It’s been six years since Brad Wall was elected Saskatchewan premier, but it was three years ago at this time when he cemented himself as a populist politician.
A proposed takeover of Potash-Corp by multinational South African-Australian mining giant BHP Billiton left Wall on the horns of dilemma: Should he subscribe to his philosophically conservative roots and simply allow the market/shareholders to sort this matter? Or should he act in the best interests of a province whose priority would be PotashCorp’s market share and, thus, royalties?
Compounding matters were BHP Billiton’s eagerness to excuse itself from the marketing cartel Canpotex, which controls offshore potash sales, versus the fact that BHP Billiton was in the early stages of developing what may be the province’s biggest potash mine and one of the first new mines to be built in 40 years.
By setting aside his philosophy and choosing to put the interests of Saskatchewan taxpayers first, Wall established himself as a populist leader voters could look to, to do the right thing … even if that meant sometimes going against his natural inclinations.
However, Wall’s future political and governance success will largely depend on his ability to demonstrate that this wasn’t just a one-off and – when the situation requires – that he is capable of taking on the corporate giants on behalf of the Saskatchewan citizenry.
It is for this reason that his Saskatchewan Party government’s stony silence on uranium giant Cameco allegedly ducking provincial taxes is more than just a little puzzling. For those who might have missed it, Cameco is battling it out in tax court with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) over $800 million to $850 million in corporate taxes the CRA says went unpaid between 2008 to 2012.
Saskatchewan’s share would be $300 millon to $350 million in that period – no small chump change for a Sask. Party government that occasionally struggled to balance its budget in that period. After all, Wall et al blew up the Saskatchewan Film Tax Credit because they considered the paltry few million a year it cost taxpayers a waste (notwithstanding the economic activity it created). Yet the Sask. Party government can afford to forego $60 million to $70 million in annual corporate taxes that Cameco may be avoiding through its Swiss tax haven?
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