POLITICS
10/25/2011 09:07 EDT | Updated 12/25/2011 05:12 EST

Saskatchewan Debate: Potash Revenues Focus Of Arguments Between Leaders

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REGINA - Saskatchewan's political leaders sparred over potash resource revenues in an election debate Tuesday night that saw a few good jabs, but no knock-out punches.

Opposition NDP Leader Dwain Lingenfelter argued during the one-hour televised debate that Saskatchewan residents deserve a bigger share of the potash pie.

"We're only getting a nickel of the dollar ... and many people are saying, 'Look, you should be getting more.' Experts, families, the workers in the mine, they're all saying we should be getting more," argued Lingenfelter.

"That's our strategy, to move that from a nickel on the dollar ... and get at least 10 cents on the dollar. I don't think that's asking too much."

The NDP's four-year election platform hinges on getting more money from potash to cover promises such as a tuition freeze, rent control and improvements to crop insurance. Their plan includes $2.3 billion the party said would flow from potash revenue after a review into how the province collects money from the resource, known as royalties. Lingenfelter said part of the money would also go into a fund for future generations.

Saskatchewan Party Leader Brad Wall attacked the NDP's spending proposal, saying it would "gut the potash industry with a massive tax hike."

Wall noted that the potash royalty structure was put in place by the previous NDP government and said it's helping to create thousands of jobs. Wall said potash companies are planning expansions in cities and towns across the province.

"Those communities are growing because of this deal. Breaking it in mid-term is very risky, especially with the world economic situation the way it is," said Wall.

The premier also argued against the NDP's promise to share part of the province's resource revenue with First Nations. Wall said he opposes a special revenue sharing deal for First Nations or any group.

"A year ago we came all together and fought against a potash takeover," said Wall.

"And we said, you said, I said, the province said, those resources belong to the people of the province. They don't belong to one group more disproportionately for one group versus another, I don't think. They belong to everyone equally."

While potash seemed top of mind in the debate, the leaders also briefly touched on housing and help for seniors. They didn't talk about environmental or agriculture issues.

Wall pushed the Saskatchewan Party's record and a platform that he said focuses on growth and affordability. The total cost is $414 million over four years. The costliest promise is an expansion of the assured income program for people with disabilities and increased benefits.

Both the Saskatchewan Party and New Democrats claimed victory after the debate.

Lingenfelter said he thought he got his points across, but couldn't say if the debate would improve his prospects against a popular premier when Saskatchewan residents head to the polls Nov. 7.

"My view is I started out the campaign talking about issues and hoping that we'd be able to have a debate around issues," said Lingenfelter.

"And on that, I think we accomplished talking about the big platform items that I wanted to, so we'll see. But for the next 10 days, I'm going to continue on talking about day care and rent control and those items that people on the street talk to me about every day."

Wall, whose Saskatchewan Party held 38 of the 58 seats in the legislature at dissolution, said it's up to voters now.

"People got to hear the choice of a fiscally responsible plan that will move the province forward in leadership or one that I think is very expensive and risks deficits in Saskatchewan," said Wall.