POLITICS

Saskatchewan premier says foreign companies could learn from failed potash deal

10/24/2012 05:40 EDT | Updated 12/24/2012 05:12 EST
REGINA - Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall says foreign companies haven't learned from a failed potash takeover bid in his province.

Wall successfully argued in 2010 that BHP Billiton's (NYSE:BHP) US$40-billion proposed takeover of Potash Corp. (TSX:POT) failed a net benefit test on all three counts: strategic, fiscal and economic.

He says companies should take more notice.

"I would suggest what we've seen though is that companies ... haven't taken a clue from that process," Wall said Wednesday at the provincial legislature.

"I think if companies were planning to be more successful through the Investment Canada process, they'd be saying, 'Here, exactly and precisely, is why this is a net benefit to Canada. It's going to create more jobs. It's going to attract ... more investment, more head office presence,' whatever it needs to be.

"And I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing if the process evolved to the point where companies understood they had to demonstrate to the country why these transactions were good for Canada."

The premier also said there could be more specific parameters around what constitutes a net benefit.

The federal government pledged to clarify how it applies the net benefit test in the Investment Canada Act after it blocked the potash deal. But after the furor died down, it did not follow through.

The issue is back in the spotlight following Ottawa's decision on Friday to reject a proposed $6-billion takeover of Alberta's Progress Energy by Malaysian state-owned oil and gas company Petronas. The companies were given 30 days to take another crack at getting the deal approved.

A $15.1-billion bid by China's National Offshore Oil Corp. (CNOOC) for Calgary-based Nexen Inc. is the next decision looming for the Conservative government.

Observers have warned the decisions could scare off foreign investment.

Wall, who recently returned from a trip to Asia, said there were questions about the investment climate in Canada for foreign companies. He said he sent two messages, including one that Saskatchewan welcomes investment.

"Our preference is not for takeovers. It doesn't create any new jobs in the province. Our preference is for ... expansions of existing facilities through investment or brand new investment. That's what our indication was to China. It was well received by those we met with," said Wall.

"And secondly was the point about reciprocity, that the country also needs to see China being reciprocal in terms of facilitating Canadian investment in that country."