Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Privatizing potash a Devine error

By John S. Burton,
The Leader-Post September 21, 2010

Allan Blakeney, old time CCF picnic 1975
Potash is a big news item in Saskatchewan at present. People and governments are discussing what should be done. It is essential that accurate information is made available.
Bruce Johnstone (Sept. 11) had some interesting comments, but I must dispute one statement where he said, "Under the NDP, PotashCorp was literally driven into the ground by producing too much potash, pushing down prices and running up huge losses."

That statement is completely false. From the time that operations started in late 1976 until the end of 1981, almost $413 million in profits were earned and that was after almost $270 million was paid in taxes and royalties. Efforts were geared to develop a stable growing market that avoided the roller coaster experiences seen in the last two years.

From 1982 to 1987, Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan had a net loss of $185 million. That was under the Devine Progressive Conservative government. Constant political interference, demands for dividends and stalling on major issues by the Tory government handicapped management in doing its job. Contradictory directives also imposed additional heavy burdens on the corporation.

At one time, the potash corporation worked for the benefit of Saskatchewan. The Devine Tories sold it for a pittance. Now it is a pawn in the hands of international mining giants and foreign investors.

Everyone agrees now that potash belongs to the people of Saskatchewan. That's easy to say. Of course we get some return from production, but what really counts is making sure the province can make critical decisions and gets the full benefit of this valuable resource. Does it matter much now whether potash mines are owned by American, Australian or Chinese investors?

The Devine Tories gave away control of this valuable asset some 20 years ago. Now everybody can see what we lost.

John S. Burton was a member of the board of directors of the Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan from 1975 to 1982 when it was Crown-owned.

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