Mandryk is the political columnist for the Leader-Post.
Dispatching a “rapid response team” to deal with 440 Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan layoffs while telling us not to panic created a bit of a mixed-messaging mess for Premier Brad Wall on Tuesday.
However, it isn’t the first time that Wall and his Saskatchewan Party government – perhaps facing their biggest economic challenge since BHP Billiton’s attempted takeover of PotashCorp in 2010, or perhaps the potash revenue collapse of 2009 – have been confounded by the contradictions coming out of this particular company.
Nor will it likely be the last time.
This latest saga of potash politics – once again courtesy of Potash Corp – should serve as a reminder to the Sask. Party government that it needs to divorce itself from the specific interests of this company … or for that matter, all the companies that make up the industry.
The government – there to oversee and protect our potash resource – needs to figure out that it doesn’t necessarily have a shared interest with PotashCorp and the other industry players.
A sombre-sounding PotashCorp president and CEO Bill Doyle advised us via YouTube Tuesday of the grave state of his company, which has necessitated permanently laying off 18 per cent (1,045 people) of its global workforce. It includes 440 Saskatchewan employees, mostly at one of Lanigan’s two mills that will suspend production and Cory, where production will be reduced. “This is a difficult day for our employees and our company,” Doyle said.
The news was such that Wall took the highly unusual step of “dispatching our rapid response teams” so laid-off Saskatchewan mine workers could “explore other opportunities in other sectors”.
However, Wall’s news was accompanied by the very mixed message that “Saskatchewan’s diversified economy remains strong”.
In fairness, Wall also acknowledged at a later scrum this “was not great news”, but stressed that potash royalty revenue accounts for only 3.5 per cent of the province’s $11-billion budget and that Saskatchewan’s workforce continues to grow this year, notwithstanding the shedding of 1,400 jobs in the natural resources sector.
Nevertheless, it is a confusing message – especially since his own Economy Ministry officials said during the mid-year statement just six days ago that potash sales were up by 15 per cent this year, there was reason to think prices have stopped their slide and that the industry was rather stable. There again, the Saskatchewan government’s message on potash has been the model of consistency compared with that we’ve heard from Doyle and PotashCorp.
PotashCorp’s CEO, who made $10,846,867 in 2012 ($1,220,000 in salary, $800,000 in bonus, $3,937,635 in stock options, $4,672,252 in stocks and $216,980 in other compensation) has been telling us for years about the near limitless potential of his industry and its Saskatchewan operations in particular. It’s what made him the highest-paid executive Canada with a mind-boggling total compensation of $320.4 million in 2007.
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