their way into the weekly caucus meeting this morning on Parliament Hill, I tried to canvas as many Saskatchewan Conservative MPs to see what they're making of the latest headlines out of their province on the Potash Corp. deal. Australian mining giant BHP Billiton has made a hostile $38.6 billion bid for Potash. The front page of this morning's Regina Leader-Post has a story that suggests the province of Saskatchewan – whose premier Brad Wall is pretty close to Prime Minister Stephen Harper — will ask the feds to quash the deal because the province is concerned about losing billions in royalty revenue.
BHP Billiton subsequently responded with a statement saying that it was prepared to respond to Saskatchewan's concerns.
The issue is problematic for the federal Conservatives. Politically, they'd probaby want to help a friendly provincial government in Regina.
But philosophically, the Conservatives would have to bend themselves into pretzels to justify blocking foreign investment that has nothing to do with national security (then Industry Minister Jim Prentice blocked the MDA deal largely on national security grounds).
Saskatchewan MPs and senators I spoke to on the way into caucus didn't really want to talk much about the issue.
But Industry Minister Tony Clement — whose department will recommend a thumbs up or thumbs down on the deal by Nov. 4 — did stand and deliver though, by his own admission, he really can't deliver much. Here's what he told reporters:
“I’m going to have to rely on what I’ve said in the past. We’re taking a serious look at the situation. It’s a serious process to review the bid in all of its details and that’s what we’re doing. And the test that we use is net benefit to Canada. And that’s the test that we’ll applying in this case.”
“Of course, we’re in contact with the government of Saskatchewan. They’re a key player in this. We’re in contact with the bidder. We, of course, do our analysis through the departmental analysts as well so all of the gets put in the hopper, no question.”
“It’s difficult for me to get into any detail with you. I know it’s your job to try to get more detail and I respect that, of course. But my job is to make sure that whatever decision we make is bulletproof. I can’t do the dance of the seven veils before the decision is made. The process has to be a pristine process. “